What does it really mean to be considered poor? Is being poor a factor of how short you are on the universal currency of money? Or inversely does it refer to how short one is on happiness, health and peace of mind? Perhaps a mix of both, if that were possible? Are wealth and money mutually exclusive - the former referring to wellness irrespective of excessive material possession whilst the later hinges on accumulation of 'stuff' ? I am no philosopher nor am I an economist, so quite frankly I do not have the final answers to all those questions.
All the same, for the purposes of this article let us be purely selfish for a minute and consider poverty to be predicated on money. Yes, that divisive word: money. Biased as this assumption may seem, let us pretend that: the more money you have the richer you are and vice versa.
Is being poor a factor of how short you are on the universal currency of money? Or inversely does it refer to how short one is on happiness, health and peace of mind?
Irrespective of how modest and pious we think ourselves to be, public curiosity and admiration tends to gravitate towards the people with the most money. Money is equated with power, fame, intelligence, influence and when some levels are attained, near godliness. Bezos, Musk, Branson, Gates - we gush at our knowledge of how much they make and how much they own without really understanding or caring how exactly they did it. We buy into the simplistic backstories we read ( ala Jobs and how Apple was created in a garage or how KFC Chicken is just a lot of secret herbs and spices infused into deep fried chicken ) because they romanticize reality and give us the hope that we too can do it.
What, Rihanna is now a billionaire you say? Surely, in this internet era anyone can be a billionaire? Right? The Forbes magazine publications are the fairytale storybook for middle-class adults. This may partly explain the obsession with reality television, whose success can largely be attributed to gregarious displays of extravagance and material riches. Like a terrible car crash, viewers are fascinated by what they see and cannot look away. We love money. We love (and perhaps in equal measure, envy) people who have it better than us and are extremely rich. We get excited by the rise of the rich and more excited when they lose it all. It's fascinating. Money.
We buy into the simplistic backstories we read because they romanticize reality and give us the hope that we too can do it.
What fascinates me though is why we are never curious about who the world's poorest man is. The guy (or lady) at the other end of the Jeff Bezos spectrum. Does he really exist, how does he live, what does he do, is he married, children, how did he get there and why doesn't he just get a job?
Granted, millions of people globally are living below the institutionally agreed 'poverty belt' and a big chunk of those people not by any fault of their own.
Rogue governments, corruption, wars, famines, diseases and a host of other calamities have rendered many a human devoid of basic necessities like food, shelter and clothing. They did not ask for it and looking around us, tragedies are no respecter of persons and can visit anyone. So my objective here is not to simplify poverty or the human suffering it causes, no.
My objective is to appeal to your reality-television-sense and tell you a story about Jerome Kerviel, popularly considered as the world's poorest man.
So who really is Jerome Kerviel?
I'll keep it simple : he's a former employee of leading investment banking firm Societe Generale ( or SocGen) headquartered in Paris, France. When he first came to public prominence over 6 years ago, he was in the news preparing to serve a 3 year jail sentence upon handing himself over to French Authorities after briefly playing fugitive. His crime? Rogue trading, forgery and breach of trust costing his former employer an estimated $6.3 billion ( the figure varies, but you get the picture) after dealing in $73 billion worth of unauthorized deals, forgery and other dodgy deals.
As a result, even though he was a model employee ( he was hailed as a 'computer genius' by the Governor of the Bank of France) earning almost $70,000 in annual salary as a junior level derivatives trader, he ended up consequently being indebted to his employer to the tune of over $6 billion and thus earning the honorary title of the world's poorest man based on his subsequent negative net worth position. So, he is poor - but poor in a 'money' sense and not a material sense. Maybe the apt title for him should be the world's most indebted man?
His crime? Rogue trading, forgery and breach of trust costing his former employer an estimated $6.3 billion after dealing in $73 billion worth of unauthorized deals, forgery and other dodgy deals.
For those who want to read more about 'how he did it' , click here. For the rest, I will save you the long stories of financial espionage.
One does have to wonder about Jerome though and what his motivations really were: greed, job insecurity, invalidation? Emotions no doubt anyone who has been in a position of some degree of privilege ( or do you prefer the word, 'blessing' ?) can relate to.
Back to the poverty debate. Is it about your material position or your monetary position? Potato or potatoe? If we look at material position, sadly some of the poorest children in the world from select parts of Africa, Cambodia and Asia go days on an empty stomach. That could be considered real poverty, when one can hardly have a decent meal to fill their stomachs let alone access to clothing to ward of an unforgiving night chill. When people cannot afford access to healthcare, security or a roof over their heads. To them, Jerome - indebted for life, convicted and all, is living a life of relative luxury. This guy moved money around on a computer that would crush the economy of some small countries or regions.
Who would you say is poor: Jerome Kerviel, rogue trader, well educated and corporate tragedy or an individual living way below the poverty line in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who perhaps lacks not only material possessions but hope?
If we look at material position, sadly some of the poorest children in the world from select parts of Africa, Cambodia and Asia go days on an empty stomach. To them, Jerome - indebted for life, convicted and all, is living a life of relative luxury.
The author, Jan Okonji is an entrepreneur, speaker, coach, and Founder of the Pan-African accelerator BGS – Business Growth Solutions.
Jan is passionate about helping employees transition safely into entrepreneurship whilst turning their great ideas into profitable businesses and has helped entrepreneurs collectively grow their revenue to over $ 10 Million in the course of running BGS.
Get in touch with him and book a personal session HERE
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