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Study of the Wealthy Confirms Classic Joke

The Washington Post story today, discussing the findings of Nobel Prize-winning (2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences) behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman, confirmed the classic joke of an American businessman and a Mexican fisherman. You’d think that the more you earn, the more out of life you’d be able to enjoy; however that isn’t the case. More and more studies are showing that happiness has less to do with money and more to do with other factors. First the (not so surprising) findings, then the ironic joke.


Kahneman found that wealthy individuals, those earning more than $100,000, spent less than one-fifth of their time in passive leisure. Those earning less than $20,000 a year, spent more than a third of their time in passive leisure. The rich spent more of their time doing the required things, such as working, and less of the optional things because they’re trapped in a mental illusion. They focus on getting rich because they believe that when they are rich, they can buy some cool electronics or get daily spa treatments… therein lies the joke. If you want more Kahneman, here’s more goodness [3] on the aspiration treadmill.

Living the American Dream

An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

“How long it took you to catch them?” The American asked.

“Only a little while.” The Mexican replied.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The American then asked.

“I have enough to support my family’s immediate needs.” The Mexican said.

“But,” The American then asked, “What do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, señor.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds you buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”

“Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own can factory. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then, señor?”

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions, señor? Then what?”

The American said slowly, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”



How Rich People Spend Their Time [4] [Washington Post]

(Money by Tracy O [5], Fishing by xul [6])