An Alternative Roadway to Prosperity

Al Jacobs

For those of you who hope to succeed in life, it appears there’s more than one way to go about it. I’m no stranger to the subject, having written a book titled Roadway to Prosperity, but the methods I advocate seem to be thoroughly at odds with what others recommend.

With this understood, let me first outline my general approach to achieving success; then I’ll describe a questionable alternative … and by success, I mean financial success. It’s true, of course, a person can become renowned for other accomplishments – scientific, religious, educational, artistic – but in this world our achievements must be measured, with the scale invariably in dollars.

When it comes to an economically austere beginning, I can match anyone. With my mother widowed after I turned 12, and meager family income, we made do as best we could. She found employment of sorts and, while attending school, I helped out to make ends meet … as a golf caddie at 13 and later a bowling alley pinsetter at 16, earning a dime a line.

On a good night, after an 8-hour shift from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., I might go home with $12 in my pocket. And during these years, I never found myself inclined to blame anyone for anything. Although some persons seemed better off, it never bothered me; we did our best and managed to get by. It never occurred to me we might somehow be entitled to a share of someone else’s success.

We’ll now pause a bit before I expound on my pursuit of prosperity. By the time I reached adulthood (almost) at 19, my circumstances changed. As a U.S. Navy seaman on a salary of about $100 per month, financial success was put on hold … and there it held until my discharge more than a dozen years later. Although military service is a fine way for a young man to mature, it’s not the place to acquire riches.

My quest for prosperity didn’t begin until I became newly married and working as a real estate salesman on commissions in San Jose. Though I admit to getting a late start in a not too lucrative position, I worked diligently and did well enough. By the end of my first year, I accepted an offer to head my firm’s newly created property management department.

With a negotiated salary of $600 per month, a $40 car allowance and full access to and immersion into the vibrant Santa Clara County real estate market, I recognized the possibilities. To quote George Washington Plunkitt, New York State Tammany Hall politician (1842-1924): “I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em.”

My bride – then working at a GS-3 pay grade in a government job at $400 per month – and I lived in an area soon to become known as Silicon Valley, with real estate prices destined to escalate. Small tract houses valued at no more than $20,000, with assumable FHA or VA loans of about $15,000, could be purchased for the $5,000 difference. However, we had less than $5,000 in cash between the two of us.

How might we take advantage of the obvious opportunities? After a short discussion, she and I resolved we’d live entirely on her monthly salary of $400 while devoting my income to the purchase of houses, for use as rental properties.

For the next four years this is exactly what we did. Surprisingly, though we lived frugally, we enjoyed a reasonably active and enjoyable social life – though admittedly on the cheap. As for our investment results during this period, we managed to acquire seven rental houses, plus one which became our home.

The program proved to be remarkably successful, both for the rental income it generated and the value appreciation. This truly became the kickoff of our financial life, enabling us to parlay the profits over and over in the years to follow.

Except for the specific details, the story I’ve just related is not unique. There are many successful Americans who conduct their lives with modesty and prudence as they methodically acquire assets.

Although the word millionaire is frequently thrown about as a derogatory term to criticize the presumably undeserving wealthy, be aware the majority of our fellow citizens with a net worth of at least seven figures are truly self-made, with the majority toiling at the task for decades before finally achieving the goal. I know many of them, and most retain the same attitudes and values which initially encouraged them in their ardent pursuit. A close friend contends nothing much is different for him, as he’s still living comfortably in 1957.

As you’re now familiar with one method of attaining financial sustenance, it’s time for you to view another approach. On Monday, May 14, thousands of low-wage workers, clergy and activists gathered at the U.S. Capitol and more than 30 statehouses across the country to kick off the Poor People’s Campaign. The multiracial coalition is set to engage in 40 days of protests and direct actions to highlight the issues of poverty.

One of the two co-chairmen of the campaign is the Rev. William J. Barber II, a 54-year-old pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., who called for a “revolution of values,” and declared “For too long we’ve accepted this kind of moral narrative in America that has blamed poor people for their poverty and has pitted people against each other. Study after study tells us hundreds of thousands of people die in the United States from poverty and low wealth.”

The other co-chairman, the Rev. Liz Theoharis, a Presbyterian minister from New York, announced to the crowd “We are here to make our voices heard. To tell this nation that there are 140 million poor people living in it. There comes a time when we cannot take it anymore.”

But perhaps the most comprehensive summary of the movement’s demands appeared on a large placard near the front of the crowd, with the message: “end child poverty; equal pay for equal work; a guaranteed annual income; fully-funded welfare programs; safe public housing for the poor; a repeal of the 2017 federal tax law”

What’s most revealing in the many claims and demands by both the leaders and participants of the Poor People’s Campaign is there’s not one word to suggest the impoverished need lift a finger in their own behalf nor contribute in any way toward their betterment.

I cannot help but contrast this with another human rights advocate, the African-American Muslim minister Malcolm X (1925-1965). Although to his admirers he was viewed as a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks and a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms, he nonetheless recognized the advancement of black Americans required their active participation.

In one of his most notable comments, he contends “Education is an important element in the struggle for human rights. It is the means to help our children and thereby increase self-respect. Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”

Perhaps even more revealing is his following quotation: “One of the first things I think young people, especially nowadays, should learn is how to see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself. Then you can come to an intelligent decision for yourself. If you form the habit of going by what you hear others say about someone, or going by what others think about someone, instead of searching that thing out for yourself and seeing for yourself, you will be walking west when you think you’re going east, and you will be walking east when you think you’re going west.”

There are two things which particularly upset me about the Poor People’s Campaign. The first is the use of the term poor, for the word is distorted out of its actual meaning. Poor is not the absence of money, for not having any is merely being broke – with luck it’s a temporary condition.

 Poor, on the other hand, is a mental aberration. It has little to do with money; instead, it reflects an absence of personal self worth – a permanent condition.

The other circumstance I find unsettling is the persistent demand by the protestors that more and more of everything be bestowed upon them as a way of establishing their rightful equality. The misfortune is such acquisition of possessions and status does nothing more than temporarily placate the activists. Equality is not the result. The simple fact is the acquisition of true substance must be something done by the destitute, not to the destitute.

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half-century, issues weekly financial articles in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. You may view it on


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