Eckhart Tolle: Old Ideas From a New Earth Guru

Alexander Green
by Alexander Green, Chief Investment Strategist, The Oxford Club

Eckhart Tolle: Old Ideas From a New Earth Guru

by Alexander Green, Chairman, Investment U

Friday, May 16, 2008: Issue #796

Unless you've been living on Mars lately, you've probably heard about the "New Earth" phenomenon.

"A New Earth" is the New York Times #1 Bestseller getting a serious push from media mogul Oprah Winfrey lately. The book has sold more than 3.5 million copies since she first mentioned it on her television show in late January. Barnes & Noble reports that it is flying off the shelves faster than all 61 other books Oprah's Book Club has selected since 1996.

Written by contemporary spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, the book shows "how transcending our ego-based state of consciousness is not only essential to personal happiness, but also the key to ending conflict and suffering throughout the world."

A lofty goal, indeed.

I've read the book and can tell you that most of it is quite good. But parts of it are abysmal. Specifically, the brief passages about business and investing.

Here are just a couple of examples...

Eckhart Tolle Sees Corporations as Egoic Entities

Tolle says huge corporations "are egoic entities that compete with each other for more. Their only blind aim is profit. They pursue that aim with absolute ruthlessness. Nature, animals, people, even their own employees, are nothing more than digits on a balance sheet, lifeless objects to be used, then discarded."

How, in the middle of an otherwise admirable book, did I suddenly stumble into "The Portable Karl Marx"?

The surprising thing is, is how someone as bright as Eckhart Tolle can hold such hidebound notions about the nature of business and stock market investing.

  • Show me a single Fortune 500 company that cares nothing for people. Businesses exist to fill our every need: food, clothing, medicine, banking, computers, telecommunications, transportation, power, you name it.
  • Government can't provide these things. And small businesses - which are more likely to be service oriented - have a difficult time doing it cost effectively.
  • Every successful businessman knows that people aren't expendable. The customer is king. And employees don't rank far behind.

No business can prosper for long without attracting and retaining highly skilled workers. Recognize that there will always be tension between what employees believe they are worth and what management is willing or able to pay. But every manager worth his salt knows you can't have a first-class company without a great team of qualified people.

Eckhart Tolle Sees The Business World A Bit Differently...

Yet Eckhart Tolle sees things quite differently. "Let's say you are a businessperson and after two years of intense stress and strain you finally manage to come out with a product or service that sells well and makes money. Success? In conventional terms, yes. In reality, you spent two years polluting your body as well as the earth with negative energy, made yourself and those around you miserable, and affected many others you never even met."

This is so off-the-wall I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Launching a successful business is hard work, yes. But it can be tremendously rewarding, and not just in the monetary sense.

Tolle's description reminds me of an old Hollywood caricature. You know, scientists are evil geniuses out to destroy the world. Women are delicate creatures who stay home and bake cookies. And businessmen are just greedy crooks who haven't been caught yet.

Anti-business views like these are nothing new of course. What's new is that millions of Americans are out there devouring this claptrap right now.

And that's unfortunate, especially for those who need to generate an attractive investment return. I can honestly say I've never met a successful stock market investor who believed that business is basically about greed, exploitation, and dishonesty.

Businesses exist to...

  • Provide us with the essential goods and services we need.
  • They provide jobs.
  • They pay taxes.
  • They support local and national charities.
  • They mobilize for national security in times of war.
  • And - as our readers well know - they provide almost limitless investment opportunities.

Does Eckhart Tolle Know America's Primary Shareholders?

Bear in mind, America's primary shareholders are not guys in ten-gallon hats who ride around in the back of limousines. According to Robert J. Shapiro, undersecretary of commerce for economic affairs under President Clinton, 55 million American households with a median income under $70,000 own equity mutual funds.

Common stocks are owned by everyday people - teachers, nurses, policemen, truck drivers, secretaries - who plunk their money into retirement or mutual fund accounts each month and collectively own a substantial piece of the biggest and most profitable businesses in the world.

By doing so, they are able to earn higher returns and pursue the serious goal of a secure retirement.

Is this really so awful? Millions think so, apparently.

Admittedly, businesses don't always get things right. But neither do non-profit organizations - and certainly not government.

Let's be thankful that through the "invisible hand" of enlightened self-interest, businesses exist to meet all our economic needs. And, in the process, create many thousands of worthwhile investment opportunities.

Good investing,

Alex

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