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More than Money -- But Not Much More

Reported by Judy - January 11, 2005

Despite its inspiring title, Neil Cavuto's More Than Money: True Stories of People Who Learned Life's Ultimate Lesson really is mostly about money – people who are born with money, people who make money, and people who have lost their money. Beyond that, there is little to hold this collection of anecdotes about rich people together.

The book (New York: Regan Books, 2004) is a re-telling of stories about rich people, some of whom Cavuto has interviewed in the course of his Fox News Channel job. Some people featured in the book have suffered. They have been afflicted with cancer (GM executive Harry Pearce), lost a loved one to a fatal disease (USG CEO William Foote), or watched a business go up in flames (Omni Foods owner Jack Avedisian). Cavuto's brief pieces on each of them discuss how they dealt with the disaster in their lives without self-pity or bitterness. The stories are told superficially, so much so that the accounts of two business owners who lost employees in the World Trade Center attacks are more formulaic than heart-rending.

Other people presented in the collection, however, have not suffered such tragedies (Virgin founder Richard Branson). Exactly why Cavuto included them is unclear, especially since the introduction extols people who have found their suffering to be sources of inspiration. Why Cavuto included Fox News head Roger Ailes (his boss) is patently obvious. A little payback for Fox having promoted More than Money at least thirty-three times between June and December last year, according to a News Hounds count.

Cavuto is never clear what he means by "life's ultimate lesson." At times, it appears to be generosity (p. 218, "Give, even when it hurts). Other times, the ultimate lesson is to "love what you're doing, and do it well" (p. 233). In the last chapter, Cavuto seems to say the ultimate lesson is that while we all suffer, we need not become victims if we merely take control of our lives and use our suffering to help others (p. 275).

This book, however, really is mostly about money and not much else. The people whom Cavuto profiles deal with the tragedies in their lives from the safety of their wealth. Certainly, William Foote struggled to raise his three children after his wife died of breast cancer, but how does his struggle compare with that of a single father who is only marginally employed and is left with three children after his wife dies? As CEO of a large corporation, Foote had no health care debts, did not have to worry about finding and paying for childcare while he was at work, and had the luxury of being able to say no to certain assignments or to delegate them to someone else. Foote did the right thing, but in circumstances much easier than those in which most Americans find themselves.

Harry Pearce's leadership in establishing a bone marrow registry after he came down with cancer is laudable, but it certainly was made much easier by the fact that he had health insurance available to him and was in a position of power and influence so that his views could be heard. The same goes for socialite Evelyn Lauder, who married into a cosmetics fortune. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Lauder established the "pink ribbon" campaign to heighten awareness of the disease and raise money to fight it. How many corporations would have signed on to her idea in this society had she not been who she was?

In the stories that depart from the theme of regeneration through suffering, Cavuto lavishes praise on business owners who break the rules of capitalism, the system Cavuto makes his living promoting. For example, Jack Avedisian receives well-deserved praise for continuing to pay the employees of one of his grocery stores after it burned down, keeping his work force together while he rebuilt. It was an extremely humane thing to do, but it flies in the face of the rationality of capitalism. Cavuto thinks that's OK in this case because Avedisian's employees and customers appreciated his generosity and remained loyal to him, resulting in a business advantage. Yet what about people whose employers are not so generous and far-sighted as Avedisian? Unemployment compensation serves the same purpose for them, but that's a government hand out funded by taxes on business. I wonder what Cavuto thinks about that program. (Actually, no I don't.)

Throughout the book, contradictions abound between the values Cavuto espouses in this book and the values he promotes in his business shows. He celebrates a business owner who refuses to move his business overseas, praises a small business owner even though the Republican brand of modern capitalism favors big guys over small ones at every turn. He admires corporate executives who take time off to deal with family tragedy, even as GOP policy is to oppose laws that allow average workers to do the same (Family Medical Leave Act). He commends billionaires who use their clout to set up cancer research centers instead of hanging onto their money until they die, even as Republican policy makes it easier for billionaires to hang onto their money not only throughout their lives, but after they die. Instead of twenty-first century capitalism, which Cavuto promotes at every turn on his network financial shows (I can't forget his pre-election statement about the effects on the economy if "the unthinkable happens" and John Kerry is elected), Cavuto advocates the sort of moral economy that dominated medieval Europe.

The ultimate lesson in this book is that everything in the world would be fine if rich people would do good of their own accord. Workers would be happy and loyal if their employers took care of them. Disease would be conquered if rich people would roll up their sleeves and do a little more fund-raising. Those of us who aren't rich could then sing the praises of the upper crust, who help us get through life by throwing a few crumbs our way whenever they are moved to do so. In gratitude, we peasants would give up the idea of government entitlement programs, progressive income taxes and inheritance taxes and let the rich keep getting richer.

More than money? Not at all. Don't waste yours on this book.

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