"Teach them how to fish": how will that help their finances?
By Michael Gilmore
We all know the oldest cliché in development, aid or whatever subject the speaker wants this to be about: "give someone a fish, and they'll eat for a day..."
I don't need to finish it, do I? You're already saying the second half in your head right now. It's so well known and so powerful, Mad Men-style advertising copywriters would give their Martini-holding right arms to come up with something half that resonant.
And yet. With all that power and fame, where are all the fishing lessons?
If we know that this epithet is true, and has been true ever since Lao Tzu was supposed to have originally said it, shouldn't we by now have learnt that we all need to be taught how to survive for the rest of our lives? Shouldn't we be making sure that every generation is equipped with the skills it will need?
Back in Lao Tzu's day that was probably actually fishing, but today, right now, and probably for most of the last 100 to 200 years, that should have been finance. Not necessarily "high finance" or anything complicated, but enough to understand what money really is, and how to make it work for us more than we have to work for it.
Some time back, an idle thought crossed my mind: I wonder if more people teach fishing than financial literacy, and obviously raced to google to check. Almost everywhere I searched, using different terms, different virtual locations and even different engines, the results showed that people actually do offer and search for fishing lessons more than they do financial literacy.
Yes, more of us are either looking for or offering lessons on fishing, a thing that would have been the latest and greatest thing a couple of thousand years ago, than are looking or offering to help learn how to manage the money in our lives. Which would be the greatest if not latest thing today.
The thing that makes us secure. The thing that might stop us dropping into poverty. The thing that might help us have a happy and healthy retirement. The thing that might, actually, help us "eat forever".
I re-ran the test this week on google trends, inspired by Stephen Barnham (who I failed to link here - sorry Steve), and the results are roughly the same - this time run on a global database. On the chart at the top of this post, the blue line is fishing lessons, the red one is finance lessons.
Globally, fishing lessons have been twice as popular on average as financial literacy for the last five years. Lessons for the thing that could actually dramatically change our lives have only been more popular than fishing in only a few weeks out of that period. This is insane.
It's not just fishing. Pottery lessons score 10% more than finance on google trends, and knitting, yes knitting, is only 20% less popular in the last five years! Give it a try for yourself if you've got a hobby you would like to compare: https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=today%205-y&q=fishing%20lessons,finance%20lessons
Despite the fact that money - or particularly the lack of it - can drive the flow of our lives, classes for understanding it are barely as popular as skills that, while charming and potentially distracting, have stopped being a viable source of income and support for most of the world in the last 50 years. And they definitely shouldn't be a source of income for people searching them on google!
If I go back to one of the things I said in my last article (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-financial-literacy-could-matter-than-ever-michael-gilmore), that people don't want to be financially literate, they want to be financially stable, secure or even wealthy, then we can see the evidence for this on google too.
"Financial security" as a search term is ten times more popular than fishing lessons and 20x times more popular than finance lessons. The yellow line in the chart below is "financial security" added to the one above for fishing and finance.
People are desperate to learn how to eat forever, but because our education system doesn't tell them that understanding money is the way to achieve this, they are twice as likely to look for fishing lessons as finance ones! It's a 20-to-1 mismatch in terms of people looking for financial security and looking for financial literacy.
That people are looking for financial security is a worry - but also a relief. It is obviously sad that so many people are concerned about their financial security than so many other subjects, but in some ways it is a positive that they are at least searching for the answer. If we can create and distribute tools, products, books, apps - and maybe even a journal (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-were-trying-use-our-simple-little-journal-solve-two-gilmore) - that address this gap, we can meet this demand head on and help resolve this eminently fixable problem. We can perhaps be 20x more effective if we address the demand for financial security than that for financial literacy.
The FT's new initiative appears to me to be the most promising I have seen, and I hope to be as involved as I can be.
It could help millions of people. It could make aid programmes more efficient and education systems more relevant. It also doesn't require any great break-throughs, as everything that needs to be taught is already well-known, it just needs re-shaping to fit its audience rather than its teachers.
Let's do this! Let's take this opportunity to teach people how to really fish, how to manage their money so it helps their lives, so they can indeed eat forever.