How to get rich by being evil

Photo: Dan4th

There are a lot of ways to become rich.  Some people work hard and save their money.  Some people win the lottery.  Some people invent something wonderfully useful.  An awful lot of people who get rich, though, do it by being evil.  Here's a quick look at some evil tactics, and some thoughts on whether they can work for you.

Most of the people who get rich by being evil run a business.  Running a business isn't evil, of course, and running a business is a lot of hard work, whether you're evil or not.  It suits some people, but most people wouldn't be interested in working that hard, except for the chance to get rich.  Just like there are lots of ways to get rich, there are lots of ways to get rich running a business.  This post, though, is about three of the evil ones.

Privatize profits, socialize costs

The most crucial step in getting rich by being evil is to arrange things so that, as much as possible, you share your costs without having to share your profits.

As a society, we already share lots of costs:  police and courts, roads and bridges, public schools and state universities.  The key to getting rich by being evil is to build on that strategy.  

Don't spend money to avoid leaking toxic chemicals into the ground water--the municipal water system is there to pay the costs to provide clean water.  Don't negotiate on unequal terms with foreign suppliers of raw materials--the US military is a powerful tool to ensure access.  If your business is in danger of failing, do your best to make it look like a failure could endanger the whole financial system--a central bank rescue won't make you rich, but it could keep you from being wiped out.

These are extreme examples, because it's actually pretty tough to socialize your regular costs, except where there's a strong tradition of governments providing those particular functions.  As that last case shows, though, it's not so hard to socialize some of the risks.  Simply arranging your business as a corporation does that to a certain extent--it turns your business venture into a "heads I win, tails you lose" proposition.  If your risks pay off, you own a hugely successful business.  If they don't, the corporation goes bust, not your personal finances.  It's a scheme designed to encourage people to take risks they couldn't otherwise afford.  That's great for people who are inclined that way anyway--at the expense of the rest of us.

Encourage people to take advantage of themselves

Some of your employees just want to do a day's work for a day's pay.  Others want to make a career of working at your firm.  Others want to participate in your successes and failures.  In all these cases--and especially in the latter two--you can encourage them to take advantage of themselves for your benefit.

The key to making this work for you is to promise as little as possible, while hinting that your employees will share in the benefits of success.  

For example, your start-up can safely share stock with employees, because before you go public you can issue so much new stock that the value of their shares gets diluted away to almost nothing.  Make sure the calculation of bonuses includes at least one subjective measurement that you can use to control bonus payouts.  Assure people that next year's raises and promotions will be better than this year's.

People won't settle for hints forever, of course, but almost any employee can be replaced with someone who's willing to give you the benefit of the doubt for a few months or a few years.

The strategy is pretty clear for getting your employees to take advantage of themselves for your benefit, but you can often get other people to do the same thing--investors, suppliers, customers, etc.  Anytime you can get people to give more or take less, you come out ahead.  Lots of businesses will provide a little slack for an important customer or supplier.  Take that slack and turn it into profit that you keep.

Focus on business success to the exclusion of all other things

Finally, if you really want to get rich, make it the most important thing in your life.

I know plenty of people who have become quite well off simply by earning a good salary, living frugally, and investing the money they save.  It works, but it typically takes decades--and even then you don't really get rich that way.

The only people I know who have become really rich did so through a combination of hard work and luck.  By "hard work" I mean insanely hard work of the "80-hour week, no vacations, no hobbies, see your family twice a month" variety.  That's not enough--it takes a certain amount of luck as well.  But the work seems to be essential.  (The only people I know who became really rich without working insanely hard either inherited wealth or married wealth.  People win the lottery too, although I don't personally know anyone who did.)


There's a common thread to all of these things--pushing the costs off on other people:  society at large, your employees, your friends and families.  That's what (to my mind) makes these things evil.

It's easy to make the libertarian case that these practices aren't really evil.  Rich people and the businesses they own pay taxes and are entitled to government services just like everyone else.  Employees aren't slaves or prisoners and can choose to work for you or not.  If work is what you enjoy most, it makes perfect sense for it to be your hobby as well as your job, and there's surely no matter more purely personal than the decisions you make with your family about how to divide your attention between them and work.

Further, It's important to note that lots of other people benefit when you get rich.  At a minimum, the people you hire get jobs--maybe good jobs.  You customers get products to buy--maybe better and cheaper products.  Your suppliers get a market.  Your community gets an expanded tax base.  Your local charities get another rich person they can hit up for donations in support of the environment, local services, and the arts.

Still, when the costs fall on others, I think they should share in the profits.  People who think like me, though, rarely become rich.

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Guest's picture

Good Lord WiseBread?!?!?!?! When did this blog become a bastion of liberalism? Between the shill for the Democratic party that posted his "analysis" of the candidates' tax plans, and your vitriolic screed against capitalism, one wonders about your own endeavors of monetizing the blog. Are you not profiting on individuals misdeeds, or susceptibility to debt etc? Why not offer the advice for sheer altruistic reasons?

If this is indicative of things to come, I can tell you for sure that this subscription will get nixed soon.

Cut the bullshit, give us some tips on fiscal responsibility and leave the partisan proselytizing to the politicians.

You're right, people like you rarely get rich, and deservedly so. If you worked just 1/4 of the time you spend victimizing yourself or proffering derision, you might actually get further in life.

Guest's picture

"you might actually get further in life."

Curious, you sure that's what you wanted as your parting belief? Sounds like money=getting further in life. I am no bastion of knowledge, but the wealthy I know don't seem any happier, just well fed.

Guest's picture

Fast food companies which make millions annually but take no responsibility for the litter created by their packaging annoy the heck out of me.

Guest's picture

You dope, people are responsible for littering, not the company that makes the products. I wonder what you would say about Hefty and their glad bags if a semi turned over. Wisebread is slipping hard.

Guest's picture

Are you stupid? Why should a company be responsible for their customers throwing away trash inappropriately?

Guest's picture

I disagree with your conclusion. From what I've read, Warren Buffett thinks like you. He believes in (and backs up with actions) integrity, fair deals, rewarding people who have helped him, not sheltering taxes and the importance of family and friends.

Maybe that's why he's the richest person in the world instead of someone evil.

Guest's picture

This is truly evil to one's self, and to others around one. What good is it to be rich if one has no social life, bad relations with family members, and never has time to enjoy it?

Guest's picture

I think this was a very insightful look at some business practices.
I also don't see this as politically skewed. This is a significant reality that impacts society, I just wish more people would be aware of the real costs to others.

The first thing that came to mind reading this was the policy by Walmart to force their employees to apply for welfare type benefits and purposely keeping wages low enough for them to qualify. In essence the government is subsidizing Walmart.

I do wish more workers were aware of how incentives are dangled in front of them but the details show odds are you will never get them. That is a good thing to dig into when looking at a potential employer. If they tell you about some sort of incentive or bonus program, ask how it is figured and on what statistics. If you find that it is one of those unachievable metrics that tells you quite a bit about how that employer treats people.

Guest's picture

No wonder you are poor. Go back to your old job, at least you'll get a paycheck.

Guest's picture

Your article is interesting and provocative, but I think it makes the mistake of just assuming much "evil" where none may exist. I'm not going to go into a point by point retribution of your article, except to simply say that for every "evil" of industry you imply, there are a thousand problems that can only be solved by those industrious enough to see profitable solutions in the worlds problems.

For instance, there were several paragraphs noted above which indicated that businesses intentionally wreck the environment for the sake of profits. People who engage in criminal activity aside, for the most part, past pollution problems were due to weaknesses in rapidly emerging technologies of the day, and ignorance which can only be corrected by experience - and sometimes even tragedy. The fact is America's air today is the cleanest it has been since the beginning of the industrial age, and large businesses with the help of gifted inventors, solved those problems.

Let's look at the looming gas crisis. Mark my words, it will be solved within this decade, probably sooner in this country and Japan, because of a trait we share - business friendly climates. A Japanese corporation just invented - are you ready? - the first car the runs on water. And it can run on ANY type of water, even rain water, sewage water, etc., the emission is totally pollution free, and is then recycled back into the atmosphere. But it's a start, and this problem will not be solved by government intervention, and cannot be solved by people simply "cutting back", on what they use. It will be solved by someone with a great idea who wants to profit from that idea - and he should be able to.

And while I would certainly like to see businesses engage in radical generosity to the people who make their dreams possible, I would also like to see the employees more content with what they have in life general, rather than seething with resentment toward the people who make it possible for them to feed their families.

I would like to see a radical shift in mindset in this country from distrust and resentment of business to distrust of government. I say, trust your government less than you trust your local Walmart. Walmart may have strayed far from Sam Walton's beginnings, but Walmart can't kick down your door if you decide to shop at Kroger instead. We can't survive by doing less business, but we can do just fine with less self-important government bureaucracies stifling real advancement in this country, and the world.

With Agape' love to my brothers and sisters,
Screen Printer for the Blogs :)

Guest's picture
Edgar A.

Terrific post, Philip. And a wonderful illustration to go with it.

I'll be interested in seeing the rest of the comments. When you get somebody threatening to cancel a subscription--to a free service!-- you must have hit a nerve. Obviously it's a subject well worth talking about.

Guest's picture

The subscription isn't free, and as narcissistic as it may be, my attention and readership is worth something. This blog isn't born out of altruism, this blog is born out of capitalist intents.

A blowhard without readership is just a blowhard. This post isn't in the spirit of blog, and the term evil is thrown around so lightheartedly nowadays it is painful.

Obviously you don't see the hypocrisy in the OP's post. How much do you make off of our fiscal ignorance again OP? Are you taking advantage of me? Maybe you are one of the evil ones. *GASP*

EVIL EVIL EVIL EVIL EVIL - you are right, it has a nice ring to it. I think I'll be Captain Sensationalist and start using it more often as well.


Guest's picture

@ET: I'm laughing at you, not with you.

Guest's picture

Oh, wretched God, you have bestowed upon me someone that dares mock my presence. Whatever shall I do?

I'll live. Trust me. Good contribution though!

Guest's picture

I completely agree. Even though, I don't believe that Marrying into wealth or inheriting wealth are the only two alternatives. I believe that hard work is definitely an important factor in owning and operating your own business, however I don't think you put enough emphasis on luck. Most people who start up their own business are going into a market that isn't saturated yet, so it makes it very difficult to get research on that niche. Luck has a lot to do with business.

Guest's picture

I'm not a big cat fan by the way and the picture on the post provoked me to read the article.

Guest's picture

it is up to us consumers to not allow businesses to become rich by being evil. I would rather let someone profit from me and have us both have a clear conscience about it than to scrape the bottom of the barrel of both price and responsibility. As popular as barrel-scraping and corporate mergers are, let us hope that we are able to keep substitutes available to keep us nimble. Healthy competition may be the lifeblood of innovation and capitalism.

We are taking baby steps on this: at Walmart we only buy cheese and sometimes soup flavors our grocery store doesn't have. Sometimes at local businesses I try to remember to pull out my Visa instead of my Discover. I've been buying more of my pleasure items (books, jewelry, etc.) from private individuals--people with used books or new craft items. I bought a Diva Cup (horrible name, I know) to reduce my consumption of mounds of P&G disposables that have nowhere to go. This is a start....

Guest's picture

The moral behind the Midas touch is that even his food turned to gold, so he couldn't EAT it and he STARVED!! I have had the good fortune to have an millionaire relative who made his small fortune by cutting ethical corners and doing things that were quasi-illegal - Luckily for him he didn't get caught! But at the same time the cold manipulations extended to his family whom he put on the payroll and essentially BOUGHT. No one really loved him. And his life wasn't very enviable. A good lesson for ME - as I prefer a RICH life of love and adventure!

Philip Brewer's picture


The details of how the Wise Bread writers get paid aren't secret; you can take a look here:

Personally, I try pretty hard not to be evil.  As a practical matter, of course, it's impossible to make sure that the people who get the profits are the ones who bear the costs associated with producing them, but I think it's the right thing to do--and I support public policies that try to address the issue, even when it costs me money.

As for working, these days I'm doing exactly the sort of work that I most enjoy.  Since it's what I want to do, I've got no problem getting myself to put in the hours.


Don't worry about me--I'm doing fine.

Guest's picture

No wonder you write this worthless, sensationalist get more hits. I mean, the title couldn't be more indicative of that fact. I certainly feel foolish now that I realize I've been bested. All along I thought you were serious. Silly me.

I'm just surprised you managed to convince Wisebread to tarnish their own reputation with your screed.


I misjudged are an astute businessman.

Oh wait...businessman = EVIL...


Maggie Wells's picture

It reminded me of the email I just received from more than a few friends:

 Best YouTube post I'd seen in awhile. I don't think there's anything wrong in calling evil what it is. The reaction reminds me of when I came out as a vegetarian and all the meat eaters in my family would get upset at me when they asked why I went vegetarian and I told them I didn't want to eat dead things.  I didn't ask them not to eat dead things but they took offense at me reminding them that their dinner was killed. And hey! They asked me to tell them that! LOL. Sorry you are having such attacks here...


Margaret Garcia-Couoh

Guest's picture

I hate to burst your bubble, but once you pick fruit or vegetables you've just killed them too. Don't believe me? Leave them on your kitchen table and watch as they rot as surely as roadkill rots on the side of the highway.

The bottom line: Vegetarians eat "dead things" too.

Your illogical thinking is typical of those who try to engage in debate using emotional language instead of rational thought.

I personally think that there's nothing wrong with being a vegetarian, however, so try not to get so defensive about it. If others don't care for your dietary regimen, who cares? It's your business, not theirs.

However, if you annoy others by proslytizing for your dietary regimen by attacking their meat-eating diets then you should not be surprised if some grow weary of your preaching and start ridiculing your vegan lifestyle in order to rid themselves of a pest.

Guest's picture

Your conclusion demonstrates a very limiting belief.

Many, many, many people get rich financial by doing good. They do so by contributing to others rather than taking from them.

In economics terms the thrust of your argument focuses on externatlies. You speak primarily of external costs. There are also external benefits.

The economic pie is not a stagnant size. By doing business in ways that contribute to others and the environment, you enlarge the size of the pie. In the end, everyone gets more.

Philip Brewer's picture

That is, I agree that people can get rich without being evil (as I think I said several times in my article).

I'd be really interested in a proper study that looks at how much wealth depends on the production of negative externalities. My own experiences are obviously skewed by who I know and where I've lived, which means that the don't amount to a proper study. Still, my own experiences (and what I've read) are what I have to go by--and my experience and reading suggest that although it's pretty easy to become moderately wealthy--terms like "financially secure" or "quite well-off" come to mind--it's hard to become really rich any other way.

I'm not saying you can't get really rich without being evil; I just don't know anyone who's done so. And I know that you can become "millionaire next-door" rich simply by working hard and being frugal--but it takes decades (unless you're either very well paid indeed or else extraordinarily frugal), and you'll never be really rich, unless you live a long time and stay frugal right to the end.

Guest's picture

First of all, you need to stop using the term evil. It is so sensationalistic that it degrades your post to that of hyperbole. I honestly see your post as pandering for remuneration, which would explain your writing style as well. You are like the crazy guy at the street corner preaching about the evils of the world, and the judgment that will soon follow.

Many might consider your own actions as "evil". Taking advantage of people who need your advice the most. So where do these differences in perspective get acknowledged? You apply your own bastardized sense of morality, and narcissistically apply it around you...and to what end? What did you hope to accomplish? The ironic part of this whole discussion is that the purpose of your post was a garner income. Proselytize for money, you sound like a televangelist.

Your post is rife with hubris. Stop applying your standards of ethics and morality, which you violate yourself, on others.

Instead, why don't you write another post. A post about how your life can be rich, even without being fiscally wealthy? Rich in friends. Rich in love. Rich in experiences. Rich in interests. You have categorically rendered the entire world's existence as being judged on monetary terms. Who is the one truly most evil?

But hey...whatever makes you a dollar right?

Philip Brewer's picture


Thanks for your thoughts on possible topics for future posts!  I've actually written a couple of posts on pretty closely related topics.

On the subject of a life rich in friends (and other connections), you might be interested in:

On the topic of a life rich in experiences (rather than stuff), you might be interested in:

Thanks, too, for all your comments--it's a richer comment thread with your comments in it.

Guest's picture

E.T. Cook, you've spent a number of replies on explaining why you object to the general use of the word 'evil'. However, you have not gone on to explain why you believe the word 'evil' does not apply to the examples listed in this article.

Though I hesitate to encourage you to continue to vent in these replies, I think it would be much more interesting if you posted your specific defense of what most would consider at the least to be unethical business practices. If you spend such a great deal of time and energy on tearing apart the writer himself and the wording of the article, it makes it look more like you are just angry and vitriolic for the sake of being angry. After all, shouldn't it give a person pause to realize that they are defending exploitative, dangerous, or manipulative behaviors? I am curious to know how you justify this.

Guest's picture

This is actually a fair criticism of my posts, although I felt my admonition of utilizing the term evil would be self-explanatory and self-evident.

Evil is a word that is oft overused nowadays by both sides of the partisan dividing line. We have become a nation of sensationalists. Pinochet was evil. Hitler was evil. A company that litters, is not evil, although you could venture to say they were highly irresponsible or dismissive...maybe even negligent although that has different implications.

The last thing I do is want to get into a philosophical debate, but the fact that one can exist based on the article is demonstrative of how much this article is based on pure perspective. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.

1. The fight between drilling in ANWR and off the coasts of Florida etc. On one side, one could argue the irresponsibility of drilling in ANWR, on another hand one could argue the irresponsibility of NOT drilling in ANWR. Furthermore, one could make a credible argument that either side is particularly evil. How dare we sacrifice the natural habitats for domestic gain. - How dare we place the reserves above the welfare and health of our nation and economy.

2. Exxon Mobil made record profits. But what a lot of people don't see is that they have one of the LOWEST margins of any other Fortune 500 company, and also have the highest rate of reinvestment of any other company. Their margin is around 8%. Some might say its evil. Others would say debilitating them further through legislation and implementing windfall taxation is evil.

The point is, the differences in opinions are both valid. There is always a give or take. We live in a world of limited resources, and with obligations to shareholders etc. You can easily see where the narcissism and closed-mindedness comes in - ironically as of late it is more and more stemming from the liberal left. All of a sudden the term EVIL is utilized as a rhetorical technique that vilifies the target rather than rationally debating the subject. With Barack Obama we see first hand the shift in our desires. We prefer rhetoric and poise rather than substance. Maybe that's what we need right now, I don't know...but that is a different debate for a different day.

I am very libertarian in the application of rights and privileges, and believe that a privatization of many commodity elements can fix a lot of the issues that the OP brings up. Ultimately we pollute the earth, and utilize commodities up to the point society can manage it. An obvious example of this is the fight against drilling ANWR. If the OP was 100% correct in his beliefs, it would have been drilled already. Fortunately, he isn't right, even slightly. As much as there is a war on the natural habitat of our "furry friends", there is one against the large enterprises just as well. OP is obviously one of those spearheading this effort...and I commend him for it. It is very necessary to balance the destruction to a point that society can handle it. However, I will admonish him for his sensationalistic techniques...which ironically do his post a disservice because it speaks more to his constituency. He only has appeal to his fanatic base.

Unethical and evil are two very different things. But both live on a moving scale based on perspective. Let us not lose sight of that.

I hope this better explains my positions. If I haven't clarified something, let me know...I will be more than happy to.

Guest's picture

This was definitely an interesting post. I don't agree with most of it and I find some of the points disturbing.

I certainly hope that most people don't think in this mamner, but sarcasm aside, their is truth in your material, but one in which I am hesitant to embrace.

Let's hope others feel this way.

Guest's picture

Im not paid to endorse this book, but really, whether you want to be a savvy businessman or just aware into manipulative tactics in order to survive in the workplace, take a look at "The 48 laws of power" by Robert Greene, practices such as giving hints to your workers, promising vaguely etc is everywhere, media, big and small corporations, sound machiavelic and that's the way the world is run....

Guest's picture

why the blak cat to imply evil? it is so medieval to use an animal to portray human emotions or feelings

Philip Brewer's picture

It turns out to be kind of difficult to come up with a picture that captures "evil" as a concept.  I didn't want to use historical figures, because they did specific evil things (which were generally not the evil things my article is talking about).  I considered pictures of specific evil things that actually happen (factories belching polution, say), but that seemed to make it overly specific.  So, I ended up with a cat, even though I rather like cats.

This cat picture was grabbed off Flickr.  Most of the other cat pictures that have appeared on my posts are pictures of my own cat.  In particular, these three:

So, any suggestions for a picture I could use instead?

Guest's picture

It's funny to see a 50's tv show portaying happy small town America and the picture we see now. Decayed family atmosphere, pulpit pimps asking for money, and the dead american dream corrupted by Washington and Wall Street every day we breathe. Yes, it gets worse as a terminal cancer patient losing their body weight and physilogical functions. I am a former oilman and I can tell you "WE are sold out and screwed". We are a fearful nation scarred to go to bed at night because we have created a monster known as the media that tells us what we are, what we need, and what is righ or wrong. I blame me first and then pittiful you, begging for your Latte, I-phone, and winter home we need so flipping bad. Then, we turn the screws and give less and take more and say "how is this crumbling and why are WE the elite making less". Because we are Filth-pigs who manipulate weak minds. We steal your tax money through subsidies, laugh when you vote for our corporate affiliated officals, and loop our money between friends. We have names like "honorable, corporate, secret society, good ole boys,traders, and academia". To clarify myself, I got away from this thinking and was ostracized by those who corrupted me into this process of corruption. Don't believe the lies= war for freedom=saudi-american oil group, EPA=closing of refineries and increases in oil prices,Mafia-caddo parrish louisiana-arbusto. nuffsaid. go back to sleep morons

Guest's picture

@ E.T. Cook What no reference of Ayn Rand? No Gordon Gekko "Greed is good" ? Every villain is the hero of his own story and most times you can get the public to believe it. Maybe you don't want to call something evil, but you can't say that these are good things, right?

Libertarians are all about take take take and give nothing back to the community that allowed them to exist. Truth is, Libertarianism could not exist without the republican (the form of government, we currently practice, not the party) or democratic(America is actually not a democracy) governments that allows for such a system. Libertarians espouse self sufficiency yet, without a lot of money to start with or without taking from the public offerings of education, you can't even begin to educate yourself, never mind getting to the centers of education on public roads. Libertarians are elitists who don't want to pay so that others can have the opportunities that they have had.

Yes there is evil, drilling in ANWR when the public would have to pay for the miles of roads, the destruction of habitat that takes generations to return to it's natural state and then raising the prices of said gasoline, well that seems to fit exactly what the OP said, reaping the private profits at public expense.

Another example hunting whales to the point of extinction. Whale Wars is all about it. I love how it's "research" to kill and animal and then use it for food and not just one or two, but as many as they can get in a wildlife sanctuary, but yet the people preventing an illegal act are terrorists? Give me a break!

Doing something because you can, not because you need to, the causes an intentional negative impact on the existence of another form of life is wrong. We are taught this from birth and in every major religion, but yet when it comes down to actual brass tacks we lack the conviction to do anything about it. When Christians come to convert it's not an issue but when vegetarians say a fact, it's rude? I get that some people may not like vegetarianism, but give me a break it is by far less offensive than what we are sold on a daily basis, but it's easier to pick on a minority group and that's what you do when you are saying that people who attack you for the way you eat shouldn't have their hypocrisy pointed out for the way they eat.

Yes E.T. evil is a strong word, but I think it fits, just because we have become desensitized to it doesn't mean the spectrum of what is evil has moved. Irresponsible corporations cause the deaths of as many people as Hitler, they just have an easier time hiding it because the scope of time for the effects of the mercury poisoning from mountain topping for coal, the effects of GM crops that force family farmers into bankruptcy for unintended cross pollination of their crops grown for generations you can not tell me they are not evil, especially when they are trying to control the entire seed population of the planet and they are already at 70%. There are plenty of evil corporations, evil people, evil politicians and they all seem to want the power to control how I live, because that's what the money buys, power, speech, politicians, law. That is the society you really want, one where everyone is free to live as they please as long as it conforms to how YOU think it should be.