Voltaire the Investor
How One of History’s Greatest Thinkers Amassed a Fortune
One of the people upon whom I have based the way I live my life is Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire, or Voltaire for short. Born on November 21st, 1694, he passed away on May 30th, 1778 after a long and extraordinarily successful life pushing for social reform and a more enlightened society, harshly criticizing superstition and slavery. Besides the fact that we can thank him for heavily influencing the American Revolution and later, the French Revolution, we can look to his example for investing wisely.
Voltaire Generated Significant Sums of Passive Income Each Year from International Investments
As a young man, Voltaire was wise enough to realize that he would need to become financially independent if he were to speak the truth and remain unencumbered with the chore of making a living. Thus, he purposely cultivated friendships and relationships with the Paris brothers and other wealthy bankers, who taught him how to invest, speculate in currencies and commodities, and manage his money. As a result of his wisdom, Voltaire was a millionaire by the time he was 40 years old and maintained investments in ships that sailed the globe as part of international trade, art, and direct lending to customers (he was, in essence, a bank).
Furthermore, Voltaire stashed significant sums of money in many, many nations around the world, all earning profits, dividends, and interest in the local currency. He did this so he could continue to live in comfort if he had to escape due to his political and social ideas, plus to protect himself against dependence upon any one economy. In fact, he caused an enormous scandal because he betrayed his friend, the King, who had forbidden foreign bond ownership. Voltaire was loyal to his own financial house, first and foremost.
“God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.”
– Voltaire on creating wealth and living off passive income.
Voltaire’s Annual Passive Income
By the time Voltaire was 55 years old, his secretary, Longchamp, estimated that he was earning 80,000 francs annually from income, which is the equivalent to $600,000 today plus he was earning 45,000 francs a year from passive investments hidden throughout the world, which is roughly $337,500 in cash today. That’s $937,500 per year, or $78,125 per month in passive income.
These passive earnings poured into his pocketbook as he proposed ideas on the French judicial system and the notion that society should be governed solely on the basis of reason and respect for nature, providing him with funds for reinvestment and a very comfortable lifestyle. It allowed him to escape the fate of men like his contemporary, Mozart, who spend the end of his life being sued by friends for back payments of debts owed.
Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin
Voltaire was close friends with Benjamin Franklin, himself a financial genius who was extraordinarily wealthy due to his inventions and business holdings. (Franklin, as you know, is the hero to Charlie Munger, who has significantly influenced the way I live my life, especially through the use of so-called mental models.)