Rethinking “Teach a Man to Fish”

by JT McGee

We all know it, that cliché of the worst sort: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I’m thinking it’s time for an update, and from here on out “teach a man to fish” will be “give a man a fridge.”

Give the man a fridge!

Way back in the day when this quote was likely spawned, no one outlived their working years. You worked, you ate, you slept, you worked. Rinse and repeat–such is life in a time when wealth cannot be stored.

We have plenty of hardworking fishermen, many of whom produce far more than their ancestors from long ago. However, we also have plenty of long-living fishermen who consume far more than their ancestors from long ago.

teach a man to fish

While each person (the ancient and modern fisherman) is productive past their necessity to consume, the modern fisherman need not only generate wealth, but he also needs to store it. Unlike the ancient worker, the modern worker will live longer than he can work, meaning that unless enough is stored during the working years, then his post-working years are sure to be filled with poverty and reliance on others.

This obviously wasn’t a concern long ago; instead it was more likely that you worked until you fell ill before dying within the next couple days. There was no “retirement,” and it probably wasn’t until your passing that you actually got a day off. Teaching you to fish, to work, was good enough to ensure your survival.

Of course a lot has changed since that time; we have more responsibility as a result of our longer lives, and life necessitates we plan for the future rather than live in the here and now.

Modern Poverty

In our modern world it is next to impossible to live in a place where you cannot be physically productive beyond your necessity to consume. That is, barring any massive food shortage, supply shocks, or any other irregular event, you will produce more than you need to live, thus ensuring that you can sustain life even in the worst economic conditions.

Modern poverty is not a product of failing to produce in the working years; in fact, it is the younger generations that have the greatest production potential.

What I’m hoping to get to is the point that working doesn’t ensure comfort, instead our modern reality requires that you have the capability to save the proceeds of your labor for an existence past your working life.

So, give a man a fridge–give him an investment vehicle worthy of his excess production, and he will live long beyond his work-life. His capital? It will provide for life well after his death.

Maybe even better: “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Give a man a fridge, and you feed his family tree for years to come.”

That sounds perfect. Find your fridge and save your fish because the sole ability to fish is no longer good enough.


jeff February 24, 2011 at 16:29

Good post. In today’s society, parents are always looking to find a way to leave their children with some security(in the form of money) through retirement funds or life insurance.

Invest It Wisely February 26, 2011 at 21:53

Interesting post and I like the metaphor of the fridge, though why not a cruise ship full of fish? A fridge only holds so many fish. 😛

Much of poverty isn’t really so. Anyone who claims to be in “poverty” in one of the rich western countries yet has a home, internet, and food to eat, should go to one of the places on this earth where true poverty exists. Even if you’re lazy as heck, you still do alright over here.

Ravi Gupta March 9, 2011 at 09:12

What you’re saying makes sense. I think it also brings up the quesiton of frugality or living below your means or just what you need in order to survive.

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