Donald Trump on investment? Oops – it’s the bible

Here’s your bible reading for the day

For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.  And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying,

Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

His lord said unto him,

Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

He also that had received two talents caand said,

Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

His lord said unto him,

Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Then he which had received the one talent came and said,

Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:

And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

His lord answered and said unto him,

Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

A talent is worth about 20 years of work, about half a working lifetime. Two talents is a lifetime’s work at average salary and five talents is a rich man’s wage. Even valuing work at minimum wage, the man with a talent is getting around £300,000 while the grant to the top-rated servant is around £1.5m; by the end of the story, the poor man is destitute and top-dog’s got £3.3m! The guy with two talents has £1.2m. You’d expect some kind of social justice (after all it’s easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get to the kingdom of heaven). But no! The two millionaires get the full “apprentice winning” treatment while the sucker who started and ended with £300,000 gets thrown in jail.

The parable’s a problem whichever way you read it! If the Lord is an absentee landlord and is stealing corn from other people’s labour, isn’t the servant with one talent a whistle blower who won’t join in the trading or take unearned interest – with good reason?

Or are we supposed to think of the servant with one talent as like the trustee who looks at the equities traded by richer trustees as beyond his means and worries about the credit risk of the bond market (at the exchanges)?

Burying the money in cash is clearly a crap strategy but does it merit his banishment to teeth-gnashing territory? Even the Pensions Regulator wouldn’t lock up a trustee for being in cash – or would he?

Whichever way I read this, the traveller (like the kingdom of heaven) sounds brutal, arbitrary and selfish. I don’t get this parable at all.

Question – do you? Interested in your take on the story – please use the comments box.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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9 Responses to Donald Trump on investment? Oops – it’s the bible

  1. john mather says:

    Rather than burying the one talent in his DB scheme he should have gone forth and multiplied when he had the chance instead he hung on and lost all Like 23 also has guidance

  2. henry tapper says:

    The Luke version is slightly different – there’s even a Hebrew Gospel version with a different ending!

  3. henry tapper says:

    Perhaps he could have used his talents to keep the DB scheme open!

  4. George Kirrin says:

    I think this simply highlights the folly of judging any book by a single quotation or passage (or even just by its cover). Behavioural scientists may consider this an example of confirmation/confirmatory bias.

    The Bible is a book which some would argue requires a lifetime of study. There are also many commentators and commentaries.

    One committed Christian entrepreneur once said in an interview that if he tried to run his business by following the Sermon on the Mount the business (and I think he meant its creditors, shareholders and employees) would be “rooked”.

    One parable which always puzzled me more than most as I grew up was the parable of the barren fig tree.

    Using the parable of the talents in isolation to justify Donald Trump’s approach to investment ignores his use as a property entrepreneur of borrowed money, bankruptcy at one point, and his arguably riding roughshod over communities and individuals in pursuit of deals and profit.

    One former trustee of my acquaintance used to ask her/his fellow trustees with varying talents to consider not the Pensions Regulator’s guidance, which even back then was assuming Biblical proportions (or pretensions), but instead reduce the questions and decisions in hand to the four cardinal virtues of prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice, of which she/he considered prudence to be the greatest.

    Prudence means different things at different times in the uncertain life of a DB pension scheme. There are times when it should mean investing in at least some gilts. But these times may not be one of them unless the trustees are contemplating an early buyout. In these times, some may argue that buying gilts at current prices and yields should be considered downright imprudent.

  5. ancientllm says:

    I agree with you, Henry, that this passage from the Bible is an odd one and seems at odds with all that Jesus says against the rich, or at least those who hoard their wealth for themselves rather than using it to help others (end of sermon). The passage is from a series of parables that try to relate the Kingdom of Heaven to things Jesus’ listeners would understand. As such I think it is probably saying that we should use the talents we have been given to persuade others to become a part of the kingdom. Hence doing nothing with those talents is a bad thing, whereas using our talents to persuade others to join up is a good thing.

    BTW I am doing my best to spread the (your) word that current “pensions deficits” are at best illusory……. (see eg the comment by MK22 on



    • henry tapper says:

      Thanks Robin

    • Phil Castle says:

      That’s my understanding of it too, i.e. it is hoarding and discouraging hoarding. The use of the word usury in this version is interesing bearing in mind that for many years usury was contrary to Christiani doctrine as it remains with Islam.
      I’d be interested to read the Luke and Hebrew versions you mention to see how they differ to the King James version Henry, especially withr egard usury.

  6. Ian Neale says:

    If we are here to help one another (“No man is an island . . .”), as i believe, it is incumbent on each one of us to use the abilities we have for the betterment of our society. If we leave the world as we entered it, making no improvement save for maintaining ourselves, what have we contributed? I agree with Robin that to interpret the parable literally, ie in terms of how we use money, is too narrow.

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