Karma and Compound Interest

Posted on July 15, 2014 by Robert Ringer



When asked what he believed to be the greatest discovery of the 20th century, Albert Einstein is said to have answered, “Compound interest.”  And wealthy people — you know, the ones who clip debt-instrument coupons as a pastime — would undoubtedly agree with him.

Compound interest, however, can accrue on things other than money.  When I was a very young man, I observed that I almost always ended up paying considerably more for an irresponsible action than what I had hoped to gain from it.  When the payment came due, it was like an invisible balloon note that carried onerous, compounded interest.  (Sound familiar?)

I thought about this when I read that former Oakland Raiders Jack Tatum, known in his playing days as “The Assassin,” had died in 2010 at age sixty-one.  During his playing days, Tatum let it be known that when he took the field, his goal was to maim his opponents.

On August 12, 1978, in a preseason game, he took that goal to its extreme with a brutal hit on Darryl Stingley of the New England Patriots.  Stingley had been vulnerable while reaching for a high pass over the middle from quarterback Steve Grogan.

At the moment of impact, Stingley’s life was forever changed.  He spent his remaining years as a quadriplegic, and died in 2007 at age fifty-five.

Hard as it is to believe, Jack Tatum never once tried to contact Stingley to apologize — or even to see how he was doing.  When asked by a reporter about the incident, he simply said, “I was just trying to do my job.  It’s unfortunate, but it happens.”

In his later years, Jack Tatum suffered from severe diabetes, which resulted in his losing his left leg and five toes on his right foot.  One can’t help but wonder if Tatum’s horrific health problems and death at a relatively young age represent compounded interest that came due on his karma debt.

And what about Mike Nifong, the rogue prosecutor who tried to railroad three Duke lacrosse players into life sentences for a crime they did not commit?  After his misdeeds were discovered, Nifong lost everything — his prestigious district attorney title (that he was willing to commit criminal acts to retain), his license to practice law, the respect of friends, family, and the public, and, most assuredly, respect for himself.

Did Nifong’s enormous losses comprise compounded interest that came due on his karma debt?

As a final example, I can’t help thinking of the late Johnny Cochran, who died of a brain tumor in 2005.  Every non-comatose adult can vividly remember Cochran’s transformation of the O.J. Simpson trial into the Mark Fuhrman trial.  And his ludicrous attempt at Muhammed Ali-like poetry that cinched the deal for his murderous client:  “If it [the glove] doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

For years, Cochran, with a straight face, insisted, in his frequent television appearances, that O.J. was innocent.  This, even after those infamous Bruno Magli shoe pictures were published.  It was, of course, a bold-faced lie.  Cochran had a razor-sharp mind and was certainly no Pollyanna.  There’s no way he didn’t know O.J. was guilty as sin.

Was Cochran’s gruesome death compounded interest that came due on his karma debt?

I could make a pretty long list here — as I’m sure you could — but you get the idea:  “Everything that goes around comes around.”  It’s a nice, tight philosophical view of life that is very comforting — that is, until we come up against two scenarios that don’t fit the karma mold:

  1. When bad things happen to good people, and …
  2. When good things happen to bad people.

In thousands of years of recorded history, no one has even come close to being able to explain why bad things sometimes happen to good people.  It could be that God has a plan to which we are not privy.  Or that appropriate rewards will be forthcoming in the afterlife.  Or perhaps that God doesn’t care about earthly events.  Who knows for certain?

As for good things happening to bad people, it’s a scenario that is every bit as frustrating as bad things happening to good people.  We all know bona fide scoundrels and full-blooded vermin who appear to live charmed lives, with their debts never seeming to come due.

So, where does that leave Jack Tatum, Mike Nifong, Johnny Cochran, and untold numbers of other shameless folks?  Were they just unlucky people who got caught in the gears of a random universe, while even worse characters, through nothing more than the luck of the draw, got off scot free?

I don’t think so.  While I haven’t been appointed to speak on behalf of the Final Judge, my gut tells me that the Tatums, Nifongs, and Cochrans of the world do, in fact, fall into the “everything that goes around comes around” category.

But humility compels me to admit that I have no explanation for why good people sometimes get punished and bad people often get away with murder (in some cases, literally).  That being so, I choose not to fret about when, where, and how punishments will be meted out to those who make careers out of lying, stealing, cheating, and committing aggression against others.

My mantra is simple:  Don’t try to direct traffic unless God has personally appointed you to do so.  Just be patient and watch in awe as events unfold through the years.  Even more important, live your own life on the premise that everything that goes around does, indeed, come around.

That said, it’s best to recognize that no matter how righteous you may be, you still may get struck down by a brain tumor, heart attack, or diabetes.  Even so, what do you have to lose by striving to lead a virtuous life?

It’s true, of course, that even if you invest an extraordinary amount of effort into living your life on the high road, you still will fall far short of moral perfection.  Which raises the question:  Is it worth it?  I believe it is, because striving for moral perfection, of and by itself, is a great reward.

When all is said and done, no one can say with certainty whether or not an abstract phenomenon such as karma is at work in our universe.  But why tempt the fates and run the risk of finding out the hard way that it is?

I pledge to you that the moment I come up with answers to why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people, you’ll be the first to know.  However, in all candor, I must admit that I do not expect the Conscious Universal Power Source to share the answer with me anytime soon.

In the meantime, my best advice is to live your life as though you believe that karma is a reality.  Or, to put it in more secular, pragmatic terms, live every moment as though the whole world were watching.


Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

37 responses to “Karma and Compound Interest”

  1. Paul Anthony says:

    I, too, have struggled with these questions for most of my life. And, like you, I realize that whatever answers i find will be merely my own opinion since no confirmation is likely coming from the Universe any time soon.

    But for whatever my humble opinion is worth, here is what I have concluded: What goes around comes around holds true for those whose consciences dictate their choices. A guilty conscience can wreak havoc with one's health. Those who seem to get away with all sorts of misdeeds have no conscience.

    • CARA says:


      • Foxqueen says:

        Alzheimer's is her compounded debt payment. Now, every day she gets to relive the horror in her own little coccoon that she has inflicted on those around her.

        Our family had a similar situation and I choose to believe this was her payback. She created a miserable life for those around her and now gets to re-live the misery.

    • Tangela says:

      At last! Someone with real exirtepse gives us the answer. Thanks!

  2. GCH says:

    An otherwise rational thought process is marred by the GOD thing.

  3. Roger Roger says:

    Indeed, Robert. Mny thx.

  4. Dale Sams says:

    We live in a good world but not perfect. It can not be perfect if we are to have the freedom of choice on how we want to live our lives. If we choose to only live a life for this material world we may be extremely successful in this life with much wealth or power but this life will come to an end. Our next life is spiritual and if you are not prepared to live a spiritual life than you can not have a future once this earthly life is over. Our earthly bodies and everything we have earthly is not eternal. They will all end. Only what is spiritual is eternal. Successful people who are only able to live for the here and now are to be pitied because in a few short years they must cease to exist. Once a baby emerges from the womb it must be able to breath to continue to live on this planet. Once we die a physical death on this planet we must be prepared to live a spiritual existence or we can not have any life beyond this physical existence. Dale Sams

    • John E. Gabor says:

      Or worse yet the evil spend eternity paying the price – the ultimate karma…

  5. RealitySeeker says:

    "Karma" is the latest catch phrase originating from some undated, forgotten wives' tale. Really, history has proven there is no "karma" as it is now defined by those who vainly seek a higher meaning. What there is is integrity or the lack there of it. Simple. No mystic or cosmic explanation necessary. Moreover and more importantly, the man who breaks his integrity doesn't have to wait because he suffers an immediate penalty, viz., he becomes a lessor man on the spot. But it's not a material suffering, nor is it a physical one. The wicked have been flourishing for a long, long time. No 'bad karma" for them, just a simple lack of integrity.

    "When I think about this, I am terrified; trembling seizes my body. Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? They see their children established around them, their offspring before their eyes. Their homes are safe and free from fear; the rod of God is not on them. Their bulls never fail to breed; their cows calve and do not miscarry. They send forth their children as a flock; their little ones dance about. They sing to the music of timbrel and lyre; they make merry to the sound of the pipe. They spend their years in prosperity and go down to the grave in peace. Yet they say to God, 'Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways." ~ Job

  6. James says:

    It's Johnnie Cochran, not Johnny Cochran.

  7. Chrisrine Manville says:

    In my entire life, four have maliciously hurt me, and karma exacted a price on three so far, one’s son turned into a drug dealer and she was evicted from her home; one went blind and died early; and the last developed RA and at his death, he looked like a pretzel. The fourth is up in the air, and I don’t ask for comeuppance. The price will be paid, I believe, now or later.

  8. RealitySeeker says:

    “compound interest ”

    That "achievement", as it's related to finance, has been around a lot longer than the 20th century. So much for Albert Einstein's genius on economic history.

    In the 21 century both derivatives and neo-rehypothecation eclipse the chicken feed known as "compound interest". In fact, has it escaped your notice that "interest", compound or otherwise, doesn't seem to be paying much, lately? The "wicked bankers—- who suffer no "karma" and only collect massive speaking fees— at Fed have seen to that, and boy oh boy are they having their way. What's paying off in spades is not compounding interest, but how the banksters are causing the monetary system to crash like a rocket, upwards, until the reality of gravity finally takes hold. Once the dollar rocket runs out of fuel, levels off and starts its uncontrolled return trip—- and, parenthetically, if by karma you mean actions have consequences, then, yes—- there's going to be a massive dose of "karma" unseen by anybody in generations as the dollar rocket hits and its kinetic energy spreads across the entire globe wiping out the balance sheets of entire countries.

    • John E. Gabor says:

      I'm not an economist, but if we use monopoly money based on debt, how can it come crashing down? They'll just keep running up debt.

      • Guy Phillips says:

        "No analogy is perfect", said an economist named, Ludwig von Mises, " it is merely a tool used to help the layman".

        The rocket ( i.e., the U.S. monetary system (based on the dollar)) is fueled by credit expansion. This much both you and I and a growing minority know. What hardly anybody understands is how creating massive amounts of currency units out of thin air actually propels both the monetary system and the associated economy to stratospheric heights just before the rocket finally breaks apart. How does the rocket break apart, and its pieces level off and finally come crashing back to earth with such kinetic force that the result shall be Greater Depression? Providing a complete answer would take too much time and space to fully explain; however, I will briefly outline the process, and you'll have to put in the time to educate yourself on the important details.

        Creating massive amounts of currency units leads to wealth and capital destruction. That's right, creating massive amounts of money (monetary inflation) inevitably leads to currency destruction. The velocity of money actual slows down and the cost of doing business rises until widespread insolvency occurs. Business close and assets are liquidated. This causes price deflation. In response, the Fed prints more money which doesn't help long-term but creates malinvestment in some asset classes such as stocks, fine art and high-end real estate. This is what is happening now.

        Debt-money is being created in the form of trillions upon trillions of currency units. Remember, nobody has ever worked for this counterfeit "money" or traded a good for it— not even so much as a tooth pick. It's trillions of currency units which have no value in and by themselves. The value therein of this kind of "money" is that it is backed by the productive capacity of "the people" (serfs), e.g., taxes collected from their productive activity (serfdom). So, understanding how the uneducated public is tied to this counterfeit money and forced to use it as legal tender is the beginning of answering the question: "if we use monopoly money based on debt, how can it come crashing down? They'll just keep running up debt" . Answer: It's a ruthless, evil system. And the productive capacity of people has its limits. When the limit is finally reached the rocket runs out of fuel. And, this time, when the system finally crashes the Great Depression will be something people actually aspire to…….

        Derivatives, rehypothecation and massive credit expansion have propelled the rocket higher than many thought possible. The rocket has sputtered a few times and it will sputter a few more before it finally breaks apart.

        I hope you have the vision to see the rocket break apart and the wherewithal to have a fallout shelter ready during the final impact.

        • Caroline says:

          When I was in 4th grade my family visited the US Mint. I asked my parents, "Why don't they print enough money so everyone can be rich?" They responded, "Because then it will be worthless." Easy to understand, even for a nine-year-old. Many years later, when Congress asked Ben Bernanke if printing money causes inflation, he said, "Not necessarily." My first thought was he doesn't do his own grocery shopping, my second thought, he was lying.

          • John E. Gabor says:

            Yes, it causes inflation. The government changes the formula (or just lies) to say inflation isn't that bad. Logic says the system will collapse if they keep running up debt. But the system will collapse if they quit running up debt. So they keep running up debt.

          • RealitySeeker says:

            Most economies emerge from a recession less wounded than the condition America shall be in as the country enters into the next one. Washington and the Fed have shot America in the foot, hand and groin. And as I've said for six years running, on Mr. Ringer's blogs, America has been transmogrified into amerika.

            I've noticed, since boyhood — with a little help from friends and family— how America's decent into a collectivist police-state was gradually taking place. Now it's almost done. In a few more decades— if a nuclear war is averted— amerika shall be indistinguishable from Venezuela. Just look at the facts: tens of millions of uneducated, third-world welfare-cases have crossed the border since R. Reagan was president, adding millions of dimwits to the Democratic army and millions of undocumented, cash workers to the Republican cheap-labor force—and tens of millions to the welfare system. Cloward and Piven would be breathless at how well amerika is doing. Talk about "compounding" the problems. Obama has done just as I thought he would; namely, accelerate the transformation of America into a super police-state to the point where only the dimmest of the dimwits don't feel uneasy about the future.

            Here in Houston, I've noticed watched over the past five years as entire neighborhoods have been transformed into places where English is a second language. Like every other government number, the government numbers are patently false on the quantity of people flowing in from the third world.

        • Robby Bonfire says:

          One way to stay ahead of the game of solvency is to develop a skill that will never go out of style, whatever stage of the economy we are in. The best return on the investment of a little self-education undertaking is learning how to skillfully play the poker game "Texas Hold'em." You rev up to speed in this arena, you can quit your day job, quit your night job, pay off your bills, and make a small, or even large fortune playing the game on cruise liners, for starters.

          Travel the world and make a damn good buck, who can argue with that scenario, besides the idiots who don't have any money so they that they have to resort to: " The love of Money is the root of all evil." Having ample money is also the root of your being able to buy your breakfast in the morning, and everything else you NEED and WANT, to survive, but they never tell you that.

  9. Michael MikeRP says:

    Maybe. This quickly becomes a post hoc ergo propter hoc conundrum. I don't think O.J or any of the other clowns mentioned needed some magical mystical law of karma, or God to exact revenge. Just living stupidly or just plain time and chance is enough to have provided the nasty ends of these people.
    However, I can't prove either way, so I'll just have to remain an agnostic on the subject.

  10. Marte says:

    Sometimes I believe bad things happen to good people because of the law of attraction – they worry about the bad things that could happen, give them too much energy, and thus draw them in.

    As for the bad people – I seriously doubt if they're actually happy. And bad things DO happen to them. They lose people they love – by choice or by disaster. They lose the respect of people they esteem. They have to live with what they do. Perhaps if they have no conscience or care nothing for anyone but themselves they think they're happy?

    That's a question we can't answer.

    As for OJ – Karma DID finally nail him – just not the way we expected.

  11. Murray Suid says:

    A provocative essay. Thank you, Robert.

    Note that Snopes.com provides evidence that Einstein probably didn't say anything about compound interest. http://www.snopes.com/quotes/einstein/interest.as

  12. CARA says:


  13. Liz says:

    It's possible that there is an ultimate justice that we call karma and it I certainly see the logic of "what goes around comes around.' I agree with Marte's take on it. I know that focusing on things in a positive or negative way can influence the increase of whichever view we take — "the law of attraction" — which is even implied in the story of Job: he tried to do everything right and even worried that his children would do something wrong and bring God's wraith on him "Thus did Job continuously." — and sure enough, everything went wrong. And I, too, don't think people who are "bad" are happy. It may be that they don't have a concept of happiness, to begin with but the few sociopathic people I have known were not content and seemed to need conflict and disturbances to motivate them. I agree with Robert that it's better for me to try to do good and be good but I don't know if it is a cosmic law that works for everyone.

  14. Big Dave says:

    "Karma" is just an abstract way to express the old saying "what goes around comes around". If not in this life, there will definitely be a final accounting for those who suffered innocently and vice versa. Do people really think that evil people like Hitler and other wrong doers will escape any punishment beyond this life? Don't bet your soul on that idea.

  15. LapsedLamb says:

    I used to be a Christian. I went to church, (various churches, from Presbyterian to Lutheran to Pentecostal), even attended Bible School classes in the summer. But after some harsh life experiences, I honestly don't think that there is a god who cares about people as individuals. All too often, flawed human beings are more responsive and more compassionate than any deity in the sky. John F. Kennedy once said "God's work must truly be our own." And that's true, because there is likely no God to begin with, so it's all on us.

  16. Caroline says:

    I remember a previous RJR essay where he said not to get attached to outcomes and not to judge things as good or bad. He has also said there are opportunities around every obstacle. I don't think our minds can grasp the big BIG picture, and are not meant to. Life is choosing. A Master is one who always makes the highest choice.

    • Paradox says:

      Well said, Caroline. You are enlightened. "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so."

  17. Ann says:

    I have worked in a hospice and I have seen many deaths. In my experience, by the end of life, people reap whatever they have sown. The people who live good lives almost uniformly die peacefully, surrounded by loved ones. And those who have spread evil often go out in fear and anxiety. My observations of those last moments in people's lives have convinced me that it usually does even out in the end.

    • Phil says:

      Very interesting, I have often thought something similar and have heard others say the same thing.

      Note that it is almost always best to forgive people who have hurt us, if for no other reason that it brings peace of mind.

  18. Avery Horton says:

    There's a little boy and on his 14th birthday he gets a horse… and everybody in the village says, "how wonderful. The boy got a horse" And the Zen master says, "we'll see." Two years later, the boy falls off the horse, breaks his leg, and everyone in the village says, "How terrible." And the Zen master says, "We'll see." Then, a war breaks out and all the young men have to go off and fight… except the boy can't cause his legs all messed up. and everybody in the village says, "How wonderful." Now the Zen master says, "We'll see."

  19. Robby Bonfire says:

    This is a bit technical, what I am about to expound. Before I do, though, well-reasoned, quite deep and insightful column, yes. Greatly appreciated.

    In so far as "karma" is concerned, I see a great deal of an overlapping of the this term with the term "cause and effect." Karma, to me, is immutable, such as the identity of your parents – you cannot change that. Who you are is a given. Where you were born is inviolate,as is when you were born. Your environment and your friends and teachers while you were growing up – you cannot change your early experience, which you mostly had no control over. So that, to me, Karma is that which you inherit or experience, over which you have/had no control, and which cannot be changed.

    Now then, as regards "Cause and Effect," a case can be made that this is what Robert is referencing in the above column. The people he refers to are all notorious for making expedient and blatantly dishonest choices to enjoy the benefits of gain, short-term, as it turned out, albeit they were probably thinking, at the time, that they had "beaten the system."

    All of this raises a good question: to wit, does that which we knowingly do which amounts to wrong and harmful causes, devolve from there to impact, first, the corruption of our spirit, and from there, our health quotient?

    In my case, the answer is a resounding, YES! While experiencing severe respiratory problems, circa 2006-2009, I read somewhere that all disease and infirmity stems from a ~spiritual~ corruption or debasement, and not, initially, from any physical cause, which in time becomes the symptom of the spiritual void or darkness.

    Immediately I resolved to revive my moribund spiritual life, via a faith-based commitment I undertook. Soon the enormous stress I was under, which had to be the cause of the malady, seemed to dissipate,and today I am virtually 100 per cent recovered from an agonizing physical condition.

    Why do I make the connection between a healthy spiritual condition and a healthy body? Because the doctors x-rays could detect nothing wrong with me, physically. So that the cause of my disorder had to be my self-induced. stressful reaction to some brutal life experience that came my way, at the time.

    So there you have it, and perhaps in your life you too can discern the difference between karma and cause and effect,as I have successfully done and benefit enormously from that insight.

  20. Richard Lee Van says:

    I believe, tentatively, that we are here in life to evolve the Self. First and foremost. Any experiences we choose or attract give opportunity to further personal growth… growth of the Self/Mind/Soul which all may be different terms for the same reality. For esotericists, the work of Jane Roberts makes a good dent in explaining it. In any case, yes, we are LIMITED KNOWERS and that can be, often is, frustrating. So what to do? Live as fully as possible. That has worked for me. Many have criticized me for it, bul, to each her own!

  21. Scott theczech says:

    On the question of "why bad things happen…[sic]:" May I try?

    If God is god then the creation would reflect his character and nature i.e., truth would be consistent and indiscriminate: "the rain would fall on the just and unjust alike." If there is a "curse" which some scientists refer to as the law of thermodynamics, it was brought about by man, not God. Good people, bad people and in-between people are all subject to physics and randomness. Truth and consequences (pardon the pun please) apply to all. Consequently, death awaits us all.

    This existence is brief and eternity is, well…eternal. We are the only creature we know of which can choose how to behave, hope, love.

  22. Philosophizer says:

    Some excellent responses to Roberts thought provoking post. Karma is generally -"You reap what you sow". But then we have this problem of good/bad people not getting their just due now, while here on earth.

    I think most of us can agree we are a spiritual beings first and foremost, but we seem to be "locked" into this 3D Universe through our minds and bodies. But the prison door will opened when we die and we will leave this detention. But where will we go?

    Well if Karma here is any indication, we will each go to our respective place that match's exactly our energy and spiritual development. So at this point, the Great Judge will meet out each ones further destiny to how he developed here. Thus at this point, full restitution will be made. The ledger will then be balanced.

    Here on earth, things develop at a slow vibrational level, so any "payback" can take what seems like an extended period of time – while in the spiritual realms, all payback is instant. We fragile humans could not survive in a "spiritual realm" for very long, as the swiftness of the Karma would preclude our ability to actually "live" a 3D life with any saneness.

    This is why we should not worry about "getting even" while here on earth. The Great Judge will take care of it. In the meantime, read Roberts books and make some money! For a Soul without money is a ship without an engine. We need money to be spiritual, and if we are spiritual, we would have money. After all, money is just energy – Period.

  23. Scott Elder says:

    As usual, this was a very insightful article. I'm not sure, however, if Albert Einstein actually said that about compounding interest. I am the founder of Investools, an investment education company, and one of our presenters had that quote in his presentation. I asked him to show me the source and he wasn't able to. I tried to find the source on all of the Einstein quote websites and wasn't able to find it. Since neither of us were unable to verify that Einstein actually said that we stopped using it in our presentations. But by that time thousands of people throughout the world had seen it in our presentations and it started showing up in articles and in the presentations of others. If you've been able to verify it please let me know. All of my best, Scott

  24. dante says:

    all nonsense

  25. mtoolss says:

    Amazing post….