Five Personal Finance, Economic and Life Lessons Learned from “The Lion King”

Cover of "The Lion King (Disney Special P...

Cover via Amazon

My girlfriend recently treated me to a live performance of The Lion King Broadway Musical. I’m not usually big on watching musicals, but I loved the movie and the musical did not disappoint. The Lion King is a moving story about love, loss, and the circle of life. It follows the life of a young cub, Simba, as he struggles to find himself and his place in the world.

In my opinion this is one of the last great animated classics; since then, nothing has really connected with me (though there have been exceptions such as WALL-E). If you haven’t seen The Lion King yet, then you really should! Whether you’re 15 or 65, there is something in this film for you.

Here are five lessons based on my own personal interpretation of the story.

Getting over the past and learning from our mistakes

Do we spend too much time beating ourselves up over what has happened long ago? Simba did. He spent much of his life racked with guilt over his own past, even though he wasn’t personally to blame. The pain of his memories and his sense of shame caused him to lose all sight of the past and future and focus solely on the present.

We often do the same in our personal lives. Maybe we went too much into debt, maybe we had a spat with a family member or a friend, but we often end up punishing ourselves many times over for the mistake and the bad memory, whether we were personally responsible or not. Sometimes we cope by ignoring the lesson and the pain and blocking it from our memory, and other times we cope by beating ourselves up over it. Neither is a path toward learning from the lesson and moving on. Simba shows us that by confronting our memories and moving past them, we can bring peace and harmony to our own lives. Even if many years have passed, it’s possible to set things right and to bring our lives into a brighter future.

The Circle of Life Topiary at Epcot. Source:

The Circle of Life Topiary at Epcot. Source via Flickr.

The importance of savings

In The Lion King, the circle of life is paramount — the lions eats the antelope, but when a lion dies, he becomes the grass which the antelope feeds on. The sun is the fuel and the engine that drives this circle. In this way, all life is connected. There is no money, no central bank, or any other vestiges of a ‘modern economy’. However, this setup lets us see more clearly that economic laws hold sway in all times and in all places, even for lions and lionesses.

Savings play an important role, even in the Pridelands. Saving for the future is really about abstaining from consumption today, so that we can consume tomorrow. The reason we save is to maximize our expected value — to think about the future, as well as the present. The benefits of savings are a social benefit — they benefit not merely the saver, but all of society. A lioness kills and consumes only what she needs so her pride can survive and prosper. If she overhunts and kills more than she needs, she consumes her capital and this actually hurts all of the lions. They’ll have to make up for it by eating less or risk eating themselves into starvation.

The boom & the bust

Why do we cycle between good times and bad times? Why is it that during the bust we have people unemployed and factories sitting idle?

It’s easy to see how this works in the world of The Lion King. When the hyenas first invaded the Pridelands, they enjoyed the great wealth which the lions had preserved by careful management of their resources. The hyenas feasted on the abundance of the land. This was the good time… the boom. Those stingy lions were misers — with so much to go around, why shouldn’t the hyenas enjoy as much of it as they could? Those greedy lions were keeping the riches to themselves and preventing the hyenas from enjoying it, too.

However, the lions weren’t greedy misers — they were carefully preserving their capital stock. We can clearly see that the excesses of the hyenas was at the expense of the Pridelands — the more the hyenas consumed, the less there was available for the future. Eventually, almost everything in the vicinity of the Pridelands was consumed and a huge depression ensued, leaving both hyena and lion worse off than before.

The idleness of the lions and hyenas and their abstention from consumption is then necessary: if both lions and hyena continued to consume as if the boom was normal, they would consume themselves to death.

The housing bubble

Imagine if we had kept the housing bubble going, building houses that continued to rise in value and continued to place people more and more into debt. In nominal terms, things would look great: People’s household wealth would be rising, unemployment would be low, and GDP would be booming. In real terms however it would be a disaster. The wealth wasn’t really there; we were building homes that people couldn’t really afford. This misallocation of resources represents an enormous waste of our savings and real wealth destruction. It is necessary for these resources to become idle and for these workers to become unemployed and eventually employed in other sectors so that the nation’s savings can be replenished and used to build real wealth. False booms must necessarily lead to a bust.

Lion King Hyenas. Source:

Banzai, Ed, and Shenzi. Source: Wikia Lion King

Mob rule impoverishes everyone

The allure of democracy is the notion that every man and woman is equal — everyone deserves equal treatment under the law. This is an idea I firmly believe in myself. Everyone’s rights should be equally respected. However, there is a fundamental and fatal flaw in the way that democracy is actually practiced — we’ve taken it to mean that the rights of the majority outweigh the rights of the minority, and if the majority wants something they can just take it by force. This is a different belief than the idea that everyone is equal, but it’s the way that our democracies work today.

Who are the majority in The Lion King? The hyenas. They don’t live a life as good as the lions — the lions are rich; they are poor. The lions own the best property; they are consigned to the Elephant Graveyards. It seems really unfair, doesn’t it? Those hyenas sure get a bum rap.

Scar recognizes this, and he uses the grievances of the hyenas to his own advantage. You want more food? You can have it! You want fairness and better treatment! I will grant it to you! Those greedy lions have abused us for too long, and we will take what is rightfully ours! Can we do it? Yes we can.

Like any good politician, Scar turns the greed of the hyenas against them and sells both them and the lions down the river. He forcefully redistributes from the lions to give to the hyenas, but this is not the way to build wealth. The hyenas are encouraged to be greedy and to consume, and they benefit in the short run but not in the long run. In the end, did anyone benefit aside from Scar? This sort of short-sightedness, envy and greed ruins the Pridelands.

Ideas matter

Maybe the most important lesson from The Lion King is the lesson that ideas matter. Even when Mufasa is long gone, his ideas and values still hold considerable influence over Simba and the pride. These ideas are what bring Simba around and lead him to rediscover himself, and fight for his family and homeland. Even when everything seems on the brink of disaster, the ideas and the courage of a single lion saves the entire country, and the Pridelands are restored.

Even though Simba was outnumbered, and even though popular opinion was against him due to the lies of Scar, the truth of Simba’s ideas still prevailed. Never stop fighting for the truth and for what you believe is right, even if the tide is against you.

The circle of life

Here are some interesting reads from fellow Yakezie members:

So, reader, which lessons did you learn from The Lion King? Everyone’s interpretations are different, and I’d love to hear yours.
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    • says

      You have a really beautiful photo blog there! Are you a professional photographer? I’d love to be able to take shots like that. My girlfriend would be happier, she tells me I always take it at the wrong angle haha. 😉

  1. says

    Clever post, Kevin! I think there are often lessons that we can somehow find a way to pull from really well made movies. This movie fell into that category when released many years ago, even if it’s animated.

    By the way, I too saw the stage production of the Lion King, years ago. Good stuff.

  2. SophieW says

    What an awesome post Kevin! I have always loved the movie but you’ve brought it out in a new light for me. Thank you

  3. says

    What an interesting post.

    I know this sounds awful, but I was not a fan of the Lion King (animated, never saw the musical). I just hated that darn Scar so much, and I think the movie scared my youngest quite a bit.

    However there are some excellent points made in the movie if you look deep enough, as you pointed out. Maybe I need to give the movie another try now that the kids are so much older.

    • says

      You know my gf and her brother were in their early to mid-teens when they saw it, and they loved it, so why not? It’s a great story, and not that childish of a movie at all. That Scar is despicable, but he’s supposed to be. 😉

  4. says

    Awesome post. I particularly liked the point about leaving the past behind and learning from your mistakes. This was huge for me a few years ago. I had to make a serious effort to look forward and not dwell on what had happened. Now, I am much more forward thinker and try not to dwell on the past. I am actually working on trying to get my parents to do the same thing. Their lack of forgiveness and their dwelling in the past is detrimental to them I think.

    • says

      I think it’s normal that if the past is painful, it will take some time to get over that pain. It might take some time, but I think eventually we do find a way to move past if we focus on the future instead of dwelling on the past. I’ve also been there and glad to hear that you’re also moving forward. In the end life is too short!

  5. says

    I love the analogies you made between finances and this movie.

    I think the lesson I took out of it in general is that nature is more powerful than any negative force against it. If we start messing it with it too much nature fights back. Overpopulation is fought with disease and famine and plague.. Nature can be pretty brutal if you mess with it for too long. Better to be good stewards than suffer the consequences of trying to take advantage of nature.

    • says

      I agree with this! I think we’re also seeing the consequences of violating economic laws which ultimately also derive from nature, since nature is what enforces scarcity upon us, as much as we try to get rid of it through equations and laws! Ultimately we need to know our own limitations and acknowledge that we can’t just wave scarcity away, and in fact our attempts to do so often backfire and make things worse.

    • says

      I was reluctant to watch WALL-E at first because it just seemed like a childish movie, but after I heard from others that they had enjoyed I thought “What the heck.” and it was actually a pretty good and moving story!

  6. ImpulseSave says

    What a creative post! I especially love the “getting over the past” section. Sometimes, especially when it comes to debt, we can thing that our financial situation is unbreakable. Thinking we will be stuck (or secure) in our current economy is both flawed and dangerous. Excellent post!


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