As I write this, the wealthy elite are meeting in a luxury mountaintop hotel in Davos, Switzerland, wondering why the economy is screwed up. Once again, I wondered about wealth.
Where does wealth come from? What is wealth? Definition: “An abundance of valuable possessions or money; plentiful supplies of a particular resource.”
‘An abundance of valuable possessions’…what makes them valuable? They must contribute in some way to maintaining life; maintaining life is something we value. Fancy jewelry? Status symbols? How do those maintain life? Simple. Status symbols signal “I am important.” Important people receive favored treatment. So humans strive to accumulate status symbols.
“Plentiful supplies of a particular resource.”..how about food? We need that to maintain life. Would we call a man with a million bushels of wheat stashed in warehouses wealthy? No, we would call him insane-until he sold the wheat and turned it into status symbols.
It is not the thing, not one million bushes of wheat, that makes a man wealthy. It is the symbols; mansions, luxury cars, jewelry, private jets. Money is a symbol that we agree is valuable. If we stop agreeing that money (not just paper money, but digital figures on our bank statement) has value, then money has no value. Money has value only because we agree that it does-no other reason.
We are social beings and wealth is comparative. Where everyone has the same resources, no one is singled out as wealthy; a situation certain individuals will not tolerate. It’s not enough that I’m good-looking, I must be better-looking than you. It’s not enough that I have food, shelter, relative safety, family and friends, I must have gourmet food, seven luxury homes, security guards, royal family connections and wealthy friends like myself. I am better than you.
If a man were all alone in the world, although he had all the gold and diamonds on earth, he would not be rich. He must have poorer people to compare himself to in order to be rich.
Wealth is a condition of hoarding so many resources that, compared to others, I control many more. You are needed for me to be rich, you are needed to agree that my status symbols mean I am better than you. And for the most part, we do agree to that.
Rich me is not better than you and not necessarily worse, either. Plenty of poor people want to trade places with rich me and would be even bigger selfish Aholes than I am. It is not wanting sufficient resources that is sick. We all want sufficient resources. What is sick is that driving pride, that loathsome greed, that hideous imbalance.
Jesus said the “poor will always be with you”* because he knew the sick, greedy Aholes will always be with us, too. Always have been, always will be. The best we can do is restrict their mania, and make them pay their fair share, lest they destroy the rest of us. That would be difficult and good, but maybe the very BEST would be a new worldview that, having sufficient resources to live decent lives in peace, let us therewith be content-and pursue more beneficial challenges than trying to prove we are better than everyone else through flashing our status symbols.
*Some money-grubbers use Jesus’ words that “the poor will always be with you” to justify never doing anything to help them. That is an evil twisting of what he said.
“You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me.” (Mark 14:7)