The Paradox of Wealth

Very Rich, but Very Poor

Money, assets, wealth, rich, poor, destitute: all of these are in some ways less tangible than they may seem. Sure, today we have a world full of have's and have not's. Some are suffering in extreme poverty while others lounge on Caribbean beaches. This may seem to reflect some sort of natural arrangement, but in fact it does not. Wealth is really just a socially constructed system to distribute society's resources.

Imagine for example that you are Bill Gates; you have more money than you could ever dream of. Now imagine that you are in a desert with a low-income person. Nobody else is around. You are both walking through the desert alone together and you happen to find a pitcher of water. What would happen? I suspect that you would simply split the water between the two of you. Outside of market system of society, Bill Gates and any other person suddenly become equals. If something cannot be bought or sold, wealth becomes meaningless.

It's important to remember that in the natural world, money does not divide humanity into those who are worthy of something and those who are not. Society simply has needs and wealth is in a very general sense a reward to those who fill some of these needs. So what happens then when society determines that certain individuals should be given a huge share of total wealth, relative to other people? 

I think it depends.

Money alone really is empty. It really takes meaning when it represents something else. For example, for some people money can come with achievement and the fulfillment of ambitions. These people may feel happy earning more and more money because it represents their own accomplishments. On the other hand, some people seem to happen upon money for seemingly no reason, and in these situations it may generate other feelings.

The Rich Can Feel Poor

I know that often times nobody really wants to hear about the problems of the rich. People may think that they have nothing to worry about because they have all the money that they need. But money is not always a solution and I believe that all life problems can really only be in perspective of one's own life. That being said, I truly want to examine the perhaps sad lives of some extremely wealthy individuals.

If someone becomes rich upon accomplishing a major life goal, reaching some milestone or just by chance, they may feel discontent. If money was a motivating force in someone's life and they suddenly have more of it than they will ever need, it could create a sense of being finished in some way. The sense of achievement and abruptness that could come with wealth may leave some rich wondering "What now?" Money alone might have the effect of interrupting a sense of purpose in the world. 

The Rich Can Also Feel Rich

Perhaps if instead we examine a rich person, or a set of rich people who earn wealth over time, we may find a different outcome. If wealth becomes a part of the journey rather than a destination, it may not conjure the same feelings of a sort of existential dread associated with fulfilling a life goal. Those who are able to come into wealth and adjust their life goals to seek new passions and ambitions, rather than just more money, may feel quite happy with their wealth.

Tension Between Rich and Poor

For some reason, there seems to be a theme in our society of being obsessed with knowing who has money and who doesn't and of creating some sort of judgment as a result. If you are rich, you are taught, probably subconsciously, to look down upon those who earn less than you. On the other hand, if you are poor or even middle class, you may resent those who have more money than you do. 

I believe that no matter the direction of the scorn that it is in many ways quite foolish. There is really no point in disliking an individual or a group of individuals just because they fall into a different financial class than you do. Thinking back to the desert example, after extracting the social construct of wealth from the equation, it's easy to see that everyone is really equal to one another in their intrinsic human value. 

Wealth is just the way that society determines the allocation of resources. Individuals really cannot determine how much society will value their contribution; market forces set wage rates for different industries, companies and individuals. Therefore nobody should judge somebody else simply for a difference in income. 

We are all humans and we are all equal. We should stop letting ourselves believe that a person's financial status is at all indicative of their human value.