3.a.6 – Must we pursue wealth?

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March 10, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

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Must we pursue wealth?

It should be clear about what is meant by wealth: according to common definition of economics, wealth is a collection of goods, namely a set of things somehow useful to life, things that satisfy human needs. According to this concept, wealth is by definition an instrument for achieving our prosperity, to live a good life.
In fact, any activity that gives us satisfaction, like eating, taking care of our health, having fun or travel, requires the use of material resources, i.e. the above mentioned properties; in fact, also intangible goods like culture, a decent social role or the family affection, all priceless asset to live our lives well, are often largely supported by the material resources we have. It is also appropriate to remember that to help others,the use of economic resources is needed, so much so that an ancient proverb says that to help the poor, the best thing is to be rich; wealth then is by its nature in the service of both individual and collective life, so it is right to talk about the wealth of a community or a nation.
To increase our wealth means to increase the capacity to live well our lives and to help the others to do likewise; the production of wealth for themselves and others should therefore be considered a virtue, some even argue it is a moral duty, but then why there are many different religions and political ideologies condemning the economic prosperity and its research? The fact is that wealth is a word with many meanings and is easy to make confusion with them; let’s take as an example a diamond necklace: we know that has great value in money, so it’s a precious good, but what is its use? In what way it could help life? It is a trivial ornament, but it is also a symbol of economic prosperity and then of social prestige and power; we must remember that we are social animals and accordingly we instinctively show to the rest of the community our position in the social hierarchy and we do it in a thousand ways and continuously: starting from the choice of clothes, or having a larger desk than the others at work, the best seats at the stadium or for theater performances up to extremely costly things, like luxury cars, jewels, sailboats and personal aircraft.
We are facing another kind of wealth, whose purpose is not to live well but to compete and prevail over the others, a richness that can be defined as the sum of goods that help us to obtain as much power and social prestige as we can. Now let’s consider the classical figure of the old man as rich as miser, who throughout his life has worked as a slave, sacrificing any satisfaction to accumulate a great patrimony, he has always lived like a poor to become rich, but with a wealth that he will not ever use to live well, being designed only to become even more rich, to have a respected position in a more powerful and prestigious social class. This wealth is an enemy of life, the exact opposite of what we said at the beginning of the paragraph, however, we know well how it’s easy to become confused or switch between them. The difference between these two fundamental forms of wealth is precisely in the value that they protect: life, at the first place, power at the second; when power becomes more important than life, economic prosperity acquires a negative role.
In a situation of fierce competition, as is often found in human society, to become a leader it is appropriate to crush the others, and to accumulate assets people do not hesitate to steal them from the others; also in poor countries the economic well-being is the prerogative only of the hated ruling class and thus associated with it. We should therefore not being surprised if the negative concept of wealth is the most common, when the luxury begets any type of vices and opulence causes corruption and every human wickedness; there is also another advantage in the exaltation of poverty, i.e. to help the mass of slaves, servants and poor people to accept their condition and bear it better. In the rich western world, the exaltation of poverty today is no longer preached, as indeed is fought as an opposition to consumerism, which is the culture that is propagated as the engine for the progress of humanity, but the dangers associated with economic power are larger than ever, competition is increasingly tough and the quality of life increasingly low. This means that in fact the western world is increasingly rich in the sense that wealth consists of things less and less useful for the people, but it is continued to feed that psychological pollution which tends to make people believe otherwise, because a conscious poor consumes sparingly and tends to save rather than making debts. Do we buy small apartments with forty years mortgages? Do we buy any object with burdensome loans to be repaid in installments? Do we spend a good part of our Income on phone calls? No matter, since we are Westerners, we are part of the rich western world and therefore we are rich, as it is shown by the plasma TVs in our living rooms, mobile phones in our pockets, and i-pod in our ears.
To facilitate things, we will continue to call “wealth” the positive phenomenon and “economic power” the negative phenomenon, because these are concepts that are hardly separable in our mind and consequently so are in daily practice as well, therefore the use of different terms is certainly appropriate. We can then conclude that the wealth is an indispensable tool for living well our life and helping our loved ones to do the same, and it is important to educate our children to distinguish wealth from the economic power in order not to lose sight of the fundamental value that is their life.
A similar speech may perfectly be made on the activity that produces wealth, that is on work, which is an important value because it is the source of welfare for the individual, the family and the community, but that assumes a negative role if it is in the service of economic power.
It should be added that if to pursue wealth is right, to effectively do so is not enough to be aware of it, it is also necessary an environment that gives this opportunity: our environment is our society and by its economy also significantly depends ours; we are social animals, from our collaboration depends any productive activity; it follows that by a good organization of society, i.e. by an efficient symbiosis, consistent with our nature, giving opportunities to grow and fairly distributing the resources, depends the creation of wealth and therefore the protection of the individual, family and collective life.

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