Wealth is terribly misunderstood and under-appreciated! And…it is suffering this fate at the hands of both conservatives and liberals. Some people seem to feel wealth is the solution to every problem…while others apparently see wealth as the cause of every problem. Wealth is neither good nor bad by itself…it takes people to make wealth good or bad.
Wealth is all about abundance….which is the opposite of scarcity. Somewhere between scarcity and abundance is a condition we need to research and understand a bit more…it’s called ‘enough.’ Anywhere below this threshold of ‘enough,’ life is not sustainable…the farther you go below ‘enough’ the greater the threat to life. Anywhere above ‘enough,’ life is not only sustainable, but it’s safe…the farther you go above ‘enough’ the greater the safety and security in life. Wealth is all about having much more than ‘enough’…and eventually a trend toward greater and greater wealth by fewer and fewer people means that a small minority of our global population can gain a monopoly on ‘enough.’
Many people don’t understand ‘enough,’ because they’ve always been on the up-side of it. Those of us, who have been on the down-side of ‘enough’ sometime in our lives, however, have a very personal and emotional perspective on the topic. When you can’t put food on the table for your kids…or you can’t afford the medicine you need…or you can’t continue college for financial reasons…or you lose your house to foreclosure after first losing your job…you understand the significance of ‘enough.’ It is one of those experiential concepts that defies any attempt at a purely quantitative definition. For a rapidly-growing number of people on the down-side of ‘enough,’ wealth is a topic that is past-due for deliberative consideration.
The purpose of wealth is learning, innovation and progress. Wealth should apply a society’s abundance of resources toward the creative and adaptive support of the well-being and sustainability of that society. Learning, innovation and progress are accomplished with a lot of trial-and-error…so there’s risk involved. And…where there’s risk, there needs to be an adequate and appropriate return on an investment. But…when wealth becomes a tool of control rather than innovation, it no longer serves its legitimate purpose.
The distribution of wealth ends up being an important factor in understanding wealth itself. When wealth is widely distributed in many hands and in many places, it can be used creatively and locally in problem-solving, invention, research, development, and networking…small businesses find the venture capital they need, and innovative practices spring up and thrive. If, on the other hand, wealth is accumulated by just a few hands and only in urban centers, learning and innovation is directed toward only a limited range of ventures…those that will serve the business needs of people who already hold the wealth.
In our American society…and in the global society as well…wealth has been accumulated in the hands of a very few individuals, families and corporations that it’s no longer used just in economic competition, but is now being used massively in political competition. This accumulation of wealth over the past 30 years is very well documented…and now the application of wealth in political campaigns and in lobbying is becoming equally well documented. This is not a normal trend in the history of our country…and it’s important to discuss its consequences, because it hasn’t shown any signs of slowing.
A little over a century ago, a massive anti-trust effort was needed in response to the wealth domination of a few industrialists who had created effective monopolies. Today in the face of corporations that are too big to fail, we have very little effort anywhere to break these modern-era, crippling monopolies. In economic theory, wealth provides a vital service to society…but, in our modern-era, wealth appears to be demanding to be served by society. The power of great wealth to manipulate society and consumers needs to be examined in a careful and deliberative manner.
We need to talk about the purposes and abuses of wealth in a deliberative way. Our conversations should not propose that wealth is evil…nor should they assume wealth is exempt from public accountability. This will be the defining issue of the next couple elections in America, so it’s time to get the public engaged in this conversation…to understand and to decide together what we believe the purpose of wealth should be.