Wealth can be understood as having two primary purposes. First is essential wealth, which everyone needs and deserves. It buys the basic stuff, including medical care. That wealth is not what we mean by “wealthy”, but it satisfies all essential needs and prevents most unnecessary suffering. A person who has this essential wealth is not poor, and having it means a person or family is not held back purely by poverty. The improvement of one’s life is possible, if not in this generation, then the next. This seems obvious, yet defining an adequate level of wealth is difficult. The second kind of wealth, the possession of larger quantities of money and property, means accumulations beyond what is essential and necessary.
Basic wealth includes food, clothing, shelter, and so on. Medical care and provision for old age, are also part of it if we are not to perpetuate unnecessary suffering when we know how to end it and have the national resources to do so. Only an unjust social system fails to provide those things, and there is far too much injustice deriving from their present lack. Provision of basics just means a person does not live in poverty.
Wealth has two primary purposes.
Wealth beyond that has no real purpose.
The accumulation of additional wealth for the purpose of enhanced living is justified, as long as no one is hurt because of it. But beyond a certain point, others are in fact hurt by it. When wealth migrates upward, and accumulates with a very few people, it is no longer within reach of much of the population, as if it were taken out of circulation. In fact, it is taken out of circulation, because the very rich can’t really buy anything with it. Injustice is done to the non-rich, reducing or compromising their ability to strive for improvement, or preventing their rise out of poverty. That pivot point of injustice is reached when further individual wealth can no longer improve one’s life, when it is sought for arcane, egotistical reasons.
Great wealth which occurs beyond that point isn’t necessarily a result of an individual’s evil actions or intent. Unfortunately, having attained wealth, most people are motivated to attain more of it. Beyond a certain point, however, greed becomes the only motivator, because greater wealth improves no part of a person’s life. What a person does with excess wealth is what’s important, and depends on a person’s moral and ethical character.
Excess wealth has no use.
It cannot buy anything to improve one’s life.
Greed always results in injustice, and greed can never be satisfied. The drive to accumulate ever more wealth has no goal other than the wealth itself, the wish to be wealthier than others. In the words of that ancient Greek philosopher, “He who dies with the most toys wins”. The excess wealth itself has no use, as it cannot buy anything to improve one’s life. It has become a toy.
A person with great wealth has a moral duty to help others, and the greater the wealth, the greater that duty. Even a person who has only a bit more than essential wealth has this moral duty, but his ability to help others with his money is sharply limited. The failure to use great wealth to help others in a proportional way constitutes moral failure.
The very wealthy who fail this moral test
have found a way to excuse themselves
for their failure.
The very wealthy who fail this moral test have found a way to excuse themselves for their failure, and the way they do it is to convince themselves that the poor deserve to be poor because of their inherent inferiority of character or race. It’s their own damn fault. This faith arose from the age of feudalism, specifically the late feudalism of England, in which the upper class assumed that they were naturally superior, the commoners inferior. This “natural” division was soon enough shown to be artificial when lower class people were at last free to become educated and do great things, thus bringing about the Industrial Revolution. But the arrogance of the very rich remains.