What is wealth? Ask many Americans this question and they will offer up examples of cabin cruiser yachts, Gucci, Gulfstream Jets, Dom Perignon and caviar. To be sure, these things are fine examples of material wealth; yes, a kind of wealth, but they are certainly not the only measure. Why do so many people seem infatuated on this single material measure of wealth? What of measuring wealth in health, wisdom, friendship, peace, joy and happiness? Could many of the problems our society deals with be the result of such a shallow valuation of wealth? Let’s explore the idea.
It is ingrained very early on in Americans that it is best for them to seek a career that will provide for the biggest house, the best clothes, the flashiest car, the most prestige and fame. Achieving these things, they are told, is tantamount to ‘making it.’ Therefore, many people hustle to climb the ladder. Each rung achieved, however, is no longer good enough. Ultimate fulfillment will be achieved always on the next rung, then the next. “Everything,” says youth, “will finally be good when I’ve graduated high school and am out from under my parents.” Then its when their done college and get a job, then when they’ve gotten that promotion, and so on and so forth. Finally, they reach the point where they have the ‘best’ car, the ‘best’ house, which attracts the ‘best’ spouse, and realize they that they have spent a lifetime looking for validation from others and objects. The new car makes them happy for a while, then, after a year, it is just something that gets them from here to there. All their toys, planes, yachts and vacation homes end up doing little more than owning them; turning them into full time custodians for their status symbols. Rock stars are infamous for having money and popularity while turning to drugs and alcohol to either feel something or forget something. Just look to the likes of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Kurt Cobain, Elvis, or Marilyn Monroe. Obviously, there is more to be found in life than fame and fortune.
I imagine many people sacrifice getting the proper sleep, taking the time to exercise properly, eating healthy and a great deal of time with friends and family all to bring about that ultimate day when they might finally retire, and enjoy the fruits of years of hard work, only to find that their bodies are now too old and broken down to enjoy all the things they had planned to do. Who, on their death bed, ever looks back at their life and says to themselves, “You know what? I wish I had just spent a little more time at the office.”
A wise man once said, “Those who have not found their true wealth, which is a radiant joy of Being and the deep, unshakeable peace that comes with it, are beggars, even if they have great material wealth. They are looking outside for scraps of pleasure or fulfillment, for validation, security, or love, while they have a treasure within that not only includes all those things but is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.”
I don’t mean to totally impugn the merits of a productive life. In fact, it is a very moral and important component of happiness. Spending all ones waking hours hunting, gathering and sheltering leaves little time for the higher contemplation of things like art or meditation. Technologically advanced production frees up time from the tasks of basic survival and places it in the service of the spirit. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with a man or woman who through ingenuity discovers a product or service others wish to voluntarily trade for. (Furthermore, there is nothing exploitative in them finding help to produce through the employment of others who voluntarily trade their time and effort in exchange for wages. There are no losers. Everybody gets what they want: goods, labor, or money. In a truly free market, no one gets rich without the voluntary cooperation of others.) Problems only arise when one asses their value as a person against what another person has. That is, “I’m less because someone else has more.” Good no longer is good enough.
There is a word for this pain and fear, this sin. It’s called greed.
Ah! Blessed are the ‘poor’. They are quite obviously above the sin of greed, right? Not so fast. When examined closer, the ‘poor’ can exhibit as healthy an appetite for greed as anyone. Their version of this sin is known as envy.
What makes one ‘poor’? Does it mean the same thing to everyone or is it subjective? Is it bad to be ‘poor’? Americans, especially of the political class, seem to assume it is, but is it?
Poverty is mankind’s natural state. He is not born from the womb with shoes between the dirt and his feet. Save for caves and tree canopies, there are no ready made homes to keep the rain off his head. If he has diabetes, are there trees about growing needles full of insulin? No, these things can only be made through the power of his mind and the labor of his hands. Does the fact that these goods are not provided by nature make his natural state of poverty evil? No, objectively speaking, it doesn’t. It just is. It’s simply nature.
So if being poor is not necessarily, objectively speaking, inherently evil, why do so many feel an innate sense of injustice about it? Is it because others have more? Do they ask more compared to what? If they look to other Americans, sure, you could say they have less than many others, but what about compared to non-Americans? For instance, according to Just the Facts, the poorest 20% of Americans consume more goods and services than the national averages for all the people in the world’s most affluent countries. If the U.S poor were a nation, it would be one of the world’s richest. The average home owned by a poor person according to the U.S. Census Bureau is a three bedroom house with one-and-a-half bath, garage and porch or patio. 80% of poor households have air conditioning. The typical poor American has a greater amount of living space than the average non-poor person living in Rome, London or Paris. Most poor Americans have a car or truck. 23% have two or more cars. 82% have smartphones. 89% own a microwave oven. 97% have one or more color televisions. Objectively speaking, the American poor have far greater wealth than did King Henry the VIII of England. How much aspirin could Henry buy with all his gold? None. Today one can buy one hundred tablets for a dollar. We are all richer than kings now. So, again, I ask: Poor compared to what?
Being truly poor is a mindset of lack. It is fostered by politicians and their media and academia lapdogs who would use envy as a tool of power to control those they might use to keep them in power. If people lived with a mindset of plenty, they would have little need of politicians? No. Politicians promote victimhood not to help the poor, but as a bludgeon to control both the ‘poor’ and the ‘rich’. Academia, the media and politicians love to foment statistics like, “Half of all wealth is owned by the top 1% of the population!” They distort such ‘facts’ by cooking the numbers. They leave out that 20% of the population is under the age of 18 and cannot own any wealth. Neither do they reason that 25% of people are age 19 to 39 and are incurring debt to go to college, have children and buy houses. It is only once most people are established much later in life that they can accumulate wealth, but that doesn’t halt those who wish to sow discord amongst Americans from pushing such false narratives to make things seem as bad as possible. You cannot control people who are happy and unafraid. they simply will not have it.
There are many reasons someone may not own wealth. Many people have no wish to own wealth. Minimalist movements are gaining popularity and their adherents state peace, happiness and lack of stress as the primary benefits of their lifestyle choice. They extract more happiness taking a stroll in a park and perceiving the trees and flowers than they would admiring an Alfa Romeo sitting in their four car garage. Should these people be thrown into statistics on poverty? Should they be pitied, or is it the rich man who should be pitied worrying about his monthly car payment and the empty hole in his soul he felt the need to fill with possessions?
Main stream media, Leftist-politicians and Academics would have you believe that exploitation and systemic corruption is what causes poverty. In a country as wide as ours, I’m sure we have our fair share of that, but what about alcoholism, drug abuse, broken families, immigration, bad luck, timing, drive, variations in intelligence and on and on? These ills are not the fault of those with means, but it is too often framed that it is. Statists who crave power know people are willing to vote for someone who tells them their problems are not their own doing, but instead, are caused by someone else. Whenever I consider who is to blamed for poverty I always think of the scenario of a school teacher who is progressive (but then, I am mostly repeating myself) who spends their class time telling the disruptive kid in the back of the class to, “Quit distracting the other students. Settle down and pay attention! This material will greatly help you later in life! You may not care if you make something of yourself, but don’t ruin it for the other students who do want to learn!” I heard statements like this all throughout my school career. What I don’t understand is how the teacher can correctly classify the disruptive 17 year old student in class, but when that student later graduates and in fact struggles at 18 or 19 years old to make ends meet in life, they are immediately transmogrified in the progressive teachers’ mind into the downtrodden, exploited and left-behind.
By today’s mainstream subjective standards of poverty, Native Americans lived for thousands of years stuck in a life of total exploitation and systemic corruption. Do not humans have a right to demand chemotherapy and triple-heart-bypasses be provided free to them by nature? The Native Americans had none of these things. Nature does not provide them. These things are made by the mind and hands of men. To claim them as your right, is to claim a right to the mind and labor of other men. This idea is sometimes known as slavery. Because products and services exist does not mean they were taken from you. Remember, your objective natural baseline is poverty. You have a right to trade for products and services, but you are not free to demand them by force. If you die from disease, objectively, whom should you blame, the scarcity of medicine or nature? Of course, there is no fear and hatred to be fomented and no power to be gained by blaming nature, so we blame the people who own the means to afford the medicine, the same people who likely got rich by inventing the medicine in the first place. We declare people as evil for not giving to us what would never exist if it were not for them in the first pace. (For their genius in inventing the wheel, they are thrown beneath one.) Native Americans were not victimized and outraged at their lack of modern healthcare. They were at peace without it. If they could be at peace without it, why cannot today’s “poor’ be also at peace? The answer is because these things exist now and they are there to be envied. They don’t see their humanity objectively, but instead as something to be measured by what others have.
Today’s poor have far greater access to wealth than did Native Americans, and I’m told Native Americans lived in peace and harmony with nature. Likewise, why should a poor person sitting on the couch eating McDonald’s and watching the Masked Singer on their flat screen T.V. feel less happy than the peaceful Buddhist monk who owns zero possessions, hasn’t eaten in a week and is sitting on a hard stone while contemplating a flower? The simple answer is mindset.
Greed and envy are two sides of the same coin. They are used by those who would control us to plant fear, hatred and jealousy. If you are rich, do not waste the inner peace and happiness that is your birthright by judging yourself by what others think of you and what material objects you have collected or feel you need to further collect. If you are poor, do not allow others to imbue you with a lifelong painful mindset of victimhood. It will also rob you of the inner peace and happiness that is your birthright.
If everyone focused inward on the wealth within them, instead of on the wealth without, then I firmly believe our country would be a far less contentious place and we, as a country, could begin to measure our great wealth on more than just one level.