Wednesday, July 17, 2002

I know several definitions of wealth. The simplest is having a lot of money -- say, one million dollars in liquid assets. (See here.) Throwing some figures around, if you work for 40 years, say from 25 to 65 at $25,000 per year, a million dollars will pass through your hands. Of course, you won't be able to keep it. If you could earn 50,000 instead, and save half of it, then you'd end with a cool million at retirement -- more, if you earned interest on it instead of pushing it under the mattress.

So much for that. Economists like to think of wealth differently. Wealth is capital -- resources that can produce other income without becoming exhausted -- such as land, factories, or cash. Or a wealthy nation is one that has a high production per person. Or, wealth is the result of work beyond what subsistence requires -- art, luxury cars, computers -- anything unnecessary to survival, especially if durable -- so quilts increase wealth and musical performances do not -- unless they are recorded and turned into a tangible artifact, like an eight track cassette, or something.

So much for that. My favorite definition I have paraphrased from Peter Carroll -- wealth is being able to spend your time enjoyably. I think most people want money so that they can improve the way they spend their time. They'd like to buy a more indulgent car, or shop in more beautiful stores while dressed in more beautiful clothing, have someone else do the tasks they hate, and not spend time worrying how to meet their bills. They'd like to buy excitement by travelling or privacy with more space. Or freedom by not having to give someone else control of eight or more hours a day to earn the money to eat and pay the rent.

If you think of wealth in this way, there's a limit to how much you need. After all, you can only spend each moment once -- after a certain point, more money won't improve those moments.

And -- if you have work you enjoy -- you are already wealthy enough all the hours you spend at it.

May you all live well. Anna