The concept of wealth varies greatly between individuals, but it is always associated with having more than a person needs to survive. A person can feel wealthy when they have enough to eat, a place to live, and more than enough to meet other needs. When we decide who is well off and who is not, we are judging the lives and lifestyles of others against an idea of what it means to be rich. Underlying this, though, is really a belief that wealth equates to happiness. We look jealously towards wealthy people and believe they are happy people while missing the sheer amount of time, effort and pain required to maintain that wealth.
There will always be people with more than you and people with less than you. It is common in our society to blame the people less fortunate than ourselves for their own situation by believing two lies: that we are where we are solely through our own efforts; and, the less fortunate are where they are through their own lack of effort.
Before China annexed Tibet, the country operated under a feudal system where people used Buddhism to convince the poor that the wrong they did in their past lives was the reason they were so miserable today. Our own belief that effort brings reward and therefore poverty implies not enough effort is a logical fallacy. Effort is not the only cause of financial success, and lack of effort is not the only cause of poverty.
There are many factors that determine the likelihood of an individual’s personal wealth, success (and hopefully happiness, or at least self-sufficient satisfaction):
Early education, opportunities, available services, available employment, strength of relationships, and family and personal issues are some of the less controllable factors related to whether a person is financially successful.
The social benefit of a person becoming financially successful rather than requiring government assistance is the lightening of the government funding load. Many of us are jealous of people who receive government assistance when we do not think they deserve it. Some people will always abuse a system of welfare assistance, but what of the people that it helps? Should they be hurt in the process of making the welfare system “fairer?” The concept of government welfare is based around two important ideas:
* That a person’s situation or disadvantage is not necessarily the fault of the individual
* That long-term social costs can be offset with shorter-term assistance
One way of determining the success of a government is whether it can produce and maintain productive citizens. A productive citizen provides a net profit to the society and strengthens the government, increasing its power. A citizen that is a net drain on a government weakens a society and hence its power. It is therefore in the interests of a government to pursue policies that result in the most productive citizens. Providing an environment where the disadvantaged are helped with aid and money to improve their chances (and their children’s chances) of being productive citizens makes sense. And this is without needing to resort to moral arguments for the fundamental equality of everyone or the biblical underpinnings on which our society’s laws are based in the first place.
If I were to send a message to the super-rich in the world, I would say that there is not enough to go around for you if you are never satisfied, but there is enough to go around for everyone else. Is it possible for one society to be wealthy without another being poor? Can a society thrive without inequality? The greatest fear of the wealthy and comfortable is that there is not enough to go around for everyone to be as comfortable as they are. This was Karl Marx’s complaint about capitalism: that it could only exist through the exploitation of other people’s labour.
Spock would say that the distribution of wealth in the western world is unfair but not unjust, and that the government should not interfere.
McCoy would say that it is unfair and unjust and that the government should do something about it.