Is Accumulating Wealth Moral?
There’s nothing wrong with trying to accumulate wealth.*
This statement may violate Q1 if you believe that people with wealth have a responsibility to use that wealth in certain ways (by giving to charity, charging their customers less, or paying higher taxes, for example).
This may be a Q2 violation if you consider anyone who is wealthy to be "greedy" or resent those who accumulate wealth that otherwise might have been yours.
Is accumulating wealth moral? That depends on your opinion on a number of items. For example:
- Is it moral for one person to have plenty when others do not?
- Is it moral to live in luxury whether or not those around you live in luxury?
- Does the way in which wealth is used impact whether or not having wealth is moral?
- Does it make a difference whether wealth is earned, inherited, won, or stumbled upon?
- Is a desire to accumulate wealth equally moral (or immoral) in a wealthy person and a needy person?
When discussing this topic, it is very important to distance yourself from your personal situation as much as possible. It’s easy to fall into the trap of condemning wealth accumulation because you yourself are not wealthy, or defending wealth accumulation because you are wealthy (or hope to be).
In which of these situations (if any) would it be moral to accumulate wealth? Are any of them foolish but not immoral?
- You are poor but squirrel away a little money each week so that, some day, you’ll have something to fall back on.
- You are poor but squirrel away a little money each week so that, some day, you’ll be able to buy a jumbo plasma television.
- You are poor but squirrel away a little money each week so that, some day, your child will be able to go to college.
- There’s a sugar shortage, so you buy as much sugar as possible and keep it in the closet, even though you’ll probably never use it all.
- There’s a sugar shortage, so you buy as much sugar as possible and sell it to people at a big profit when they get desperate.
- Your family lives modestly, but you are putting away a significant portion of your paycheck so that you and your wife can retire in comfort when you turn 55.
- You spend as little money as possible because it’s yours and nobody’s going to take it away from you.
- You pay your employees as little as the market will bear but are setting aside enough money that you won’t have to lay anyone off if there is a large downturn in business.
- You raise the prices at your grocery store as high as the market will bear to maximize your profits.
- You own the only grocery store in town. There’s no competition, so your prices are much higher than they need to be but people have no choice but to pay them.
- A friend has an emergency but can’t get a loan. You agree to lend him the money at a high rate of interest.
- You don’t have any savings and are deeply in debt because you have bought the biggest house, the most expensive car, the nicest art collection, and the best of everything else you can get.
- While passing a begging woman, you find a quarter in the gutter. You keep it because every penny is a step toward your next million.
*For the purposes of examining this statement, let’s define "greed" as the act of accumulating wealth regardless of the cost (social or moral). Greed by this definition is clearly a Q2 violation, so we’ll assume that the desire to accumulate wealth in this statement does not endorse greedy behavior.
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.