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Guest Post: A New Way Of Defining Wealth

Tyler Durden's picture


Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith of OfTwoMinds blog,

What if our commoditized, financialized definition of wealth reflects a staggering poverty of culture, spirit, wisdom, practicality and common sense?

The conventional definition of wealth is solely financial: ownership of universally valued money and assets. The assumption is that money can buy anything the owner desires: power, access, land, shelter, energy, transport and if not love, then a facsimile of caring.

The flaw in this reductionist definition is obvious: not everything of value can be purchased at any price--for example, health, once lost, cannot be purchased for $1 million, $10 million or even $100 million. A facsimile of friendship can be purchased (i.e. companions willing to trade fake friendliness for money), but true friendship cannot be bought at any price: its very nature renders friendship a non-commodity.

This explains the abundance of wealthy people who are miserable, lonely and phony to the core. Only commoditized goods and services can be bought with money or assets.

Given the limits of the conventional model of wealth, the question naturally arises: what if we defined wealth more by what cannot be bought rather than by what can be bought? Another way of making the distinction is to ask: what has been commoditized/globalized such that any person with money anywhere on the planet can buy it? What cannot be commoditized because it is intrinsically inaccessible to commodification?

We can start our inquiry with a series of questions:

1. What would be the impact on an individual's health if modern medicine/pharmaceuticals were no longer available? Put another way: how dependent is one's "good health" on commoditized interventions? How independent is an individual's health/vitality from commoditized medicine?

Health that is sufficiently vibrant that it has no need for commoditized medicine cannot be bought, and therefore it is a form of intrinsic (non-commodity) wealth.

2. Can a shipwrecked individual swim two miles through open ocean from a doomed ship/yacht to safety? Money has no value if there is no help that can be bought; the individual's only wealth in this situation (assuming they know how to swim) is their core physical strength and endurance--forms of wealth that cannot be substituted with money.

3. If Cicero was correct and "The man who has a garden and a library has everything," then let's ask not how extensive one's library might be in terms of the number of volumes, but ask how many of the books (or ebooks) have been read, absorbed and enjoyed by the owner?

In other words, it's not the ownership of a library which creates non-commoditized wealth but the joy, knowledge and pleasure derived from the reading of the books which defines wealth.

4. The same analysis can also be applied to a garden/orchard: what if we ask not how large the garden/orchard is in terms of square meters, but how expansive is the owner's participation in the care of the garden/orchard, how much pleasure is created by the toil and harvest, and how much of the bounty is shared with others?

5. How many friendships does an individual have that began in high school or earlier and are still vibrant? How many friends does one have who can be entrusted with the deepest personal crises? How many friends' homes are open to you, rain or shine?

What if we defined the person with no true friends as impoverished, regardless of their ownership of assets and cash? Many people seem to have professional acquaintances they call "friends" to mask their bottomless poverty of real friends and friendships.

6. What if wealth were measured in personal integrity, i.e. honesty, trustworthiness, compassion and the ability to remain accountable even as things fall apart?

This of course just a start: we could continue our redefinition of wealth to include kindness, empathy, the skills needed to organize volunteer community work parties, and so on.

As we explore what actually cannot be bought or commoditized, it raises this question: what if our commoditized, financialized definition of wealth reflects a staggering poverty of culture, spirit, wisdom, practicality and common sense?

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Fri, 01/03/2014 - 19:46 | 4298197 chumbawamba
chumbawamba's picture

What if?


I am Chumbawamba.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 19:49 | 4298216 lotsoffun
lotsoffun's picture

chumba - correct.  as aleister crowley pointed out - 'throw 'if' to the dogs of reason'. 


Fri, 01/03/2014 - 19:55 | 4298224 Rainman
Rainman's picture

No wonder I have a man crush on Chumbawamba

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:08 | 4298254 AG BCN
AG BCN's picture

Question Mark analysis?, Charles, do move on Chap. It's 2014 ! (exclamation)  

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:22 | 4298297 CH1
CH1's picture

I've had MANY rich friends, and most were less happy than the construction guy next door. Often a lot less happy.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:33 | 4298328 A Lunatic
A Lunatic's picture

I had a distant relative who was once listed on the Forbes 500 who was so unhappy that when he died he left his fortune to strangers rather than burden his family with sudden wealth........

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:35 | 4298500 PT
PT's picture

CH1:  ... and yet none of them chose to ditch their jobs and become construction guys.

I'm willing to bet that it is not the money that makes them unhappy, it is something to do with obtaining that money.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:54 | 4298668 Tijuana Donkey Show
Tijuana Donkey Show's picture

"When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose" - Janis Jopilin

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:59 | 4298682 CH1
CH1's picture

It goes like this: The rich man is like the poor man, only moreso.

Once they're rich, their problems, like their virtues, find expression. And, they have a whole new set of predators, from relatives to politicians, homing in on them.

Having money is a different skill than working, or even running a company.

All combined, these guys - and even moreso their kids - develop big problems.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 01:04 | 4298981 IPA
IPA's picture

Probably get junked, but are there any statistics that show rich people are unhappy? Or do the non rich just want the rich to be unhappy in their minds to ease then selves? Ugly girl wants to tell herself that the pretty girl is unhappy, but is it really true? Even generally speaking? 

To each their own

Sun, 01/05/2014 - 10:55 | 4301132 PT
PT's picture


The phrase is, "sour grapes".  But I really like the way you worded it. 

And for anyone out there who hasn't had a nejukashun:


(I feel a bit embarrassed putting that link up, but then sometimes people surprise me.) 

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 00:18 | 4298870 Trucker Glock
Trucker Glock's picture

"I've had MANY rich friends, and most were less happy than the construction guy next door. Often a lot less happy."

The construction guys I've known were high and drunk 6 to 8 hours of every day.  More on weekends.  Might explain the "happiness."



Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:11 | 4298258 Newsboy
Newsboy's picture

I'm sorry Charles. The respondants say that you have broken the rule against personal introspection, and offer their heartfelt superficial sniping to cheer you up.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:59 | 4298402 PT
PT's picture

The cynic in me worried that he might be paving a new way to fiddle the inflation numbers.  "People are poorer but they are happier!  They love having 3 part time jobs and the challenge of getting to those jobs on time and finding enough money for food ..."

CHS:  All sweet thoughts, feel free to create some kind of index of "spiritual wealth" or "cultural wealth" to reflect these things but how about we recognize "material wealth" has a real place in society and measure it like this:  "The number of hours that the poorest of the poor need to work, per week, in order to provide for their overheads." ???
Hell, we might even have a couple of definitions of wealth.  We might have surfie dood wealth:   All he wants to do is surf.  As long as he can feed himself and buy the occasional surfboard and board shorts, he's happy.  He even sleeps on the beach.  The less hours per week that he works, the richer he is.  Does this guy really need to work more than a few hours per week?  Or a couple of weeks per year?
Then we can have "minimum participating consumer" wealth.  They want to own a house and a car, clothe their kids, have a big TV etc.  Again, out of the poorest workers, how many hours per week do they have to work in order to have this?  Less hours = richer.  You either use the extra hours for leisure or you work more and buy more crap.  But it is your choice. 

Like someone else once said, "Wealth is the number of days you can do whatever-the-hell-you-like until the money runs out." 

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 23:06 | 4298694 Imminent Crucible
Imminent Crucible's picture

Wealth is being able to do whatever you like until the money runs out?  I think it can get deeper than that, and worse.

I used to say "Wealth is having the time to do the things you love to do."  But I worked too much to have time for them.

Now, I can't even remember what it was I loved to do.  I just keep doing things because someone has to do them, but I no longer care about any of them.  I really don't like living in America any more. There's something toxic about this place.

For me, wealth would be to have the years back, and make different choices this time.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 00:56 | 4298960 Newsboy
Newsboy's picture

Salute, Imminent Crucible.

You may have earned some loyalty along the way.

Sun, 01/05/2014 - 10:53 | 4301142 PT
PT's picture

I worry that even if I did get the years back, I still wouldn't be able to make things right.  Half way through my life, grateful for what I have, but still feel positively clueless.

Re: "I can't even remember what it was I loved to do."  Yep, I know the feeling.  I still remember my big goals, but some days I just know that I've lost the plot where it counts. 

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 05:56 | 4299303 StychoKiller
StychoKiller's picture

If "poor" is a state of mind, that implies that "wealthy" is also!

Sun, 01/05/2014 - 01:16 | 4301143 PT
PT's picture

I couldn't possibly be this poor purely due to my lack of talent, effort, enthusiasm or skill.  Some kind of brain damage has to be involved somewhere!!!

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 01:05 | 4298977 TheMerryPrankster
TheMerryPrankster's picture

i get knocked down...


but i get up again

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 19:45 | 4298202 Mr Pink
Mr Pink's picture

IDK when I was rich I had tons of friends...now I just have my dog, and even she growled at me today

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:38 | 4298334 A Lunatic
A Lunatic's picture

I had lots of friends when I was an alcoholic too. I'll take my dog over most of them any day............

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:59 | 4298673 Tijuana Donkey Show
Tijuana Donkey Show's picture

Did you have friends, or hanger-ons? My good friends have been with me rich or poor, and I know who they are. I wager you live in Cali.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 19:46 | 4298203 FieldingMellish
FieldingMellish's picture

Dude! iHOP.... pancakes.... unlimited.... no time for philosophy.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:04 | 4298244 BurningFuld
BurningFuld's picture

This is IHOP's play on pot legalization in Colorado.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:27 | 4298305 shovelhead
shovelhead's picture

Bong and a blintz?

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:31 | 4298313 FieldingMellish
FieldingMellish's picture

Tight pantz.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:13 | 4298436 BurningFuld
BurningFuld's picture

Wait!  Wrong thread. One thread below. This is the happy to be rich thread.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 19:48 | 4298204 I am Jobe
I am Jobe's picture

6. What if wealth were measured in personal integrity, i.e. honesty, trustworthiness, compassion and the ability to remain accountable even as things fall apart?

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:44 | 4298521 PT
PT's picture

What if "wealth" is the ability to happily endure torture and starvation while watching the same happen to your loved ones?  Oh wait, maybe I'm thinking of "freedom" ...

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 19:46 | 4298206 lotsoffun
lotsoffun's picture

3. If Cicero was correct and "The man who has a garden and a library has everything," then let's ask not how extensive one's library might be in terms of the number of volumes, but ask how many of the books (or ebooks) have been read, absorbed and enjoyed by the owner?

In other words, it's not the ownership of a library which creates non-commoditized wealth but the joy, knowledge and pleasure derived from the reading of the books which defines wealth.


library today implies lending for some of us.  so further on that - how many of the books have been read and enjoyed by the owner - and by others, presumably ones that would be friends, family and community members?  one of the most wonderful aspects of a book is that it can be shared many times.


Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:58 | 4298681 Tijuana Donkey Show
Tijuana Donkey Show's picture

In Cicero's time, having any books was a blessing. A man who can read and reflect, and can contemplate a garden and the passing of time is blessed. What is absorbed is up to the soul of the man/woman.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 00:26 | 4298889 Trucker Glock
Trucker Glock's picture

In Cicero's time, only the wealthy had libriaries and gardens.  I'd like to know the percentage of Cicero's fellow countryman that owned at least one book.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 01:03 | 4298967 TheMerryPrankster
TheMerryPrankster's picture

actually most peopl were farmers, so many had a garden. most were also illiterate so a book was useless to a man who cannot read.

A library is a garden of the mind, and a garden is a library of the soul.

find solace in nature.

Its not to late to turn off the Tv, throw it away and live the rest of your life in reality, to actually notice the world around you and to try to change it to be the best it can be.

planting a garden is a first step, to watching the changing of life all around you.

Sun, 01/05/2014 - 01:23 | 4301155 PT
PT's picture

I'd be more interested in a garden if it could grow, amongst other things, 64-bit processors, 1200cc 12000rpm motorbike engines and aeroplane parts.  Hmmm, maybe I shoulda studied Genetic Engineering ...

... well the tyres originate from a rubber tree.  That's a start ... 

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 19:49 | 4298210 Hongcha
Hongcha's picture

On one scale Mr. Smith has here presented a concept refreshing and unknown; but he has moved out of his economic/philosophical commentary and into province or dialogue where this essay is little more than a clever  kindergarten primer.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 19:47 | 4298211 jimmytorpedo
jimmytorpedo's picture

1. Check

2. Check

3. Check

4. Check

5. Check

6. Check


HEY, I'M RICH!! (???)

7. Herd of cattle who like a good ear scratch

8. Hot wife

YAY! I'm still rich

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:01 | 4298231 DaveyJones
DaveyJones's picture

what if you have a hot wife that likes a good ear scratch?

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:23 | 4298301 zipit
zipit's picture

"Lord, I want to thank you for my smokin' hot wife": http://youtu.be/BZnDt2wEFjk

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:48 | 4298529 Demonoid
Demonoid's picture

Boogity Boogity Boogity Amen!

I like it! It has the potential to become really annoying!

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:28 | 4298310 jimmytorpedo
jimmytorpedo's picture

Oh, she likes a good scratch.

Never tried the ears though.

Will try tonight and report back.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 19:47 | 4298212 I am Jobe
I am Jobe's picture

Go to school, get a slut marry her divorce , get a another slut, life goes on , Amerikan Life Bitchezz. End of story. O , don't forget child support and bitching during Thanksgiving and Christmas about who gets to have the kids and who pentrated who. Now that is priceless Amerikan Life. 

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:02 | 4298245 NOTaREALmerican
NOTaREALmerican's picture

Re:  Now that is priceless Amerikan Life. 

Not JUST Amerikan life.    

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 01:27 | 4299026 Mongoose
Mongoose's picture

Damn, I must have missed the memo! I've been married 30 years to the same woman. (And yeah, there's bumps along the way, but we hung in there.)

Now you're sayin' I been doing it all wrong. Crap I start reading more memo's...

Back to killin snakes

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 19:57 | 4298222 OwnSilverPlayMusic
OwnSilverPlayMusic's picture

Why the hell do you think I drink?

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:00 | 4298229 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

Is this some kind of gimme rhetorical question???

Seriously, no shit...

Example: was in Midtown NYC on New Years Day and for shits and giggles walked into Saks to see how the other half lives, they had sable throw in the Fur Boutique  for $150,000....

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 23:12 | 4298703 Borrow Owl
Borrow Owl's picture

Holy shit.

Dead animal skin saturated with a cocktail of toxic chemicals for a hundred fifty grand?

P.T. Barnum was a fucking genius.


Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:01 | 4298234 no life
no life's picture

This is a very opportune time for you poor people out there to start thinking about this real hard... and thanks for all this miserable cash!

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:01 | 4298237 AG BCN
AG BCN's picture

Whilst we are pretty much on the same page, stop ending these rants with a question mark (?)

If you are going to say something then say it, you are starting to sound like every other tit

with a soundbite. I iike your style but get some balls and come out with something concrtete if you are going to 

write anything at all. 

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:03 | 4298238 0b1knob
0b1knob's picture

People who have contempt for wealth are generally people who have no money.  Its a lot easier to be poor if you think it somehow makes you superior to others.

Thank good for the little bit of money I have been able to make save and invest during my life.   Because I would be literally dead right now without it.              

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