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Guest Post: What Is Wealth?

Tyler Durden's picture


Submitted by Charles Hugh Smith from Of Two Minds

What Is Wealth?

We all think we know what wealth is, but sometimes the "obvious" misses the mark.

Asking "what is wealth?" seems needless because we all know what wealth is: never having to work again, endless leisure, endless consumption of the "good things of life," being waited on hand and foot, luxurious belongings, vehicles and homes, a life of travel and sport, trust funds, stacks of secure gold, and so on.

All this is "obvious," but is that certainty illusory? There are many people with $2 million in net worth, a significant number with $20 million, and more than a few with $200 million. All would be considered wealthy by the average household earning $63,000 annually with a total net worth of less than $100,000, not to mention the 61 million American wage-earners who pull down less than $20,000 a year who own negligible net worth.

Those with a mere $2 million may not reckon themselves wealthy, if their eyes are fixed on those with $20 million. But if a wealthy person suddenly discovers they are riddled with fast-growing cancer, then they quickly lose interest in financial wealth except in terms of what medical treatment it can buy.

There really isn't much more modern medicine can do for someone worth $200 million than it can for someone worth $2 million; once one's life and health are at risk, then conceptions of "wealth" are drastically reordered: health is wealth, and nothing else matters.

Once lost, health is difficult to restore, and financial wealth is no longer the key metric. The graveyards are full of extremely wealthy people who died "before their time."

A life of leisure may not be all it's cracked up to be, either. Whether it is paid or not, work is the foundation of meaning and identity. Those without work become depressed, those who retire often fade and die, and those with no goals or work ethic become dilettantes who enrich various therapists and pyschiatrists with their ailments and unhappinesses.

It's not just leisure that's wealth, it's control of one's work life.

We might also ask if wealth correlates all that closely with happiness. Judging by the hordes of wealthy people who are drugged-out, alcoholic, and in permanent therapy, we can surmise the correlation is not quite as strong as the "financial wealth is everything" PR would have it.

Who is happier, the "natives" serving the supine, isolated wealthy person, or the wealthy person? It turns out it's the people who have a well-earned place in a caring community who are healthier and happier than those who are unloved and isolated, regardless of their wealth and power.

If our labor is compensated in fiat currency that can be depreciated by official whim, then how much of our labor do we actually "own"? Frequent contributor Harun I. has asked this question here, and the line of inquiry it raises applies to all financial wealth held in currency.

Precious metals, long a favorite of those seeking timeless wealth, also have their own pitfalls. Being small in size and easily transportable, they are also easily stolen or confiscated by authorities. A few coins sewed into garments to be used to bribe border guards are an extremely useful form of wealth, but any large cache of precious metals attracts criminals and Central State authorities, i.e. higher-order crooks. Wealth that can be stolen or confiscated has a nasty habit of being stolen or confiscated.

What about real property? An expansive estate is certainly "wealth" if it generates income, but if it happens to classify you as an aristocrat in revolutionary times, then various unpleasantries typically follow, and the wealth that seemed so desireable is transformed into a death warrant.

Wealth is not as fixed as we might imagine; it only appears solid in eras of stability. In times of instability and transformation, wealth that appears solid can evaporate in crisis or crumble in devolution.

Health, skillsets, work you control and a caring community are peculiar "assets" in that they cannot be confiscated by others for their own use. They are uniquely bound to individuals and relationships in a way that financial wealth is not: financial wealth can always be separated from the individual, but the individuals' skills, community and relationships cannot be confiscated.

If financial wealth can't buy health or happiness, then what can it buy? Perhaps all it really buys is an illusion of security and happiness that turns to dust once it is within grasp.


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Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:33 | 2450877 EscapeKey
EscapeKey's picture

Am I missing something?

Wealth = purchasing power.

Life quality or happiness isn't wealth.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:36 | 2450896 Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive Dissonance's picture

"Am I missing something?"

Some perspective perhaps.

"Life quality or happiness isn't wealth."

Until suddenly it is.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:40 | 2450930 EscapeKey
EscapeKey's picture

Life quality is a different quantitative measure to wealth. Wealth will probably improve your life quality, but the reverse is far from certain.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:42 | 2450939 CharlieSDT
CharlieSDT's picture

Your health is absolutely the most important thing in your life.  Without it, not much else really matters.  It’s very hard to be happy if you’re not healthy.  Look at all the billionaire Arab sheiks flying to the Mayo Clinic for treatment.  Their money isn’t worth anything to them when they die of lung cancer or are bedridden with heart disease or diabetes for 20 years.  Getting your health under control is an essential life project.  Start today.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:46 | 2450956 EscapeKey
EscapeKey's picture

That's not my point.



a great quantity or store of money, valuable possessions,property, or other riches: the wealth of a city. 2.
an abundance or profusion of anything; plentiful amount: awealth of imagery. 3.
Economics .
all things that have a monetary or exchange value. b.
anything that has utility and is capable of beingappropriated or exchanged. 4.
rich or valuable contents or produce: the wealth of the soil. 5.
the state of being rich; prosperity; affluence: persons ofwealth and standing.

Wealth is the abundance of valuable resources or material possessions. The word wealth is derived from the old English weal, which is from an Indo-European word stem.[1] An individual, community, region or country that possesses an abundance of such possessions or resources is known as wealthy.


Health and wealth are not the same thing.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:50 | 2450976 Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive Dissonance's picture

The author is not saying that health and wealth are the same thing. He is saying that wealth (from a much broader perspective) is so much more than just financial.

In fact, under certain conditions wealth cannot be measured in financial terms.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:11 | 2451050 Dr. Engali
Dr. Engali's picture

Wealth is what you put value on. What is defined as wealth to some people has no meaning to others. Some people find value in fiat but you try trading that fiat with somebody who trades in sea shells and they will look at you like you are nuts.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:32 | 2451119 Manthong
Manthong's picture

If you are reading this , you live more comfortably and are likely wealthier than seven 9’s or more of all humans that have ever lived.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:37 | 2451139 hedgeless_horseman
hedgeless_horseman's picture



Wealth is what an ugly man has, if he is married to a beautiful woman.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:08 | 2451281 francis_sawyer
francis_sawyer's picture


put a couple of more fotos of your breakfast & dinner offerings... Those are good examples of wealth...

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:40 | 2451412 What does it al...
What does it all mean's picture

Most random Zerohedge post so far in 2012...

Many people smarter than me have tried to sort out happiness, wealth, good and evil.  

I am not going to add anything in this discussion, except to point out how hard it is.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:23 | 2451337 Miffed Microbio...
Miffed Microbiologist's picture

Very true. Yet if he were to lose said wealth the beautiful woman exits quickly on the arm of a new man of wealth. Thus those men of wealth must feel a lot of pressure to maintain such a life style. I don't envy them and prefer my relative " poverty" but to each his own!


Tue, 05/22/2012 - 18:39 | 2453100 JeffB
JeffB's picture

Then too...

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Or as Ben Franklin put it...

Beauty, like supreme dominion
Is but supported by opinion

Or David Hume...

"Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them."

Many of the "beautiful women" society seems to put upon a pedestal hardly seem to be desirable wives from my vantage point.

True beauty will still be there in 20, 30, 40 years and more. Superficial beauty, not so much.


Wed, 05/23/2012 - 11:07 | 2454897 Deo vindice
Deo vindice's picture

I'd give you +100, but alas, ZH doesn't allow it.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:33 | 2451121 Nothing To See Here
Nothing To See Here's picture

What good is wealth if not to buy/preserve quality of life? Wealth means nothing if it cannot be used towards those purposes.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:52 | 2451207 Doña K
Doña K's picture

The author needs to consider wealth as part of a family unit, not only on an individual basis. Normal people get pleasure in helping family members, relatives and others in need directly. wealth should transcend one's life.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 14:19 | 2451808 mind_imminst
mind_imminst's picture

Until recently $200 million could not buy health. Now it can.

Invest in the future. Help cure aging.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:51 | 2450981 CharlieSDT
CharlieSDT's picture

IMO there are other kinds of weath.  How about spiritual wealth or the wealth of having close family or friends?  Or the wealth inside your head of tangible skill?  Don't just go to some dictionary, make your own definition.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:03 | 2451021 Nobody For President
Nobody For President's picture

Unless you consider health a valuable resource...

The next paragraph of the Wikipedia article sez:

the meaning of wealth is context-dependent and there is no universally agreed upon definition.


So I define wealth as having 'enough' : money, health, community standing, good work, a balance between work and liesure - whatever is important to you. Individuals that always want 'more' will never be wealthy, no matter their net worth. 

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:48 | 2451201 tgatliff
tgatliff's picture

I think that Marx had the best definition of "wealth".  It is simply dead labor.  Meaning, wealth can purchase people's time, which is a modern day version of indentured servitude (aka voluntary slavery).   People need to eat, so they must sell their time to survive.  Someone who has enough wealth can graduate out of this situation.

Also, wealth cannot buy you happiness.  However, it can sure keep you content why you are looking for it.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:45 | 2450952 tocointhephrase
tocointhephrase's picture

Tyler, you are quite spritual once all is said and done?

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:50 | 2451206 CPL
CPL's picture

Which Tyler?  There are many.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:23 | 2451083 IMACOINNUT
IMACOINNUT's picture

Especially today having a healthy happy outlook and disposition is essential to finding and keeping a rewarding and fulfilling job. Employers are looking for those with attitudes that project success. That success usually leads to financial wealth or at least solvent net worth. 

And I have never known or heard of a happy healthy economist they are all greedy cutthroat bastards who will suffer in hell.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 13:54 | 2451683 Darth..Putter
Darth..Putter's picture

It's not "He who dies with the most toys wins."  It's he who enjoys what he has wins.  Enjoyment is an internal experience.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:41 | 2450932 AlaricBalth
AlaricBalth's picture

On a long enough timeline, we are all worm food.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:57 | 2451005 kridkrid
kridkrid's picture

Not me... I'm a space monkey, ready to be shot into space.  Ready to sacrifice mysefl for the greater good.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:51 | 2451211 CPL
CPL's picture

option c:  Meat.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:43 | 2450945 mc_LDN
mc_LDN's picture

Isnt wealth ultimately all about the utility of time and the freedom to choose how that time is spent whether it be leisure, health, meaning, identity, power etc????

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:33 | 2451378 aerojet
aerojet's picture

What I don't get is all the people who are unbelievably wealthy who still work their asses off.  Why?  You can't buy more time in life.  Having all these belongings are nice and all, but if you don't have time for any of it, of what value is any of it?  I'm not saying "retire" because retiring is kind of a death sentence.  But why be so driven?

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:38 | 2451404 blunderdog
blunderdog's picture

An important step on the path to wisdom is to really deeply and intuitively understand that different people have different value-systems.

If you can never achieve *that* realization, you've got no chance of reaching any of the more abstract ones.

We're creatures who create our own "point," or fail to.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:38 | 2450912 Toolshed
Toolshed's picture

The author has lumped physical wealth and spiritual wealth together into a single category. He also has made some serious assumptions about individual desires and motivations. A pretty poorly written article overall.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:45 | 2450950 mc_LDN
mc_LDN's picture

Yes did seem like a bit of a fumbled q&a with readers. Not sure I got anything out of it.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:41 | 2450935 battle axe
battle axe's picture

What is wealth? Simple, something I do not have. 

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:36 | 2451137 akak
akak's picture

Wealth: there's an ap for that!

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:51 | 2450971 Dr. Engali
Dr. Engali's picture

Give me good health,  in body and spirit,and good friends any day over purchasing power. That is how I define wealth.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:59 | 2451010 kridkrid
kridkrid's picture

And the meek shall inherit the earth...


But not its mineral rights.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 14:08 | 2451747 Karl von Bahnhof
Karl von Bahnhof's picture


Tue, 05/22/2012 - 15:12 | 2452134 Cursive
Cursive's picture

@Karl van Bahnhof

How free is a billionaire suffering from late stage parkinson's disease?

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:15 | 2451061 Da55id
Da55id's picture

80 years is a breathtakingly short time. Literally. All the so called wealthy are approaching decrepitude and the thing that people TRULY fear...irrelevance

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:39 | 2451151 geoffr
geoffr's picture

I think there has to be some consideration for things like my smartphone. In 1970, it would be considered a super computer.

We, as a whole, are much wealthier than we used to be. In many respects, at least. At the same time, we have a ton of debt.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:33 | 2450888 The trend is yo...
The trend is your friend's picture

The philosophical answer.  Your Health is your Wealth. 

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:34 | 2450891 SHEEPFUKKER

Ask Steve Jobs about health and wealth.  But yeah, if many of us didn't need to slave for existence, then perhaps we could focus more on our health. 

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:20 | 2451076 Da55id
Da55id's picture

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:38 | 2450892 Gief Gold Plox
Gief Gold Plox's picture

The only capital which is of permanent value is immaterial—the experience of generations and the development of science.
-- David Ames Wells

Than again, I'm a coin stacking barbarian. What do I know?

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:35 | 2450901 Chippewa Partners
Chippewa Partners's picture

I still say the single biggest component of net worth is good health.

The Cooper Clinic in Dallas rocks!!!!


Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:38 | 2450909 bdc63
bdc63's picture

Sounds to me like Charles Hugh Smith just lost his shirt in the Facebook IPO ... well Charles, at least you have your health ...

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:38 | 2450913 Marginal Disutility
Marginal Disutility's picture

And then there is the question of "real" capital versus leverage and debt-based belongings, etc. Is a man with a huge McMansion and all the toys who is $2 million in debt more or less wealthy than an apartment-dweller with no debt and $100 K in the bank?

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:51 | 2450978 MsCreant
MsCreant's picture

I have a relative who thinks of me as poor because he has more stuff (but is in stupid debt). I have less stuff and my assets far out weigh my debt (which is almost gone). He works like an SOB and is constantly worried about making his monthlies. I am not. His attitude can be annoying, but he is young and his priorities include having the stuff that really, he almost cannot afford. 

I suggested he sell his house while it had value three years ago (no way). Now he is under water over $200,000. I suggested he default (no way). 

Not wealth.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:01 | 2451018 kridkrid
kridkrid's picture - this video might connect with him... most likely won't, but you never know.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:30 | 2451369 SilverDOG
SilverDOG's picture



... and what a good slave he is.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:33 | 2451381 Miffed Microbio...
Miffed Microbiologist's picture


In my younger days(20s) I too was bamboozled into thinking things=wealth. When I was older I finally caught on that you don't own things, they own you. So I started adopting a more minimalist lifestyle heavy on relationships and less on things. Could be happier with my choice. I'm surrounded by many like your friend and endure their criticisms of my life with grace. If they only knew how I laugh at them behind their backs!


Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:38 | 2451405 aerojet
aerojet's picture

I cleaned out my basement and storage areas of the house and threw away a ton of "stuff."  I never felt more satisfied.  Unclutter your life!

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:36 | 2451399 aerojet
aerojet's picture

Donald Trump would disagree--Trump said something like, "it's not how much you have, it's how much you control."  So Trump has gone broke quite a few times and it doesn't seem to matter.  I can't stand that fool, but he's done something right.  I tend to side with you, though--debt is a noose and since we don't know what tomorrow holds, it is wise to not use up all of your options on frivolity today.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:42 | 2450936 FieldingMellish
FieldingMellish's picture

Peace of Mind > gold > fiat.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:42 | 2450937 Mercury
Mercury's picture

If the government wants a piece of it, it's wealth.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:42 | 2450938 crawldaddy
crawldaddy's picture

wealth buys you options. Options and opportunities others dont get.  What you do with those options is up to the individual, but at least he/she was given a choice of opportunities.

Most people fuck them up, so be it.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:45 | 2450940 Monedas
Monedas's picture

Being a fully vested welfare recipient is wealth and freedom from worry !  At current interest rates....being fully covered by all the benefits (cash, rent, utilities, food assistance, heating oil, dental, student loans and grants, SBA, etc. ad nauseum) is like being the beneficiary of your own private trust worth several million dollars....given each million dollars nets about $20K of yield per anus !   Being black in America is being wealthy....super wealthy by world standards !     Monedas   1929     Comedy Jihad North Korea Socialist Pure Play

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:45 | 2450954 crawldaddy
crawldaddy's picture

go in the inner city and live a day on welfare you idiot, and see how pleasant it is. 

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:56 | 2451002 SilverRhino
SilverRhino's picture

You mean sittin roun dere smoking menthols and blunts, drinkin' fortys wid da shawtys in da crib aint bad??    Sho nuff it beats workin foo!

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:59 | 2451013 Monedas
Monedas's picture

No amount of stolen loot guarantees the good life if you aren't resourceful and intelligent in spending it !  Stupidity is a bottomless black hole that can never be filled !     Monedas   1929     Comedy Jihad Talent Search For A Capitalist Pure Play North Korean Class

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:45 | 2450948 MsCreant
MsCreant's picture

Test Baloon here...

Wealth: The power to adapt.

  1. Capital- buy the solution to change.
  2. Health- you can move rapidly to deal with the change.
  3. Knowledge- you know how to respond to the change.
  4. Community- people who care about you can help you deal with the change (using their wealth).
Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:34 | 2450977 Mercury
Mercury's picture

...or not.  Real wealth can just as easilly mean that you have the power to resist "adapting" if you so choose. Independence on your own terms basically.

Those who are doing just fine right now are either A)  so wealthy they were able to absorb the recessionary knocks and/or B) Didn't blow themselves up with debt, toys and a reliance on future prosperity in boom times but instead set aside or planned for things of greater long term value like education, health, quality real estate and other durable goods of high utility.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:45 | 2450953 CvlDobd
CvlDobd's picture

Nihilism, embrace it.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:03 | 2451027 kridkrid
kridkrid's picture

I wouldn't be a part of any group that would accept me as member.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:45 | 2451188 barroter
barroter's picture

Nihilism's problem? The logical path leads to one answer...suicide.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 15:33 | 2452305 CvlDobd
CvlDobd's picture

Agreed, the nihilist won't see it as a problem though.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:48 | 2450957 blunderdog
blunderdog's picture

"Wealth" is a quantifiable synthetic commodity that gives you the ability to make other people do what you want.

Metaphors and such like "wealth is health" and "wealth is freedom" miss the point, because the critical element is the control of and/or coercion of other people. 

A monetary system is just a competing social heirarchy.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:47 | 2451159 akak
akak's picture


... the critical element is the control of and/or coercion of other people

Thank you for sharing your perfectly cynical, shallow, dystopian and Machiavellian outlook.

I am glad I am not a member of your family.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:17 | 2451316 blunderdog
blunderdog's picture

This is an anthropological perspective, and there's nothing emotional about it.

I don't understand your point at all, but I am certainly delighted we share no blood relations.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:44 | 2451428 aerojet
aerojet's picture

"Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."  -- Mao Zedong

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 13:00 | 2451495 blunderdog
blunderdog's picture

Considering the US dollar status as global reserve currency, it would seem he was right about that, eh?

But no matter: political power is just another social heirarchy--it's in competition with the monetary system and the social/cultural mores.

There's still a church, too.  One more set of classifications that can be thrown up as "the real meaning" of stuff.

Take your pick.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:47 | 2450961 savagegoose
savagegoose's picture

wealth is the ability to coax others to do your bidding


Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:48 | 2450963 insanelysane
insanelysane's picture

I do not know the origin of the following quote but "Life is a terminal illness." 

and I can't remember the quote but there is one about being wealthy really means free from want.  Thus you can be "poor" but if you have everything that you need then you are wealthy but you can be extremely rich and if there are still things you want and can't obtain then you are poor.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:48 | 2450965 Big Corked Boots
Big Corked Boots's picture

Wealth = freedom.

Ya almost nailed it, Chuck: "It's not just leisure that's wealth, it's control of one's work life."

My former (scumbag) employer used to talk about "fuck you" money; that was the wealth that enabled someone to express that specific thought to his employer. He had plenty of Fyou money but he was damn certain not to let any trickle down; if that happened too much the chains that bound us wage slaves might be broken.

Oh, freedom = happiness. So money doesn't buy happiness, at least, not directly...

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:53 | 2450986 kekekekekekeke
kekekekekekeke's picture

I like this answer. 

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:48 | 2450966 mc_LDN
mc_LDN's picture

Wealth material or spiritual?

Wealth material - measured by money, cars, yachts, leisure pursuits, the Joneses

Wealth spiritual - measured by wisdom and knowledge, love, peace and community

The higher truth is the second which by its nature rules out the first as illusory and fleeting

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:54 | 2450989 jjsilver
jjsilver's picture

What authorities, they can only be public servants unless you are a slave.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:55 | 2450996 Bahamas
Bahamas's picture

spend all of your health to get your wealth, and then,  spend all of your wealth to get back your health.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:59 | 2451011 El Viejo
El Viejo's picture

We all live in prisoner of war camps and those that have it good are in league with the enemy.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:01 | 2451015 Chupacabra-322
Chupacabra-322's picture

My list includes:


Storable food



First Aid/Health


And, a wealth of knowledge.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:04 | 2451028 Stackers
Stackers's picture

Wealth is the power to do what you want when you want. What anyone one person "wants" at any given time is a matter of personal perspective. Some of the happiest people I have ever met came home dirty and stinking to high heaven every day.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:08 | 2451043 Monedas
Monedas's picture

The average life span of a lottery winnings stash is 2 years !   Monedas   1929    Comedy Jihad Welfare Is Forever

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:20 | 2451066 libertus
libertus's picture

Soon you will all be food for worms as this life ends. There is nothing you can do about it and when that moment comes think about who will be mouring your passing---not that it matters because you will be dead. However, remember that in the moments before your passing people will be standing over you and hopefully be saying good things as you pass from this life to the next. That last moment is important and lasts a long time. Is the world better off for you having been here? I hope so.

Wealth is the sum total of your experiences and the people you have impacted for the good. It is not the contents of your bank account. Buffett, the Banksters, criminals, Gates, Rockefellers and the rest are pretty poor and pathetic people in my opinion. If you have been an exploiter then maybe it is time to change your ways...

Invest in the right things...take care and good luck. 

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:24 | 2451087 InconvenientCou...
InconvenientCounterParty's picture

Look beyond Maslow's heirarchy for the definition of wealth and the approximate location of social fabric. 

Air/Water/Food/physical security/shelter

wealth starts here:

reproductive opportunity

health maintenance

freedom of choice

cultivation of personal memes

Read up this list. You can measure how evil you are by what you would proudly deny a fellow human.


Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:30 | 2451111 Disenchanted
Disenchanted's picture




What is not real wealth?


For starters:


A large stack of fractional reserve, fiat federal reserve notes...or the equivalent in an electronic account.


That is the illusion of wealth.


Even real land and property that are subject to arbitrary taxation rules(among other arbitrary rules, environmental, etc., etc.) of a corrupt central government and it's vassal state and local govts is an illusion of wealth.


Precious metals(physical) subject to arbitrary seizure by those same govts is also an illusion of wealth.


Most of us(the 99%?) will never realize true wealth. The majority are unknowing chattel.


chat·tel  (chtl)
1. Law An article of movable personal property. 2. A slave.


Personally I know that I am just chattel. Where shall I run to in this world to change that fact?


Answer: There is no where to run.


Defeatist? Maybe so...but factual. The rules are made by those who hold the true wealth of the world, even if they have stolen it.


Rule of law...justice?? Don't make me fucking laugh.


So I'm a healthy bastard, just eking out an existence...BFD.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:42 | 2451168 Dapper Dan
Dapper Dan's picture

I have something most don't have, and probable will never have, in regards to wealth,

I have ENOUGH.


The other day, I saw a short description of the latest book by John Bogle, founder of Vanguard and inventor of the first index fund, that struck me.

The book's title, Enough, comes from a conversation had by two of America's most famous authors, Joseph Heller (of Catch-22 fame) and Kurt Vonnegut (who wrote Slaughterhouse-Five).

In the introduction to the book, Bogle describes it simply and brilliantly, so it's printed here (courtesy of his website): 

At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch 22 over its whole history. Heller responds, "Yes, but I have something he will never have . . . Enough."

Think about that for a second.

It's heavy, right?

A billionaire has the means to obtain everything he could ever want in the world. Millions of people would kill to have that opportunity. But that's not the point.

Life is not about getting more and more. It's not about the quest for stuff. It's about being happy. And having enough.

This is a powerful way to think about your purpose in life, and why you do the things you do. Do you live for more or do you live for enough? And if you live for more, when will you have enough?

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:08 | 2451280 dark pools of soros
dark pools of soros's picture

depends if your life has uncontrollable vices or not...  if Mr Heller started jammin his head full of coke he'd change his tune

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:19 | 2451323 El Viejo
El Viejo's picture

I noticed it changed a few years ago when I was watching a golf tournament. The announcers were using the money earned by players in a year as a score. I was immediately sickened.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 13:46 | 2451648 Tinky
Tinky's picture

Good anecdote. While only loosely connected, here's my favorite Vonnegut line:

“She was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies.”

 — Slaughterhouse-Five


Tue, 05/22/2012 - 15:20 | 2452197 TheFuture_MrGittes
TheFuture_MrGittes's picture

Convieniently reminds me of this.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:43 | 2451180 CreativeDestructor
CreativeDestructor's picture

Life is a hedonistic treadmill!
Move along, nothing to see

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:09 | 2451288 dark pools of soros
dark pools of soros's picture

give me a dopamine patch!

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 11:51 | 2451218 spooz
spooz's picture

Without your health you have nothing.  But lets cut healthcare funding so we can balance that fiat dollar budget.  Perhaps decreasing the surplus sheeple population will help the economy.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:00 | 2451242 MeBizarro
MeBizarro's picture

There are plenty of useful and insightful efforts to define and measure 'happiness' and 'wealth' among different countries and societies.  This is just a filler post on the topic as are most posts on this site that aren't on specific economic events. 

Much more interesting would be to say right a brief piece that looks at QALYs and other attempts to place a $ value on health.

Can't believe that author would write even a general post though on wealth without bringing up land holdings which have been the biggest historical measure of wealth (not gold) and still are an important measure of wealth.   

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:03 | 2451259 kekekekekekeke
Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:03 | 2451260 MeBizarro
MeBizarro's picture

Or even talk about 'leisure time' which even the poorest humans now enjoy on a scale that is unparalled in human history.  One of the best pieces I saw on this was written (forget the economist) on what it cost to economically for a consumer to purchase just 1-hour of light. 

In colonial America, the price of a candle large enough to light a room at night often required several hours of work.  Now, thanks largely to burning fossil fuels we don't even think about it. 

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 15:18 | 2452177 blunderdog
blunderdog's picture

Well done, so simply demonstrated: the uselessness of "leisure" or "freedom" or "material assets" as a workable definition for wealth.

How can it be that so many of us spend our lives using these words without ever stopping to understand what they MEAN?

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:04 | 2451265 mc_LDN
mc_LDN's picture

Lets lean on some of the thinkers that already figured this out 2,300 years ago. Less Economic hoodoo and more reality


"Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling the desire." ~ Epictetus  

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 16:51 | 2452730 gurkha108
gurkha108's picture

Desire is the cause of all suffering.  - Buddha

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 21:07 | 2453547 ken
ken's picture

The cause is really not getting what you want. -Ken

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 21:07 | 2453548 ken
ken's picture

The cause is really not getting what you want. -Ken

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:08 | 2451278 williambanzai7
williambanzai7's picture

"Jimmy Cayne wasn't the only one with a private elevator and a taste for helicopter commuting; in fact he was comparatively reasonable. After complaints, he eventually agreed to reserve the elevator for his private use only between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. every day. Richard Fuld, Lehman's CEO, had a different system. Whenever Fuld's limousine approached Lehman headquarters, his chauffeur would call in; a specially programmed elevator would descend to the garage, held there by a guard until he arrived. Then the elevator took Fuld straight to the thirty-first floor, with no stops, so he didn't have to see any of his employees. Stan O'Neal at Merrill Lynch had a private elevator too - namely, any elevator that happened to be around when he arrived. A guard would hold the next elevator that appeared, preventing anyone else from entering and, if necessary, ordering others already in the elevator to leave."""
"Everyone had limousines and drivers, of course, but there were serious toys, too. When Lehman went bankrupt, it owned a helicopter and six corporate jets. Two of the jets were 767s, which normally seat over 150 people when used by airlines, and cost over $150 million when purchased new. In addition, however, Joe Gregory, Lehman's president (the number two position under Fuld, the CEO), had his own personal helicopter, in which he commuted daily from his mansion in the Hamptons. In bad weather, he sometimes used a seaplane."

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:09 | 2451285 carbonmutant
carbonmutant's picture

Wealth = Long term Value.

Wealth is not a short term score.

People who think wealth is purchasing power are the same ones who think the stock market indicates the health of the economy. There is a relationship on paper but in the real world it can be used to disguise great poverty.

The true wealth may lie in the ability to accumulate value rather than the value itself.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:14 | 2451303 dark pools of soros
dark pools of soros's picture

Wealth shows that you have a catalyst for earning profits..  Football team owner or a pimp, etc

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:31 | 2451319 pissing_excellence
pissing_excellence's picture

Having seen this first hand, and having it crash and burn.  You would think that you could dust yourself off and try to remember what you were like before it all happened.  The well wishers and rivals dont let that happen, not even by accident.  They jab you when youre down, and turn everything into a sick, shitty tv show.  Life long friends concern morphs into crocodile smiles and name dropping, loans and a variety of games, jealousy, legal pitfalls and more.  You turn into a fortress, you are forced too. Its war, at least people sure treat it like that. These drowning people are trying to take you down too.  I'm done being self righteous, I cant be the only one with these bizarre troubles.

Good article for people on the ground.  My hobbies keep me happy, even if I fail, I'll refine it and do it again and again.

Kudos TD

 "Do you want the aladeen news or the the aladeen news?"



Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:34 | 2451388 francis_sawyer
francis_sawyer's picture

What is Wealth? (Baby don't hurt me... no more)...


Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:36 | 2451394 engineertheeconomy
engineertheeconomy's picture


Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:36 | 2451395 engineertheeconomy
engineertheeconomy's picture


Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:50 | 2451459 alangreedspank
alangreedspank's picture

Profit or money is of course not wealth. Wealth is all those ideas humans find to increase production and thereby getting closer to material abundance. Wealth is using resources to produce something that's more valuable to the market than what they were used for previously.

Profit is the reward you get for producing such wealth.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 12:52 | 2451464 Waterfallsparkles
Waterfallsparkles's picture

The biggest problem with Weath is that everyone tries to take it away from you.  Government, Attorneys, Spouses, etc.

The fallout from numerous Law Suits, Taxation, Divorse Courts can cause enough stress to cause you to become sick and die.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 13:01 | 2451499 earleflorida
earleflorida's picture

Wonderful post as always Mr. Smith - Bravo!

'Two Quotes' from Lloyd Shearer, c.1989 ___  "A Guide to a Happy Life"

#1)      "Take care of yourself. Good health is everyone's major source of wealth. Without it, happiness is almost impossible."

#2)      "Do not equate money with success. There are many successful moneymakers who are miserable failures as human beings. What counts most about success is how a person achieves it."

Ps. Would we choose to bury all our gold and riches in our coffin as the ancients had done, only to have it ransacked and desecrated shortly after. Why is it when great wealth is accrued,... does man think of himself as invincible, beyond reproach? Ignorant of his own demise, this invisible atrophied cancer of greed!


Tue, 05/22/2012 - 13:12 | 2451542 misnomer
misnomer's picture

I see wealth every morning when my two sons wake up and greet me with a "Good Morning, Mom", and the "I love you's" on their going to bed. Watching them grow and change into young men, and helping them along their journey, is the most rewarding thing I've done yet in this life of 40+ years.  We don't have much, but they are happy nonetheless..

To me, that's real wealth worth investing in....

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 13:14 | 2451552 Stuck on Zero
Stuck on Zero's picture

Wealth isn't a state of being or a material possession.  Wealth is what you want, not what you have.


Tue, 05/22/2012 - 16:55 | 2452742 gurkha108
gurkha108's picture

Say more.  My read: wealth is an idea of satiated desire, which is never achieved because desire is insatiable.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 13:18 | 2451562 lemonobrien
lemonobrien's picture

wealth is golds and a beautiful woman giving you a hummer while you jingle your coins in thy hand.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 13:22 | 2451576 SILVERGEDDON

The value of the self is true wealth. Too fucking bad almost no one sees it, or values the self. Distractions, bitchez - that is all the rest - just distractions.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 13:27 | 2451594 blunderdog
blunderdog's picture

"Self" is just a story you repeat often enough to start believing it.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 13:56 | 2451694 kevinearick
kevinearick's picture

Time Travel & Traveling Tinkerers

In a world of digitized money and cash withdrawal limits, what does a global bank run look like? You’ve been looking at it, and it just reached the tipping point of global recognition. The spenders still can’t face their addictions and every word invested in tax rate increases results in an overall tax base decline, because all the true investors have pulled out, leaving the inflationary pension ponzi.

Majority pleas for equal outcomes is the path to tyranny, and war is always the result. They have been doubling down on Silicon Valley with their children’s future, rolling from one recession to the next, since its inception. Now, they are all corporate welfare recipients and distributors, requiring acceleration of free money to continue operations.

Now that everyone can see that there is no such thing as organic corporate growth, public, private, or non-profit, and that it must come from a private sector beyond the scope of empire, can we all get on with our lives, or do we have to kill a lot of people first?

Everything in life is a trade-off. If you want little critters in your life, you are going to have to work 5 times harder than you ever worked before to support the associated empire. Anything less, as promised by empire, comes out of wages, which it temporarily replaces with a pyramid of debt. If you cannot or will not do that, you are much better off leaving parenting to others.

If you want equal opportunity, you must be willing to stand up to the empire alone, because the vast majority has a price. The only question is how much, which track. Look at where the protesters from the 60s are now. One, among most, which replaced the preceding establishment, is the Governor of California, his father’s son, a prisoner in the same palace, pleading for more educated criminals to feed the pensions. The protester becomes the cop in the next iteration, surprise, surprise.

“Ideas are a dime a dozen.” That’s the mentality of the education establishment in the United States (of Europe). Education, like everything else in the empire, is certifiably controlled from the top down. The ivy league robots have obviously reached their anxiety threshold, and their internal monologue has become their external dialogue. Whether the gated communities keep the zoo animals in or out is a function of perception, adding bricks to the wall on one side while the house of cards falls on the other.

Everything is related to everything, whether one care to recognize the opportunity cost or not. The education system purposefully presents facts, which are really peer pressure perceptions, as unrelated events, grouped into artificial subject tracks, driving the kids so far into the forest that they can only see the trees, which are not trees at all.

Money as civilized warfare goes in the pipe and get money and spend money at any cost comes out the other end, which really isn’t money. It’s debt slavery hidden from itself, fed with jealousy within and among the resulting economic activity tracks. Governments go in debt to wage war, against their own citizens. The size of the debt measures stupidity. Is this going to affect my shopping?

President Obama is a derivative symptom, very far downstream. Time could just as easily have placed the Obamas, or one of most couples, on that cover. Do they fairly represent the United States? Yes. Do they fairly represent America? No. You are the government, aggregated.

Biden is no accident; he’s from the committee, and he calls himself middle class Joe. What does that tell you about how Joe the Plumber is employed? Derivative democracy is specifically designed to end in revelation. You vote with your participation in its economy, to determine when the bomb explodes, not if. Tyranny is a function of stupidity, and you voted, one way or the other. No one, or group of ones, can force you to participate in the ignorance collective, which throws the switch at threshold.

If you begin with your body or your mind, the churn pool is the only possible outcome, but we all begin there. In short, you are as successful as others want you to be, individuals and governments alike. Age and wisdom do not necessarily appear in order. Learn from others what you can, when you can, but net to remain yourself, and the rest will take care of itself.

Recognize the spirit in others by discarding empire noise, with a mirror of mirrors of your own. Ask for a ride by recognizing their work. You don’t need to look for them, because they are looking for you, and they see you long before you see them. Regardless of motives, the hash table is a harsh table, creation amidst destruction.

Spirit nets intelligent trial and error with bodily error, until it is not in error. DNA is the derivative of spirit, not the other way around as the purple bloods would have you assume. Getting the building to spin around the elevator is just the beginning…what can you do for the universe that it cannot do for itself?

Infinite choice is both the problem and the solution. Jumping the abyss requires faith, intelligent design, and bodily action, in that order. There is never a line waiting to jump. There is always a line waiting for a bridge. An empire is a temporary bridge, and its robots always plea for both choice and equal outcomes.

Governments are incapable of keeping their word. They simply change the definitions as required, which is exactly what the US Supreme Court has done. Those who accepted future promises to sell themselves and their children short yesterday are MAD today. Something you might want to think about: government agents, representing the manufactured majority, start wars; a small group of free agents ends them, after the governments have played themselves out.

The United States is in worse financial shape than Greece, but it possesses the reserve currency, due to obsolete nuclear power. Bullies, effeminate boys and emasculate girls, come and go with regular frequency. A man needs to make a living; a woman needs to have children. There are all kinds of economic activities for others, but without effective new family formation on the margin there is no economic activity, and no government, which is the derivative. The United States is a nation of first responders responding to their own stupidity, a bully, which is its own worst enemy, a fraud undermining trust.

Men and women have much more important things to do than play the good and evil, divide and conquer game, in front of a mirror, with make-up and toys to hide their anxiety. Teenagers have to learn by doing, what they should have been doing at 2, WAKE THE F- UP and look forward. If they don’t, it gets ugly.

K-12 students are demonstrably illiterate. Governments are demonstrably illegitimate. The new economy is always the fuselage, the old economy is always the fuel container, and we have ignition. Where are you?

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 14:16 | 2451799 Scalaris
Scalaris's picture

Wealth, in a broader materialistic sense, is the ownership of an x amount of capital, which upon utilization can provide the demanded quality of life, according to the level of social stratification.


For some represents a mere savings account, which pays interest for the childrend's college fund, a kitchen renovation, or a fishing boat etc.

For most is the luxury of not being crushed by the constant debt pressure.

For others is the intergenerational transfer of inherited and multi-compounded wealth, which funds multi-branched century-old family houses, through perpetual preservation by professional management of equity  financing.

For most is the need of having threesomes with Afro-French-Vietnameese-Sweedo-Brazilian hybrids of women, on the edge of an infinity swimming pool, in a luxury hotel villa somewhere in Phang Nga or Fiji's Coral Coast, while being bathed in copious amounts of 30-year old Glengoyne '67. 


Wealth is a a subjective definition, materialistic or otherwise.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 14:17 | 2451804 reTARD
reTARD's picture

 <--------- I wouldn't know.


You mean it isn't "expanding my balance sheet" via my QE machine?

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 15:03 | 2452050 Mary Wilbur
Mary Wilbur's picture

What is wealth? My health and the ability to pay my monthly mortgage.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 15:47 | 2452410 I did it by Occident
I did it by Occident's picture

But isn't wealth in life "purpose"?  And by purpose I  don't mean happiness although purpose oftimes brings happiness as by-product. 

To quote one of my favorite quotes on purpose even though it comes from a movie.

"But, as you well know, appearances can be deceiving, which brings me back to the reason why we're here. We're not here because we're free. We're here because we're not free. There is no escaping reason; no denying purpose. Because as we both know, without purpose, we would not exist. It is purpose that created us. Purpose that connects us.  Purpose that pulls us. That guides us.  That drives us.  It is purpose that defines us. Purpose that binds us.  We are here because of you, Mr Anderson. We're here to take from you what you tried to take from us.  Purpose."  Agent Smith in Matrix Reloaded



Tue, 05/22/2012 - 15:49 | 2452422 billsykes
billsykes's picture

My definition of wealth is the ability to leverage, leverage time, resources, and opinion in your favor. 


Tue, 05/22/2012 - 16:02 | 2452518 John___Connor
John___Connor's picture

All wealth exists within human consciousness. It is manifest into the material world through human action. 

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 16:58 | 2452756 gurkha108
gurkha108's picture

Sure -- but why do we act?  We have some crazy idea that the accumulation of temporary phantasmagoria in this material world will somehow satiate us.  But will it?  What satiates and satisfies 'consciousness'?  One life sure doesn't feel like enough time to experiment.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 16:17 | 2452585 BobRocket
BobRocket's picture

Charles Hugh Smith has either found out he has an inoperable cancer or he lost all his money with JPM.

Capitalist scum have no concept of wealth other than the trinkets it can buy and the people it can control.

Just remember, no matter how wealthy (in trinkets/money/gold/serfs) you think you are, your butler is pissing in your soup.



Tue, 05/22/2012 - 17:02 | 2452744 gnomon
gnomon's picture

Being wealthy is having enough free time to contemplate the universe before you are consumed by it.

And being happy should not be mistaken for joy which is transitory.  True happiness is contentment with one's lot, with one's choices through time, however ill-considered they may have been.  And that contentment is embowered by the Taoist saying,  "He who knows enough is enough will always have enough".

Equanimity, (calmness and composure of mind), is at the center of this true happiness.  And this happiness, which is not dependent on the length of one's life, enables one to do the correct thing, the moral thing, come what may, so that your last moments are yours alone for all time. 

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