the pursuit of wealth for the sake of others

I wanna hold your hand

There are a million books written on the subject of money-making – at least. Most people, if they are sensible, want to acquire wealth.  If you don’t want material goods for yourself or for your family, you probably would like to acquire wealth to benefit a charity or a cause.  If you don’t want to acquire wealth, you may be perfectly happy and content with your lot, but you’re probably not a typical person.  So be it.

I’ve often thought that one of the true benefits of being wealthy would not be just the ability to buy what I want, when I want it, but also to be charitable. I’ve struggled with charity throughout my life; I have given generously to some causes and withheld money for selfish reasons at other times.  One of the advantages to being wealthy – to me, at least – would be the ability to give without any concern for amounts or timing.

So I think about wealth as a means not to buy the latest Wii, but as something to improve lives. Mine, sure.  My family’s, of course.  My extended family’s, yep.  Friends, my neighborhood, uh-huh.  Even charities that benefit people who will barely register the fact that I helped.  Why not?  I won’t pretend that my first goal isn’t to make life as good as possible for me and mine, but I have hopes that someday I’ll be able to make a real impact on others – not just $25 a year to a charity’s administrative overhead spending.

Many people disparage the pursuit of the wealth as self-centered. “Greedy.”  “Materialistic.”  That may be.  But if you become truly wealthy, don’t you have a far greater ability to help those in need?  Shouldn’t every person who seeks to help others make their life’s pursuit the attainment of wealth?

How much wealth is necessary, or appropriate, or required is of course open for debate. I’ve often thought that no amount could be “too much.”  I can think of an almost endless list of charities I could give to after I’ve provided for myself and my family.  I would never think of getting rich as having been selfish; if you turn that wealth back around to the world at large, you could be far more effective than the preachiest poor guy on the planet.

I would never claim that I want money first for the benefit of others. I jealously want to provide for my family (and myself) first, and charity second.  But I would like to be wealthy; I would like to have the ability to give freely to worth causes.   Wealth is not just the route to the latest video game; it can also be the route to helping people who truly need that help.
photo credit: batega

10 comments

  • Sounding very Warren Buffett, which I admire. And I only believe it coming out of his mouth. And yours, of course.

  • Chad @ Sentient Money

    I look at it a bit differently. I don't think wealthy people have an obligation to help those in need. I do think wealthy people have an obligation to make society better. This maybe helping the needy, but it maybe funding college level courses at middle class high school. Those people, being middle class, aren't needy, but it may very well benefit society as a whole. Another example would be Andrew Carnegie's library system, which benefits everyone.

    I also think the people that give to charities need to be far more selective. There are so many inefficient and worthless charities, that contributers need to start holding them accountable and not just automatically giving $50 every year.

  • Look at Rockefeller, Buffett, Gates… Without their tireless work at becoming the best at what they do the world would be without billions in charity.

  • Just the other day, I was thinking about what I'd do if I won the Euromillions lottery (which I don't play but has huge prizes). Sure, I'd keep £1.5m for myself so I'd never need to work again, but I'd love to be able to give huge sums away and I was daydreaming about contributing £500k to Oxfam (third world development charity) to be earmarked for adminstrative costs. I know people don't like too much overhead, but I figure that you can't do everything with volunteers.

    I take this daydreaming as a reminder that I should be giving to charity all the time and have upped my charitable donations. I don't do enough, but at least it's heading in the right direction.

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  • An improved society leads to improved individuals. If a person is made wealthy while living in society, I feel there is a certain obligation towards acknowledging the opportunities available to that person.
    Even for those who succeed in spite of societal convention, there must be some sense of wanting to give back so that it's not so hard for the next person.

    But, at the risk of sounding super communist, I think that individuals benefit when societies benefit.

  • @ Deepali: how is it “super communist” to acknowledge that we all benefit from society in some way? I'd just call that common sense. But then I suppose there are many that don't possess that.

    I like the idea of being wealthy to help others, so long as one doesn't become wealthy at the expense of others. I'm not thinking of Gates or Buffett here, but more like Wall Street and Big Three execs who cut jobs, feed at the public trough and then give themselves giant compensation packages. But then again, I wonder if any of them are involved in charity at all.

  • ralphcarlson

    It would be great to give without worrying about having enough for yourself but on the other hand, if giving causes no hardship doesn't it loose something. I remember the O'Henry story about the Christmas gifts shared by a young couple. Maybe they don't read him anymore. Then you have the example of the charitable foundations created by these moguls that contribute to destroying the principles that made the fortunes possible. It is not easy giving.

  • ralphcarlson

    It would be great to give without worrying about having enough for yourself but on the other hand, if giving causes no hardship doesn't it loose something. I remember the O'Henry story about the Christmas gifts shared by a young couple. Maybe they don't read him anymore. Then you have the example of the charitable foundations created by these moguls that contribute to destroying the principles that made the fortunes possible. It is not easy giving.