How The Very Rich Have Failed Themselves and Society

Rolls Royce Ghost
Rolls Royce Ghost *photo courtesy of


According to, actor Mel Gibson has a net worth of approximately $425 million. In my estimation, this is one of many examples of people who are very rich, but have failed themselves and members of society horribly.

How do you define success? If I were to survey people on the street and ask them what their definition of success is, I expect I’d get a mixed result, split in some proportion between happiness and money. But actions speak louder than words. Every morning the bulk of society awakes and heads off to jobs they would rather not have. They aren’t going there because it makes them happy. They are going there because it makes them money. And they think money will bring them happiness.

Experts in many fields including Positive Psychology experts like Martin Seligman, have determined that after a point, more money won’t bring greater happiness. Yet people continue to pursue money beyond the amount needed to fulfill the fundamental requirement for which money is necessary.

As I’ve said many times, it’s the hunter-gatherer instinct out of control, functioning beyond it’s usefulness. At a point, it becomes nothing more than hoarding.

My belief is that money will only serve to satisfy the lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. After food and security needs are met, money is of little value. You cannot buy true self-esteem, or self-actualization.

How much money one person needs is somewhat subjective, but I’m going to offer a suggestion as to what that is for the sake of demonstration. Let’s make it a maximum of $3 million.

Now, I know that most of you would be thrilled to have a net worth of 3 million. Take note of the fact that I am setting this as a maximum. I need much, much less, and I think most people do.[Tweet “The Very Wealthy Fail Themselves and Society…”]

Why $3 million? Let’s assume that in most societies today, you can satisfy your basic needs of food, and security for absolutely no more than $150,000 a year. Our second assumption is that we can obtain a return on our savings of approximately 5%. 5% of $3 million will give us $150,000 in annual income.

I would like to reiterate here that I think this is more than we really need. I also believe a 5% return is conservative. We also aren’t touching our principle investment, the $3 million. In fact if we intended to use this up while we lived, then actuarial calculations would show that we need even less.

We can split hairs over the exact amounts, the percentage returns, effects of inflation, and such, but to do so is missing the point, which is that we don’t need $425 million, or even $200 million, or $50 million to satisfy our personal financial needs.

The resources gathered by the rich are used to buy massive homes, yachts, elaborate parties, cars, jewelry, islands, and unimaginable luxuries.  Meanwhile roughly 20 thousand children a day (not a month, or a year), die of starvation. I find it hard to accept that there is nothing wrong with this system.

The very wealthy would be quick to recite to you the amount that they have contributed to philanthropic causes. I will be quick to point out that if they are still living with relatively obscene levels of luxury, they have not done enough.

Imagine for a moment a world in which accumulated personal resources beyond $3 million, where invested in philanthropic causes. Assets beyond this amount would be put towards solving human health issues, promoting peace, equality,  education, and human rights. In this world, if your assets exceeded this point, you would be shunned and looked down upon by other members of society. Imagine the resources that would be directed towards positive change, all the while, not diminishing the happiness of the givers. In fact, I expect their well-being would be enhanced. How would this affect the world?

Also, imagine if this type of approach was used by governments as well. The U.S. government spent in excess of $2 trillion (not million, or even billion) on the Iraq war. Imagine what might of been the effect of this same investment in the well-being of people around the world. Would this kind of effort create new enemies, or new friends and supporters. How would this have effected world opinion of the U.S., it’s government and citizens?

Last year a 1962 Ferrari sold for just south of $35 million. At the very moment the winning bid was celebrated, children struggled for their last breath before they died. If those deaths has have been televised in the auction room during the bidding, I wonder what the selling price would have been?

Obscenely wealthy religious leaders, celebrities, business tycoons, and powerful politicians rant about the injustices of poverty, lack of fresh water, education, and the untold suffering in the world, and then wash their hands in water that flows from gold plated facets – literally.

The bottom line is this. I believe that the goal we need to strive for is universal happiness and well-being. No, not through simple handouts, but through constructive programs designed to reduce suffering. I don’t believe extreme personal wealth achieves this. Despite what we would like to tell ourselves, it is well proven that the extremely wealthy are not happier. If they were, we wouldn’t lose so many of them to suicide, and drug overdoses.


  1. “When someone steals a man’s clothes we call him a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the man who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the man who has not shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.” Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea, stated around A.D. 365.

    I know it’s tacky to quote from another book rather than the original source, but I took this quote from “Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin.

  2. Yes, I think we are on a wrong path, but in truth I certainly don’t blame all those with wealth. Our culture teaches us that this is the way it should be. It’s the “American Dream” to get rich. If we could only adjust our thinking, which begins with the realization that, as I’ve said, beyond a point, money does not bring happiness and well-being, and excess resources beyond this point could be put to better use. The really big question is whether or not society at large will figure this out before we destroy ourselves.
    Thanks again for the comment and the quote!

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