Is it ethical to strive for riches?

Money and Ethics

"Money is the route of all evil"

Since the development of the barter economy into the current form based on a medium of exchange, money has been synonymous with evil. It is often perceived as greedy to want money or as selfish to want wealth.

Throughout literature, culture, media and the arts, time and time again, the pursuit of money is depicted as unworthy. Just think of films such as Wall Street or even in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. The main protagonist of both being portrayed as unlikeable due to their lust for riches.

Is money the route of all evil?

Whilst I do not deny that money can be used to do bad things or is a motivation for wrongdoing, I must emphasise that it all depends on the agent who pursues such a goal. The money in itself isn't bad,  nor the pursuit of it. What is bad is the means by which people pursue. For example, if people perform criminal acts in the pursuit of wealth then clearly that is wrong. However, if someone wants to work hard, save and invest to produce his wealth, then how can this be wrong?

Some may argue that to only want things for yourself is selfish. I do not doubt that there are those saints of society who only wish things for other people. I and the vast majority of people I know are not motivated by the pure love of doing things for others. We need to know that there is a gain for ourselves in every act. I see nothing wrong with this. It is this motivation that has created incredible things. Did the Pharoes create the Pyramids out if their love for others? Did the Beatles make great music purely out of the selfless need to provide other people with lyrics they would enjoy listening to? In both cases it is not selflessness that motivates them, it is selfishness. Notice that that doesn't mean that others haven't benefited. We get to enjoy looking at the Pyramids whilst listening to Beatles albums today. It is not wrong to want to be selfish. In fact it can produce great things.

As you can see, in doing the things that you enjoy, and in pursuing the goals that you wish to achieve, it is possible that others will benefit. The capitalist economy did not form because people are benevolent in wishing to provide goods and services to one another. It is because they selfishly want to provide a living for themselves that drives them to produce the things that others are willing to pay for.

So what's my justification for wanting to become a multimillionaire?

The act of building wealth is twofold:

1) Reaching Life Goals

There are certain things that I want to do in my life. I want to design my own house to live and retire in. I want to be able to spend time with my family, friends, children and grandchildren. I want to have the time and be able to travel the world. I want to start my own business. I want to help people both financially and through guidance and teaching.

None of these goals  come for free (for setting goals read this article). Even creating the availability of time requires money (because if you can only spend what you earn from work then time spent doing other things is costly - this is why I don't want my future activities to rely on employment income, but on alternative incomes). The house alone will probably cost close to £5 million in today's money. 

2) Game of Life

In the Game of Life there is no one to tell you how you are doing. What we get out of life comes from what we put into it. Unfortunately, (and this ties in with point 1) we have no one there to tell us whether we could be doing better. Money serves a good substitute if treated as a scorecard for life. The more wealth that I've build up, the better I'm doing. Of course it isn't a perfect method of scoring. There are plenty of achievements in life that one cannot place a monetary value such as family, friends and experiences (although arguably more experiences of a better quality are obtainable with greater wealth and disposable income). Nonetheless, money serves as the best alternative to scoring in life.

I would point out that I do not believe that this means that richer people are more successful in life than poorer people. What I mean is that the measure of success should be relative to what you could be, rather than how you compare to others.

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