View of the hills from the Costco Business Center in San Jose CA.

You’ve probably heard this story. A man was relaxing by the sea shore one morning. A passing wealthy man asks him why he was just sitting idle. “I am enjoying the day, now that I’m done with fishing for today,” he replied.

“Why don’t you go catch more fish?” the wealthy man asks.

“And why would I do that? I have enough for now.”

“You could make more money if you caught more fish. Then you could buy another boat. And then you would be able to catch more fish and end up with a large number of boats. Then you’d be wealthy.”

“And then what?” asked the fisherman.

“Then you would be able to have a relaxed life, free from worries.”

“Well, I’m doing that already, am I not? Then what’s the point of going through all that trouble?”


In a recent post titled “Inequality” I briefly touched up wealth. Inequality of wealth is quite a modern phenomenon. A few hundred years ago, humans were roughly equal in terms of wealth — with the possible exception of those at the top of the heap, such as kings and emperors. The wealthy had lots of land, gold and silver, etc., but the overwhelmingly vast majority of people (regardless of where they lived on earth) had precious little possessions. Being dirt poor has been the human condition for nearly all of human existence.

Only recently, around a few centuries at most, wealth inequality began to grow. Some people in some countries began to be “wealthy” by contemporary standards. Gradually, the inequality of wealth within and across countries widened with time.

With that began the increase of inequality in income, consumption and well-being. We hear loud denunciations of wealth inequality in the media. I believe much of it is hand wringing and virtue signaling by “social justice warriors”, primarily the result of ignorance and idiocy.

Wealth inequality is a fact of the modern world. It signals not disease but healthy growth.


Wealth, income, consumption and well-being are related. But they don’t move in lockstep. High wealth and high income could lead to high consumption and therefore greater well-being. But high wealth can also be consistent with modest consumption and high well-being.

Warren Buffett is a billionaire many times over. Yet his level of consumption is that of a modestly rich American. He lives in a modest house, drives an average car, eats what any average American can afford. As he says, “I can afford any item on the Dairy Queen menu, and so can you.” The only exception is that Buffett travels by private jet, a luxury only the ultra-rich can afford.

Buffett has immense wealth but has modest consumption. What about his well-being? I assume that he must be very content and satisfied with his life. In other words, I guess that he scores high on experienced well-being.


Wealth certainly does not guarantee happiness. But it does allow one to be miserable in comfort.


Simon & Garfunkel sang about “Richard Cory” based on a poem by E. A. Robinson. Here are the lyrics (edited for brevity) of the song:

They say that Richard Cory owns
One-half of this whole town
With political connections
To spread his wealth around …

Oh he surely must be happy
With everything he’s got
And I wish that I could be
Richard Cory…

So my mind was filled with wonder
When the evening headlines read
“Richard Cory went home last night
And put a bullet through his head”

Here’s Simon & Garfunkel live on Canadian TV in 1966 (that’s 57 years ago!) singing that song.


Wealth is good. But it is not an ultimate or final good. Though valuable by definition, it’s merely instrumental. What we seek ultimately is well-being and happiness. Wealth is necessary for that but it is far from sufficient.

If I could, I’d choose both wealth and happiness, but if I had to choose only one, I’d choose happiness over wealth.

For most people, there’s a wealth satiation point. A healthy respect for wealth is consistent with the attitude “I’ve enough of it.” Some, though, have a pathological attachment to it. Acquisitiveness is not healthy.

It is hard to imagine happiness or well-being reaching a satiation point.


How much wealth is enough? Just enough so that wealth becomes unimportant. Here’s a bit from a previous post:

Having made provision for security, one faces the necessity of having money. The Panchatantra being very wise, never falls into the vulgar error of supposing money to be important. Money must be there, in reasonable amount, because it is unimportant, and what wise man permits things unimportant to occupy his mind?


The little story at the top of this post is a variation on a very ancient theme, found in many traditions across the world. The Greek historian Plutarch (46 – 119 CE) in his book Lives relates a conversation between Pyrrhus (318 – 272 BCE) and his advisor Cineas. Pyrrhus was preparing an expedition to conquer Italy.

He said, “We shall at once possess all Italy, the great size and richness and importance of which no man should know better than thyself.” Then, Cineas said: “And after taking Italy, O King, what are we to do?”

Pyrrhus replies that he’d take nearby Sicily. At which Cineas says, “But will our expedition stop with the taking of Sicily ? With so great a power we shall be able to recover Macedonia and rule Greece securely. But when we have got everything subject to us, what are we going to do?”

Then Pyrrhus smiled and said: “We shall be much at ease, and we’ll drink bumpers, my good man, every day, and we’ll gladden one another’s hearts with confidential talks.”

And now that Cineas had brought Pyrrhus to this point in the argument, he said:  “Then what stands in our way now if we want to drink bumpers and while away the time with one another? Surely this privilege is ours already, and we have at hand, without taking any trouble, those things to which we hope to attain by bloodshed and great toils and perils, after doing much harm to others and suffering much ourselves.”[1]


The trend of increasing wealth, income and consumption is undeniable. The question is what is the trend in inequality? And what of well-being? While the level of well-being is undoubtedly rising around the world, is it also becoming more unequal?

Let’s reflect on that next. Meanwhile, here’s the poem by E. A. Robinson read by the marvelous Tom O’Bedlam.


[1] Edited from this Tufts.edu site.

Author: Atanu Dey


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