By Basil E. Gala, Ph.D.
In Search of Meaning
I have held the opinion since I grew up that life’s major purpose is work: the production of useful products and services for personal use or for sale. Work justifies my life and procreation, rest and recreation. Work, however, is not enough to fulfill my goals; saving money earned and other resources, investing them profitably, are equally important values. Doing what I believe is beneficial, I find joy in it, seeking no pleasure for the sake of pleasure. I like to apply this principle to what I eat and other matters. The food I prepare with my own hands and eat sparingly must first provide me with the right nutrients my body needs for growth, repair, and good health; then I can slowly relish my meal. Moreover, my food is vegetarian for the health of my body and the benefit of the planet. If all of us saved thus and invested we would have a society and a world better by far than what we have today, without the depleting our limited natural resources. Conservation of resources is a fundamental principle of life which we may ignore only to our severe detriment.
What is truly conservative or economical living?
We can apply economical living to everything we use in carrying out our functions as human beings. Thrift is good in energy, water, time, fitness and health, personal freedom, gear (from clothes to watch or i-phone), credit (use it for investments and pay it off), materials, human connections, our reputation and standing in the community, our political capital, as President W. Bush called it spending it wantonly, fame, and money.
Fame, even notoriety, is readily converted to money, just like prime real estate. No decent person seeks infamy for profit. Fame acquired honestly for good deeds should be preserved and protected and not debased for mere personal gratification or money accumulation. Famous actors and other personalities who use their fame sincerely to promote good causes, such as the environment, deserve our full respect.
Then we have celebrities like Bruce Jenner, not content enough with Olympic gold fame or stardom in a reality show. He had to become Caitlyn Jenner to get more attention; he did not save his reputation as a man.
When applying conservation or thrift we have to consider the whole spectrum of resources at our disposal in aggregate, not just money. I had a friend once who would drive all over town trying to find a ten-dollar item for the least money in different shops.
Other people ignore their health and safety in seeking savings in food or transportation. A person may eat poor quality food in cheap restaurants to save money or drive a small rickety car for fuel economy and small price of acquisition at the risk of injury to oneself or to family.
Some persons damage their reputation in society by acting in a miserly or niggardly fashion; to save a few dollars by not tipping properly a waiter, for example, they appear despicably cheap to their friends.
Budget everything of value
A critical tool for saving and investing is a strict and honest budget for each significant resource you command: time, money, energy, credit, etc. Operating your family or business finances without a budget is like flying a plane without instruments, and just as hazardous. The budget should allow for important functions and skimp on impulse buying. Design your budget to support your major goals.
The budget should not become like a ball and chain in your life, but simply allow for sufficient conservation of all your resources to be put them to the best and highest use according to your values.
The saving grace
Saving is one of the finest graces and a beautiful one. Grace, charis in Greek, is the gift of happiness, contentment, and peace. In religion, charis is God’s love or mercy which brings joy to us God’s children. If I am a believer, I live and thrive by the grace of God. I want to make the case here that conservation of all resources with religious zeal is a desirable and necessary virtue for individuals and societies.
Calvinists and other kinds of faithful people have preached the virtues of hard work, thrift, and investment. Such teachings did not exactly follow the Christian doctrine of “give your wealth to the poor and follow Jesus.” But savings made congregations richer and churches received a larger tithe.
Scottish people are supposed to be thrifty by nature, as their nature emerged in their mountainous region. Jews may tend to be miserly, at least in literature; no wonder, since they were persecuted and were not allowed to own land in many countries. Greeks used to be very frugal; they had to be, scratching a living on poor rocky soils, most of their crops taken by their Ottoman masters for centuries.
Thrift can be fun
You may argue that thrift is no fun. It’s more pleasant to spend and enjoy the huge variety of enticing goods that business produces today. We don’t have a period of scarcity in America. Plenty of cash is floating around and all the credit you need in order to live the “good life.” Commercial enterprises and advertisers certainly support your habit of spending for pure enjoyment. I oppose this approach to life and shall provide reasons why I do.
But to begin with, actually thrift can be fun if practiced the right way, without extreme measures, such as miserliness. Saving is interesting, taken up as a hobby like rare stamp or coin collecting, something to play with, a game, while watching your assets grow through its practice.
Is consumer spending good for the national economy?
Let’s consider the consequences of everybody following a program of spending money only on what is necessary for functional living. The bulk of economic activity, as much as 70%, is caused by consumer spending. Capital expenditures by business is also tied to purchases by consumers. Companies will not build plants or install new machinery unless demand of products is rising. Government is constrained in spending also when tax receipts are down because of lower economic activity.
Of course, for a time Government can borrow money by issuing bonds and spend it to stimulate economic economic activity.
Salespeople like to say that they are responsible for the turning of wheels in the economy. Without sales the economy stalls, true enough to a degree. But an economy can also run well with exports as Germany, Japan, and China have shown. These countries have large trade surpluses each year, which means that with robust exports they gets richer, accumulating capital for further growth.
We’re apt to tell our successful trading partners that they should give us a level playing field for competition and that they should stimulate consumer purchases in their own nation for their economic expansion. Instead we should imitate their methods for exporting goods.
Chinese workers earn a tenth of the wages of the average American, but they save more than Americans. Hence, the Chinese own much of our national debt in Treasury bills.
Switzerland has the highest per capita income, excepting some places with natural wealth and small populations. Switzerland is a mountainous country with few natural resources, but they have advanced economically by saving, investing, and building world-class companies in banking, insurance, food processing, and pharmaceuticals, thanks largely to a well-educated work force.
Economic growth is generally seen to be a good thing for the benefit of workers, business, government, and investors. We should consider whether such growth is really desirable for the future of mankind and of the planet. The answer to this question depends a lot on the kind of growth we achieve. A simple increase in the gross national product mean much. Growth in scientific learning, the arts, spiritual consciousness, happiness, exploration, peace and security in the nation and abroad, that’s desirable growth, not measured by the GNP.
Good economic growth is generated by talented professional people in all fields of endeavor.
Should we tax the rich even more than we do?
In fact, people who work as professionals, entrepreneurs, inventors, or managers, earning large incomes, these people save more and create more and better products, thus driving economic growth. The vast majority of economic activity is produced by consumers and government purchasing agents, 95% of the population, but the 5% of affluent owners and professionals in the country create a nation’s growth, prosperity and a higher quality of life for themselves and everybody else. Think of the value of this 5% segment of the population.
Discourage these few bright persons, the 5% or even the much-maligned 1% of the population, with high taxes, excessive regulation, discrimination and hostility, push them to the periphery of society or abroad, and your entire nation ends up in economic stagnation and decay. The populist government of Venezuela may distribute the national wealth to the masses who just consume it as long as it lasts, saving nothing, while those who are productive languish in impotence.
Cuba has been worse off than Venezuela for more than fifty years, since it became a dictatorship as well as a socialist country, and lost many of its educated and enterprising people to America. Indeed, Ayn Rand’s Atlas has shrugged in Cuba and Venuzuela.
Authoritarian governments such as those of North Korea, a socialist, militarist, and hereditary dictatorship, and Russia control their talented citizens but cannot make them be more creative and productive than these people choose to be. Wealth in these countries flows to those who applaud the government slavishly and to cohorts who spend their ill begotten gains in lavish living, instead of saving and investing.
Interestingly, China, also with an authoritarian government, managed to liberate itself from communist dogma to a degree and allowed innovators, entrepreneurs, and business owners to catapult the nation’s economy to a dominant position in the world trade of manufactured goods. China is still held back to a large extent by state enterprises which operate inefficiently with government subsidized debt.
What should we do with our wealth? Conserve it.
In democratic nations such as America, individual families, companies, and the nation can keep the wheels of industry turning by investing their savings in buildings, roads, labor saving equipment, research and development, space exploration, solar energy facilities, water conservation lakes, dams, reforestation, and a myriad other worthwhile projects to enrich and enhance living conditions well into the future.
As a nation we must learn to conserve our resources, including air, water, land, trees, wild life, minerals, wetlands, and our native traditions. Our country is not like it was when the first Europeans arrived, with forests covering the East Coast from Florida to Maine, fish, birds, and animals aplenty for hunters.
As humankind, we should be saving the rain forests, endangered animals, and sea creatures, and our varied cultures expressed in religious beliefs, languages, music, books, and ancient arts and crafts, as well as antiques and antiquities. Think about the loss of Greek writings, music, and art during the dark ages. All that remains, as an example, of the work of the great mathematician, philosopher, and mystic Pythagoras are a few fragments.
By comparison, however, possessed by the passion of hoarding, many people today save cheap mass produced junk.
Individual savings are vital for families and communities
As individuals, however, how far shall we carry this process of saving and investing? The old saying of “a penny saved is a penny earned” prompted Benjamin Franklin to point out that the worker is ahead by not spending his penny. Franklin’s time was that of the penny loaf of bread. Franklin pointed out that if the worker spent his penny, he was also likely to go into debt at his local tavern for another penny. That situation was before income taxes and other deductions from your pay packet. For every dollar you don’t have to earn by working, you save these deductions and you save the sales tax on what you have not purchased.
Wasting resources is obviously worse than not saving things, splurging often leading to poverty, hence the old saying of “waste not, want not.” If you want to be able to save, obviously you have to begin by stopping waste.
I don’t suppose you want to argue for wastefulness, although you may like spending just for pleasure. Only an irrational person sees any value in dumping useful things, which one can always give to the poor if one wants to buy new stuff.
Therefore, I shall focus on thrift.
People who grew up in the Great Depression (not many of them with us now) were forced to be parsimonious. My sister, brother, and I lived through the Depression, World War II, and the German occupation of Greece. We experienced hunger and deprivation during those years and for many years after the war.
When we immigrated to America, we drove old cars needing frequent repairs we sometimes made with our own hands. We lived in small rooms and furnished them with used furniture, appliances, and utensils purchased from the Salvation Army or Goodwill. My mother and my sister sewed their own clothes. The men did carpentry and plumbing. We would eat at home simple food, or dine at a California family restaurant serving big portions, like Norms, and share a meal.
We’re not likely to forget our habit of thrift, but our children and grandchildren have lived in a different world–one of affluence. They have difficulty acquiring the saving habit, because it’s not necessary for them.
Yet, we must reach our children and grandchildren with the message of thrift, conservation, and the avoidance of wastefulness. A good site on line for children and their parents is Disney’s The Magic of Conservation, where people are encouraged to recycle and save resources with games and projects at home and in community parks to prevent damage to the environment and resource waste.
We, the older generation, which grew up with scarcity, sometimes view our offspring as wasteful, extravagant, profligate, even prodigal, as in the parable of Jesus about the prodigal son. We learned to use the minimum resources required for our survival. Some of us even became niggardly, penny pinching old fools, stingy, tight, skimping on everything—and cheap. Let’s give our children a break and let them learn for themselves the value of conservation.
Children and grandchildren go out shopping and see these marvelous offers in the stores, “reduced,”, “50% off,” “prices slashed,” “huge sale,” “budget,” “cut-rate,” “half-price,” and “bargain.” Our offspring should learn to ask, reduced from what price? Do I really need this new dress or shoes? Where is the quality in the product and where can I get this quality at a better price elsewhere?
The French are very good at selling high-quality products from foods to perfumes to handbags at staggering prices. Our children should look for the cost-effectiveness of what they buy, not the brand name to display with pride.
Should we, older and wiser persons, encourage the habit of work and thrift in our children and grandchildren, or should we just give them an allowance to spend as they choose for fun? I taught my two daughters to earn money by providing services to the family, besides taking care of their own needs and doing necessary chores. And I taught them to put part of their earnings in a savings account. Now as adults they’re better equipped for living a good life without overspending.
Not minimalist but high quality living
I’m not proposing here a minimalist way of living, a lifestyle popular with some people who brag about living in a 400-square-foot apartment. We should spend what is necessary for a successful and joyous life with all the tools required for health, social interactions, and professional advancement.
I propose that it’s better to buy a few pieces of merchandise of high quality which will last a long time, rather than buy chintzy stuff that quickly ends up filling the dumps. My desk top computer is a fifteen-year-old Hewlett-Packard made in America and I drive a twenty-year-old Lincoln Continental, still in excellent condition.
Manufacturers sell new cars, appliances, and electronics by constantly offering enticing features not found in old equipment. Many features result in greater complexity and cause systems to be prone to more frequent failures. I remember when appliances lasted for decades and could be fixed at a small cost by neighborhood repair shops. Save your money and hold on to your old things as long as they do their essential function.
Many consumers have become accustomed to buying in bulk from Costco, Walmart, and other large discount retailers, and they spend their earnings on things they will overuse (such as food) or discard soon.
Much of what we discard goes back to China or to the rising economy of Vietnam to be reused in new manufactured products. China, and before China Japan, became the factories of the world at the cost of much environmental degradation in their lands and waters. These countries gained wealth but gave up other values. As you shall see, I don’t advocate the saving of money only. Individuals and societies may begin by saving money from earnings, then they must move on to other conservation measures.
Saving, investing and giving the right way
So how much of our earnings should we save? In his book “The Richest Man in Babylon,” 1926, Samuel Clason tells parables about men putting aside 10% of their wages with the words, “a part of all you earn is yours to keep.” After you have accumulated sufficient cash, you invest it to produce income in business ventures following the advice of wise and trustworthy people. Eventually you can become rich. This book was primarily sold or given away by banks and insurance companies. Try and get wealthy from your bank or life insurance savings today when interest rates are almost zero, and the income is taxed at the same the Federal Reserve Bank targets a 2% inflation.
But you can get rich from prudent investments. Once you’re rich enough from income properties, how much should you spend for pleasure or to give to people less fortunate than you are? I say, spend no more than necessary for your life to function well. As for the poor, be compassionate and help with their problems, but mostly show them how they can earn money themselves for their needs. Don’t give the hungry man fish but teach him how to fish, as told in an old story.
Well now, your life is running well with a fraction of your income. What should you do with the excess income? Clearly you need to set up reserves for any emergencies or downturns in business, which inevitably occur in the economic cycle. And when you have sufficient reserves, what do you do with the extra income? Are you not being a miser by not spending it or giving it away?
Big liberal spenders are as common as fools
Most people in our society are geared to a life of working hard at their jobs and earning good wages. “Work, work, earn, earn, spend, spend” is the motto they follow. They think, “there’s more money where that money came from.”
Some people are inclined to be liberals in spending, that is, they use money freely, paying for high-priced items with abandon. Politically, Democrats are such liberals, known as tax and spend politicians who attract votes from the lower strata of society. Conservatives or Republicans are tight with money for foreign lending, social programs, and public projects. They tend to big spending, however, for defense.
Casinos and clubs love big spenders, offering them special incentives, memberships, and honors to come drink and play. “Hello, suckers!”
Big spenders remind me of Aesop’s tale of the grasshopper and the ant. I’m in favor of the kind of living the ant does in saving its earnings and having extra resources for winter or other adversities.
Of course you can always spend extra income. You can buy a bigger house and fill it up with more and better furniture and appliances. You can own a four-car garage with the house where you park your Mercedes, Cadillac, and Porsche. You can add a pool, a tennis court, and fine gardens with lawns, ponds, and fountains. Will these things make a better life for you? I doubt it. You don’t need luxuries to be happy. Often the more things you own the more headaches you invite. You can certainly find happiness in a simple life with the enjoyment of Earth’s beauty outside your home in nature preserves and government parks or forests. You don’t have to own such resources to enjoy them.
Yet, people who acquire wealth quickly from a business or profession are often inclined to splurge on luxuries and high living. Mostly people spend big in order to show off, to feel important, and better than their neighbors. Thorstein Veblen called such spending “conspicuous consumption” in his 1899 book, a critique of consumerism, “The Theory of the Leisure Class.” Remember the movie stars who ended up in penury after overspending in their years of fame?
Heirs and other beneficiaries, do they deserve your wealth?
Many people who don’t need luxuries to be happy, give these luxuries to their adult children in order to spoil them completely, after they spoiled them with allowances when their were young. My daughter Elizabeth had a friend who liked to get high; he was an only child and his parents gave him a car when he became seventeen. He promptly crashed the car and totaled it. His parents bought him another new car that he also smashed and at the same time blinded himself for life. People become spoiled when they get possessions they did not earn, whether they are from wealthy or from welfare families. Being spoiled means that you’re getting accustomed to the notion that your family or community owes you a living just for being a member of the family or community.
I love my children and grandchildren; that doesn’t mean I would like them to live parasitically using the wealth I have acquired through hard work and thrift. You don’t express your love properly by giving your heirs things, but by encouraging them, if possible inspiring them, to live productive lives.
Coming back to thrifty ways, it certainly makes sense to save and invest until you’re financially independent, so you don’t have to be a work slave in order to support yourself and your family. Work that you do because you love it or because you think it’s worthwhile for society is no slavery.
Suppose I have retired with an income from properties or a safe pension, which income is in excess of my needs, what should I do with that excess money? Of course, I can donate it to my church or give it to charities directly or through charitable organizations. I have known people who have given millions to charity in their wills or while living, terribly upsetting their heirs. Upon the demise of their parents, heirs have to produce the cash to pay the charity donation and the inheritance taxes to the IRS. I have no desire to upset the children I love when my body is alive or after it’s dead.
Still, I have to consider the consequences of giving money to charity or leaving it to my heirs. Will the money really benefit my children or cause them to become playboys or playgirls, spending their lives jetting around the world to no good purpose or indulging in the pleasures of casual sex, alcohol or recreational drugs? I have met a few trust fund children who were drug addicts. If they had to work for a living, given the discipline of showing up for their labors each day, they would likely have received a greater benefit from work than from the money they inherited.
As for charities, how much of the money I give goes to benefit those in need and how much to the organizers and managers of the charity?
Examine what happens with the money going to the needy. Feed the poor and hungry is a common admonition in most religions and ethical systems. Our empathy towards others lead us to be charitable. I have a daughter who likes feeding stray cats. When well fed, the cats breed and produce more hungry cats. I have known people who fed dozens of street cats outside their house. The same principle applies to poor people. Poverty and hunger have their causes—as a rule, they’re not random events. I would like to support social action which eliminates or reduces poverty by curing the causes of poverty, such as ill health, stupidity, ignorance, addiction, lack of family planning, and bad attitude or negative thinking.
A good or bad mental attitude is nearly everything important for succeeding or failing in life as shown in the 1994 film “Forrest Gump.”
Clearly a person with more income than needed has to exercise caution in giving money to relatives or charities. Some people have given their excess money to pay down the national debt. They can expect that politicians will promptly borrow even more money for their favorite projects and wars.
How about giving money to hospitals and having a plaque engraved with your name as a benefactor? That would be great if hospitals really provided valuable services to the community. By and large they do more harm than good with needless surgeries and other treatments, often torturing dying people with expensive procedures than neither improve or extend the lives of old people.
You may counter that educational institutions are really worthy of support. Are they? Don’t they provide canned knowledge and dogmatic mental attitudes based on what was believed centuries ago which is no longer applicable? Is it not so that knowledge is vital and best when one discovers new things through self motivation? Thomas Edison and Andrew Carnegie had sixth grade educations.
Is there lack of information in libraries or the Internet which one can obtain readily for any good (or bad) purpose?
Andrew Carnegie, world’s richest man in his time, left a large part of his fortune for the founding of libraries in his native Scotland and in America. He also founded Carnegie Hall for cultural events. Were such donations worthwhile? We have to examine what use people are making of such facilities. Are the libraries used to improve lives? What do people gather from cultural events? If they derive benefits, should they not pay for them out of their own pocket?
The conservation case reviewed
Let me review my argument. My first premise is that we should work hard to earn income, live simply, buying only what we need for proper function, not for mere pleasure, save the excess income and invest it until we are financially independent.
My second premise is that we should continue working productively even after we have acquired financial independence from income producing assets and continue to spend money only for our needs not just for fun.
When it comes to excess income and wealth from investments, I have concluded that many acts of donation to heirs or others may well be misplaced when we look at the consequences of our giving.
What then remains to do with wealth? We can continue to address our needs with the least expense and use the power of our money to preserve the living planet Earth.
We can begin looking after the Earth by recycling everything we use. If everything is recycled by everybody there will be no pollution. Carbon dioxide would not increase in the atmosphere if we saved existing vegetation on soil or in water and grew sufficient new photosynthesizing organisms. Earth once had no oxygen in its air until stromatolites and other plants produced it. We can maintain a light footprint on the soil or sea for ourselves. For example, we can drive an inexpensive electric car, put solar collectors on our house roof, and use scarce water sparingly.
On the island of Andros, Greece, where I live summers, rains pour profusely during the winter, the water rushing down creeks to the sea with soil and debris. A few creeks, fed by springs, continue to channel precious water to the sea in the summer and fall when there’s little rain falling.
Much of the island of Andros is drying up because of fires, overgrazing, and planetary warming. Dams along the numerous creeks would collect water in lakes and re-hydrate Andros, allowing for reforestation and for cultivation of crops and fruits, including avocados for export.
For hundreds of years the creeks on Andros were dotted with water mills that ground crops or pressed olives, using free energy after their construction, not imported oil. These mills now lie in ruins. Farmers used the droppings of their animals as manure in their fields, and the animals, including donkeys, horses, and mules were fed with grasses and discarded crops, not with expensive gasoline from the Middle East.
Andros was home to 60,000 people fifty years ago; now the island has only 6,000 permanent residents, most villagers having fled to big cities in Greece or abroad to escape grinding poverty on poor soils. Places like Andros, instead of being neglected, can be salvaged and put to year-round use, besides summer tourism.
We hear and read much these days about the need to switch to renewable energy resources for our needs away from fossil fuels which pollute the air with carbon dioxide and other noxious substances. Little is written about the conservation of energy by comparison.
Advanced and developing nations use far too much energy for their needs, as well as water and minerals. The United States is particularly profligate. We leave lights on or air conditioning and heating running, when we don’t need to have these on or at such a costly level of operation. Hundreds of gallons of water are wasted by each one of us in toilets, bathrooms, and kitchens. Go visit an arid country in the Middle East or Africa and see how you can keep cool and clean using little water, the light clothing, and economical bathroom and kitchen faucets.
I live in a house on Andros built with walls of stone, insulation, brick, and stucco. It has exterior shutters to allow the sun to come in or be blocked as needed during the year. In summer I may turn on the AC to cool the interior for an hour or so, then it remains comfortable the rest of the day. Sometimes I wear a light shirt and shorts to keep cool in summer or I drape myself with a moist towel, natural air conditioning. It’s a game of conservation for me, not the need to lower my electricity bill.
Conservation spells efficiency
Consider the case of sawdust in lumber mills. It was a nuisance and a hazard, until we collected it and used it in making fiberboard and other useful products. Conservation of resources results in efficiency.
In science and mathematics we look for the simplest description of a phenomenon, such as Newton’s F = ma, or Einstein’s E = mc². The best proof of a mathematical theorem is often a short and elegant one; it’s efficient. A simple theory in science is preferred over a more complicated one in explaining events, according to the principle of parsimony or Occam’s razor.
In sports, watch the Olympic gold medal winners perform. When you or I run, we are jerky, wasting motion. Usain Bolt, the fastest human, uses all motion and energy for speed to the finish line.
We all enjoy a fine dancer performing. The dancer captivates us with a smooth, effortless response to rhythmic music, making leaps in the air and turns with apparent ease. The performer does not tire easily, using energy only as needed; that’s efficiency.
Conservation and evolution
The root cause of the evolution of living things is the efficient use of resources by some species. Time, energy, materials, knowledge, skills, and the environment all have to be conserved for efficiency. Charles Darwin wrote that the survival of the fittest was the process for the evolution of life on Earth.
Which is fittest, the lion or the mouse? Which is more likely to survive the current tsunami of extinction?
Actually the process for evolution was higher efficiency through conservation by some species or some societies. Companies which operate more efficiently displace less efficient organizations. Giant enterprises like IBM and Xerox gave ground to small, more agile and innovative outfits like Microsoft, Apple, and Google, now giants in turn.
Microsoft with Bill Gates and Paul Allen got its start in business by devising a simple operating system for personal computers when IBM was devoted to large scale business machines. Apple with Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs designed hardware for personal computers and a different operating system of superior quality. Google with Larry Page and Sergey Brin began operations in a garage using a simple search algorithm based on site visitation frequencies.
Generally, we succeed in business when we’re better at conserving the resources of our company. Some business executives or takeover artists make a career of running a corporation well by cutting costs towards greater profitability, or taking an organization having operating losses and making it into a money making enterprise again.
Cutting costs often takes the form of firing expensive employees who don’t produce much (the deadwood) and replacing them with more energetic and creative people on lower salaries. A good manager also inspires workers to try harder and accomplish more.
When should we stop building wealth?
Let us assume that we’re not robber barons and we have not made money by injuring people, but by serving them.
If we have built up a business enterprise, with resources of technical people, an investor following, and money reserves, an enterprise which has made us more wealth than we can spend to advantage, do we stop our efforts? When are we rich enough to retire? Some persons never want to stop working and accumulating riches far beyond their needs. Are they obsessed and compulsive? Perhaps, in some cases, but if they do not injure themselves or others in their efforts, they’re doing the right thing to go on achieving.
If you and I have achieved great wealth, instead of spending it wastefully, we can continue important ventures and projects to benefit mankind and the Earth, as well as to grow our wealth. With increased wealth and other resources under our control, we can continue to engage in valuable projects which will benefit others and also create more money and influence.
If we don’t achieve profits, the virtuous cycle of wealth growth ceases.
Putting resources to worthy uses
I am not a business entrepreneur, but a person who likes to think speculatively and write down my ideas to benefit myself and others.
Yet, I find the business career of Elon Musk admirable; also admirable is the work of Jeff Bezos, or Bill Gates, and before these men, the work of Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Hewlett, Packard, and Steve Jobs. These people could have retired early with their wealth and traveled around the world enjoying new experiences, foods, sex, and other pleasures. Instead they decided to continue their careers, producing wealth for themselves and others in the form of valuable products which improved our lives–a process more productive of happiness than their charitable donations.
You and I may not have the billions of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, their eager and talented engineers implementing their visions, or their huge following on Wall Street. But we do have some excess resources. I had an excellent education in the sciences and humanities, especially philosophy. I possess some talents in writing, business management, and I have visions for the future of humanity in space and in the company of artificial intelligence, smart machines.
I can put my small resources to work for the preservation of our home planet, for the human colonization of space, and of the prevailing of science, reason, and love, against the gusts of superstition, prejudice, and hatred. I can offer philosophical solutions to ethical problems and the hope of eternal verities.
Yes, we’ll face a plethora of hazards in space and in the use of artificial intelligence, AI. Smart computers present hazards, such as the dangers we encountered with fire, knives, nuclear reactors, biotechnology, and myriads of our tools–we need to handle AI with extreme care. Humans have always faced terrible difficulties and we’ll continue to experience disasters, but we’ll move forward until the end of our lives.
At the end of life, if we cannot be active because of old age, we can contribute counsel, money, and influence to organizations that work to conserve the planet’s resources and to prevent global warming, such as the Nature Conservancy, and wild animal preservation societies. We can support political, scientific, and technical projects that equip mankind to prevent disasters: wars, pestilence, and natural calamities such as asteroid impacts. The ultimate criterion for the value of anything is the survival and happiness of the individual, family, nation, humanity, and the ecosystem of Earth. Money we don’t need but possess should be spent for the well-being and survival of mankind and all living entities, because life is rare in the universe and it’s beautiful and precious.