What makes wealth an interesting topic is its ability to determine the way people live and the choices they make. This blog is about “wealth, power, religion and culture” not because I chose them at random, but because they are inseparable if one is to discuss the community as a social organism.
It is important to understand that by “wealth” I do not mean money. A particular currency is one of many methods of storing wealth, conveniently designed for fluid exchange. True wealth is the sum value of all things to which a person has access and/or ownership. It’s a contorted definition because of the inherent subjectivity in how we place “value” on things. In simpler terms, the better our quality of life, the more wealthy we are—not the other way around.
There are a few things that are essential for survival. From there, one could argue, it is all a matter of convenience and luxury. Depending on our character, talents, conditions and work opportunities each one of us carries a different burden; a free society will necessarily be an economically unequal one. But—to borrow from James Madison’s comments on “factions”—the fact that some are rich and others are poor is no reason to eliminate freedom any more than eliminating oxygen because it gives life to flame.
I am a strong advocate for free enterprise for three reasons: First, it is immoral to take property from someone who rightfully earned it—an ethos to which no other system subscribes. Second, free markets really are capable of coordinating the best distribution of resources without top-down regulation. Third, economic freedom is the best way to raise the standard of living for all people, including those in the depths of poverty. And fourth, every possible alternative gives far too much power to politicians and bureaucrats, whose wisdom and virtue are not of the highest repute.
What some may consider my “survival-of-the-fittest” ideology is neither an ideology nor some rugged Lord of the Flies conception of the world. I believe charity and altruism are necessary parts of a truly free society. We should be responsible stewards of nature and neighbor. And an ideology is something that is supported not by observable fact but by insistence on an idea. Conservatism is, almost by definition, based on the experience of history. Look no further than socialist progressivism to find a worldview hanging by the thread of hope.
In my estimation, an understanding of economics—how wealth is created, how it moves around, and how it influences people—is one of the most valuable things a person can pursue. It doesn’t require charts and formulas; a few underlying principles is enough to get started. It teaches us that competition can be good, that there is a cost to every choice, that there are always unintended consequences, and so much more. Most importantly, economics changes the way we see the world and teaches us how to solve problems effectively.