The question “How much is enough?” can be a complex one.
How much money does one person or company really need before it is excessive? There are some flaws with the framing of this question, and can be addressed from at least a couple different angles. From an external viewpoint, starting with the concept of ‘need’; there are things that every person needs that money can buy. People need things such as food, shelter, at times medicines and care. But there are wide ranges between plenty and want. At the extremes there are people in the world who are starving in hovels, and on the other the opulent who enjoy the best cuisine money can buy in mansions.
It’s in between things get more complicated. Can we say that one person ‘needs’ most of what is available in developed countries? In the strict sense, no. They wouldn’t die without them. There are some arguments to be made for enhanced quality of life, and even extension of life, but strictly ‘need’ to survive? No. To go down that road is to get bogged down into impossible to pin down shifting standards of ‘need’ once you are beyond subsistence. But that is too narrow a view point, and we shouldn’t be begrudging someone something better because others have worse.
We should seek ways to bring those at the bottom up; seek ways that the rising tide can raise everyone up. From a personal viewpoint, a differentiation can be drawn between wealth for personal enrichment and comforts sake, and wealth used to create and promote good. Everyone has an obligation to do good, but there is a point where compelling good as opposed to encouraging it, starts to turn to oppression, and taken far enough can remove the incentive to create wealth altogether.
Vision – What wealth can do
There is another angle where the question “How much is enough?” can be short sighted. On a small scale personal level, with their incomes people can help out friends in need, support organizations who aid others afar, but let’s look at what real wealth can do. The amount of good done isn’t necessarily tied to how much good can be done, but lack of capital does impose some limits. Those limits are largely of a structural nature, but can affect access to high level talent as well.
Medical/bio-tech research, first world hospitals, transportation projects, aerospace and space technology (that can not only expand economic potential, but also create many crossover technologies), computer/information technology research and implementation, and other wide-impact projects.
We should encourage the constructive creation of wealth and the good that can come from it. And there is value to top-down vision – vision by committee is an oxymoron. While the vision of one man can have flaws, as a vision of an imperfect human, it can have the inspirational impact, focus, and drive that a committee would be harder pressed to create. And allowing many of those visions to exist. to thrive, and even compete, can lead to great good in the right hands – and who can tell who those may be?
Great wealth can be destructive, especially on a personal level when used for self indulgence to lay up for many years of ease, and “eat, drink and be merry” – that’s a fool’s life. But wealth that transcends the personal and reaches out to the poor, the helpless, the hurting, and even the dying – that is wealth worth acquiring.
If there is a vision that is solid, well grounded, and broadly encompassing, the answer to “How much is enough?” can be
“it’s never enough;
there are always more people to help”