Except, what if it’s not? What if wealth is something else entirely?
GDP has increased by thousands of percent over the past few hundred years: not because of more land or gold, but because of inventions. Although many people believe that robots and computers destroy jobs and impoverish us, the opposite is true. Automation and efficiency make us wealthy beyond the dreams of our ancestors.
In the pre-industrial age, everyone was poor. Even the rich were poor. They lived in cold, draughty castles and manor houses, had no TV, computers, books, central heating, education or healthcare, struggled to travel more than about 20 miles in a day and had a life expectancy equal to a war-torn third world autocracy.
Although I’m not an Earl, I can drink as much Earl Grey tea as I like. Tea was once a luxury item, imported from exotic countries at great expense. Now it’s a cheap commodity. Why? Because transport has become safe and efficient, and because the mechanisation of agriculture has enormously improved its productivity. Although I don’t have a butler to make my tea for me, I can make it myself very easily with an electric kettle (which is also a very cheap item to buy.) I don’t need to fetch water from a well, as it flows out of a tap whenever I want it, costs almost nothing, and is not contaminated with cholera or other water-borne diseases. So I can live like an Earl without being rich.
So perhaps wealth isn’t the same thing as money. Perhaps wealth isn’t a physical thing at all, dependent on finite resources. Perhaps to be rich isn’t to be “materialistic” but quite the opposite. Perhaps it’s the stuff of dreams, created by our minds, along with scientific discoveries, inventions, laws, civilisation and culture.
Perhaps giving wealth to others doesn’t make us poorer, and perhaps becoming wealthy doesn’t enslave or impoverish our neighbours. And perhaps there’s no limit to the wealth we can create together, apart from our own blinkered thinking.
Imagine a future paved not with gold, but with wealth and abundance. We’re already half way there.
The wealth is real enough, but in truth we imagined it.