Monday, June 28, 1999
Reflections on Wealth and Leisure
Reading Yi-Hsin Chang's informative article about "Warren's World" prompted me to reflect on the ultimate good that comes from generating wealth in the stock market. If one regards passing wealth to one's children as "privately funded food stamps," then why bother saving and investing in the stock market? Why not just blow one's money on champagne, caviar, and a new Porsche 911?
Warren Buffet's attitude towards inherited wealth seems to prevail in our country, where a person who is not busy making money in a 9-to-5 job is regarded as useless. To be sure, the notion that a responsible adult must carry his own weight and pay his own way makes sense; it is why sensible people frown upon welfare and food stamps.
But what if one's parents have made billions of dollars investing in the stock market? Rather than toiling away in some 9-to-5 job, shouldn't one pursue a life with the Muses? That is, should not such a person spend his days reading Shakespeare, playing the violin, or painting a landscape? Or what about collecting? Will any of Warren Buffett's children be able to assemble a great library or art collection with their annual tax free gift of $10,000? What about academic or scientific research? Perhaps it's not so much the case anymore, but historically it was the men of leisure who wrote the great books and made the great discoveries. Didn't Ecclesiastes write something about knowledge not being for the fellow who follows the plough?
This brings me to the central proposition of my Fribble -- that money is not an end in itself, but rather a means to an end. It is a means to leisure, both for oneself and for one's children. By leisure I do not mean lazy sensuality and self-indulgence. The true man of leisure often has more discipline than the nine-to-fiver who wouldn't know what to do with himself if he weren't locked into his routine. By leisure I mean the free time to learn about the nobler things in life, to become accomplished in some art, intellectual discipline, sport, or skill, and generally to cultivate one's mind and body.
The opposite of the wealthy man of leisure is the wealthy pursuer of wealth, who can think of nothing better to do with his time than to spend it in the pursuit of more wealth. Failing to appreciate that there is a vast, fascinating, and beautiful world that lies beyond the activity of making money, the wealthy pursuer of wealth is unlikely to share his wealth with his children and encourage them to pursue a life of leisure. And so America gets richer and richer, but less beautiful, less interesting, and less educated.
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