I never want to get rich. In fact, I think that if you’re rich you should be ashamed of yourself. And not only should you be ashamed of yourself, but you should also be very worried about the kind of person you’ve likely become.
When I mention to people that I never want to get rich, I always get a reaction of surprise from them, followed by the question of why not. It seems that in the world we live in today, most people are constantly looking for ways to earn more money and get richer, even if they already have enough to cover their basic needs and live a decent life. And this is one of the consequences of the societies we have around the world right now, where people are constantly encouraged to compete with one another. In these societies a person’s success in life is measured by how wealthy he is, instead of how valuable he is to the people around him and to society in general.
For example, an aunt of mine mentioned to an acquaintance a few years ago that I’m a very good software engineer. And her acquaintance responded by saying that in that case I should have already been owning a car. I didn’t own a car back then, and I still don’t. However, I was making enough money to buy myself a car if I wanted to, but it just wasn’t something that I felt I really needed to own. I like to live as minimally and simple as possible, and so far it’s always been more convenient and cost efficient for me to take a taxi, or in very rare instances to rent a car. But this example just goes to show you how people measure success these days. If you don’t show your wealth by spending lots of money, or by showing on social media channels how extraordinary your life is and where you’re traveling to all the time, or by wearing a lot of expensive clothes (preferably only once in public), or by owning a very big and expensive house that could be home to 2-4 families, or by owning a lot of expensive items that you rarely need, then you’re probably not successful.
One of the reasons why I don’t want to become rich is because I understand that I can only become rich by denying others their fair share; I can only have more than I need, by denying others some (or a lot) of what they need to live a decent life. And this is because most of the societies we have on Earth right now are based on artificial scarcity; resources — especially money — are often deliberately rationed and kept finite. This means that in this social system we all have a finite amount of resources available to us to live our lives. So when some people take too much of the resources, others will automatically get less.
To make this easier to understand, imagine having to divide a cake between a group of 10 individuals; certain individuals will only be able to get more than their fair share of cake if they deny others their fair share. And the more cake a single person claims for himself, the less the others will get, to the point that in extreme situations some individuals may get too little or nothing at all. And I think this perfectly describes the situation of inequality we have around the world today, where a small elite are hoarding most of the world’s resources, while the vast majority of the world population are either struggling to make ends meet or live in abject poverty.
As an example of this, recently billionaire Nick Hanauer published an article on Politico boasting about how he was making so much more money than the median American:
I earn about 1,000 times the median American annually, but I don’t buy thousands of times more stuff. My family purchased three cars over the past few years, not 3,000. I buy a few pairs of pants and a few shirts a year, just like most American men. I bought two pairs of the fancy wool pants I am wearing as I write, what my partner Mike calls my “manager pants.” I guess I could have bought 1,000 pairs. But why would I? Instead, I sock my extra money away in savings, where it doesn’t do the country much good.
Note that Hanauer himself admits that he doesn’t really need all the money he’s hoarding. Instead he socks his extra money away in savings where it does nothing — money that was denied to employees who get paid slave wages at businesses he owns and invests in. He’s hoarding resources and denying others what they need to survive, just like the rest of his fellow billionaires. The next time you hear about people in poor countries being forced to work in factories while being paid slave wages, realize that this is because most of their salaries are going inside the pockets of people like Hanauer. The next time you hear about people losing their homes because of layoffs, or because companies refuse to pay them what they deserve in order to please shareholders, realize that the money is going inside the pockets of people like Hanauer.
If I were in Hanauer’s position, I would be deeply ashamed of myself and probably wouldn’t want to show myself in public. I’d probably have difficulty going outside and meeting people. Because every time when I would see homeless people, or people struggling to survive, I would feel very guilty knowing that I am a big part of the reason why they’re struggling with their lives.
And I know that there are many rich people who donate their money to good causes around the world. But quite often those donations are just a convenient way for them to avoid paying taxes on that money; the money is often “donated” to organizations and corporations that they own or have a stake in. So the public is fooled by the fact that these rich people pretend to be so generous that they’re giving large sums of money away, when in actual fact they’re just giving away money to their own businesses where it’ll help them make even more profits for themselves. I’ve recently discussed examples such as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates.
In addition, when these rich people (pretend to) give away money I’m not impressed, because I know that if they really cared, they would not be accepting that much money in the first place! Just think about it; once you’ve accepted so much more money than you really need and start hoarding it, the damage to those who were denied that money has already been done! When you decide to give some of that money away after months or years, it doesn’t change the fact that people have already suffered because you were initially so greedy that you denied them what they needed to live a decent life. Again, taking more than you need can only happen at the expense of others around the world; if you really care and really are compassionate and generous, you’ll never take more than you need and you’ll think about the needs of others.
This is why as soon as I’m beginning to sense that I have enough resources to live a normal life, and some savings to sustain my frugal way of living for up to a year or two, I start to give things away or work for less money and often even for free. Or I stop accepting work for a period of time and instead pass it on to my colleagues. I try to maintain a balance between giving and taking so as to not contribute to the problem of rising inequality by hoarding too much resources. This is also why so far I’ve never accepted a job inside the government, even though I could have had one if I wanted to. I understand where the money the government will pay me comes from: from confiscating the income of the middle class and the poor via taxation. That’s one of the primary ways in which wealth is being forcefully transferred from the middle class and the poor to the rich, and thus one of the primary causes of inequality. Read my post on income taxation for the details.
Another reason why I never want to get rich is because I’ve seen what it does to people around me. It’s no coincidence that it’s especially those people who are well-off and rich that are the ones who’re often greedy and evil. The more they have, the more they want. And they feel completely entitled to everything they’re hoarding, blind to the consequences of their behavior on their fellow human beings. They’re also more likely to break the law, be dishonest and cheat (lie during negotiations and endorse unethical behavior), and are more often rude to other people.
Social psychologist Paul Piff from the University of California, Berkeley, did a number of experiments showing a link between wealth and improper behavior. 1 According to Piff, when people become rich they “start to attribute success to themselves, to their own individual skills and talents and they become less attuned to all of the other things that contributed to the position they’re in.” And that’s the case even if people are made to feel rich, but aren’t actually rich in reality. Furthermore, according to Piff, “as a person’s levels of wealth increases, their feelings of compassion and empathy go down while their feelings of entitlement and their ideology of self-interest increases.” Piff found that it’s actually wealthier individuals who “were more likely to moralize greed being good, and the pursuit of self-interest being favorable and moral.”
And those findings certainly agree with reality and my own personal experiences in dealing with people throughout the years. And this is why I’m very careful with how I structure and live my own life, and why I admire people such as Uruguayan president Jose Mujica, who’s also known on the Internet as the world’s poorest president. Just like Mujica, I try to live a simple and balanced life — a frugal way of living with a light suitcase, as Mujica refers to it. And the result of living like that is having more time to concentrate on other important things in life, having less burdens, being more independent and having more freedom.
Like I wrote before, I often look at the way society is structured; how there’s a small group of people who have everything they could want in life and indeed much more than they really need, at the expense of a vastly larger group of people who struggle to make ends meet every day and who’re being denied a normal life. And I ask myself, what drives the wealthy to seek even more wealth and will it ever be enough? It’s almost as if these people expect to have all that wealth forever and keep gathering even more of it. Don’t they realize that our time in this life is limited and that we can’t take anything with us in the end?
I myself do realize that, and I know that even if it were possible for me to take all my wealth with me when I die, I would still decide to live a simple and balanced life. My conscience would never allow me to start hoarding resources at the expense of others. And to me, more important than any wealth and success in life, is the person I am right now and can become in the future. Apart from avoiding the negative consequences that having too much wealth can have on one’s life and personality, I also like to be true to myself and live a life that’s in harmony with my conscience. I value my principles and my integrity, I like to speak my mind, I like to make my own choices, and I like to be independent and free. And traveling with a light suitcase in life makes it much easier for me to have all those things.
The below TED talk by Paul Piff titled “Does money make you mean?” contains more details on the link between wealth and improper behavior.
In the video below titled “We Are Built To Be Kind” psychology professor Dacher Keltner from the University of California, Berkeley, explains how being rich causes empathy deficits (for example, a lack of compassion).