I’m always interested in why people want the things they want. Particularly people who want to make lots of money. I understand the desire to make enough money to not have to worry about making ends meet, or to provide for a family. I’m well-acquainted with that set of issues. But often enough, the struggle to do either comes as much from doing a bad job at defining “means” and “provide” as it does from real economic hardship.
So aside from making ends meet and providing for a family, what are some other reasons to make a lot of money?
I’ve heard some of my friends say they want to make a lot of money so that they can get into philanthropy. Sorry, I have to call BS. Nobody works 80 hours a week at a stressful job they don’t have an equity stake in so that they can make enough money to start a charity. Philanthropy is, at best, extremely peripheral to whatever the main reason for making lots of money is. And even then, it still reeks of signaling.
How about buying nice things? Again, it’s a definitional issue. If “nice” means expensive name brand things and meals at fancy restaurants, then yes, you need money for nice things. If you define “nice” as well-made, or having sentimental value, suddenly money isn’t so necessary.
Travel? You don’t need that much money to travel. I’ve traveled plenty and did it before I got this cushy job. And the thing is, now that I am making money, I don’t have much time to travel. Most jobs that pay well tend to be that way. I guess making lots of money and saving it for one or two small trips a year and then lots of trips at retirement is one way to play it, but to me there’s something to be said for seeing the world when you’re young enough to really be active in it. If travel is your aim, it seems to make more sense to take a pay cut, get better at budgeting and saving, and use the extra free time and the savings to go globetrotting.
One thing money certainly does buy is insulation. With enough money you can live in a walled-off fortress and skip lines and have your own private section on the plane and at the club and wherever else you go and generally get to avoid dealing with the great mass of unwashed humanity. While sometimes nice, the problem with that is that the people you’re cloistered with in the money-bunker tend to be fixated on status and hyper-ambitious – the kind of people that, in my experience, are hard to form meaningful relationships with. Money might buy insulation, but I’m not sure you can opt out of the isolation package it comes with.
Money also buys status in our society, no two ways about that. For better or worse, the wealthy in America are esteemed, and it feels good to be esteemed. But if your identity is wrapped up in that then you might have problems because wealth is relative, and well, there’s always Bill Gates. No matter how much money you have, you’re always going to lose to somebody. Plus, fame trumps wealth in the status game, so even if you’re making money hand over fist, the guy who got eliminated on the first episode of the first season of the Bachelorette could still walk into your favorite bar and steal your spotlight, even if he’s homeless. Them’s the breaks when your identity is built from the outside in.
So with all that said, what’s left? One thing, as far as I can see: money. Money buys more money. Compound interest and stock splits and dividends and complicated investment vehicles and living trusts and all that good stuff that people use to put money to work making more money is out there and it’s very real. Like rabbits and rednecks, money is damn good at replicating. But if money is supposed to be a means to an end and not an end unto itself, then that brings us back to the original question: why want to make lots of money in the first place?
Well? What did I miss?