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Wealth

Art Carden

Abstract


The twenty-first century is distinguished from essentially all prior history by high incomes and incredible wealth. Extreme poverty remains, of course, but it is falling and now, for the first time, afflicts fewer than 10 percent of the people in the world. This is ten percentage points too many, but it is a massive improvement over the 60 percent or so of the world’s population that lived in extreme poverty when The Rational Optimist author Matt Ridley was born in 1958. For the better part of our history as a species, life for the average person was welldescribed by what Thomas Hobbes wrote about the state of nature: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Then, a series of historical accidents beginning in about 1517 led to a Great Revaluation of the mundane bourgeois activities of buying, selling, and innovating that started in northwestern Europe and ultimately spread globally. It transformed people’s production possibilities and ultimately created the modern world in which we joke about “first-world problems”—and in which those “first-world problems” are rapidly becoming “problems” for people of the former third world. Compared to our ancestors, we in the twenty-first century have accumulated a great deal of wealth. What is wealth, though? How did we get it? Is it good? Or to quote William Wordsworth, is it true that in “getting and spending, we lay waste our powers”? In other words, does wealth corrupt our souls?

Art Carden, "Wealth," Journal of Markets & Morality 23, no. 1 (2020): 139-148.


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