This is the second of a two-part response to a friend’s reply on Facebook about my Wealth blog post. Each of the two questions is so good that I’ll address each in a separate blog. Here is the Facebook comment:
I agree with much of the sentiment [expressed in the Wealth blog post]. Let us apply some devil’s advocate to it anyways. If wealth does not necessarily create happiness, why endorse it so strongly? I mean, you say it increases standards of living, which is definitely true. But if people on average are not any happier despite a higher standard of living, then it seems to be a debatable good. Create enough wealth and the people become fat and lazy, which is why historically, every civilization that has risen has eventually fallen as well.
Question 2: [My paraphrase.] Given that wealth causes people to become fat and lazy, and nations of fat and lazy people fail, why want wealth creation?
Yes, on account of Rome’s growing wealth Romans eventually got fat and lazy and abandoned the beliefs and virtues which enabled Rome to become wealthy. In so doing they became weak and got overthrown by the Goths, Visigoths and the like. Other powers have suffered similar fates for similar reasons. It very much appears the US is following a similar path. It just might be an unavoidable human thing.
We do not know how long it will take for us to get fat and lazy enough to plunge the world into another dark age. Despite the fact that humans tend not to appreciate how good they have it, life with what wealth makes available to people is better than life without those things. Humans wanting a better life for their progeny and their fellow man (whether or not they will appreciate it) is a very human, and very worthy sentiment. It may be a very long time before we slide into the next dark age. However long between now and then, it will be better for our children and grandchildren to have lives with more abundance and knowledge than would be the case absent robust wealth creation.
On the other hand, it is possible that enough people discover the lessons of the failures of the fat and lazy lost empires and avoid their fate. More wealth will facilitate more research into how to avoid those fates and the implementation of solutions.
Moreover, we are better off because of what the thinkers and doers of Rome and other eventually failed empires did. The US founders would have formed a much less perfect union had they not learned much from the thinkers and political experiments of other empires – especially the Greek and Roman. Even if we fail to turn back from the things that are leading us to another dark age, we having tested higher limits of wealth creation will be quite useful to the societies which flower after the next dark age.