Avarice

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There is a line in Star Trek: The Voyage Home where McCoy promises the Plexiglas manufacturer that he will be ‘rich beyond the dreams of avarice.’ I sometimes wonder if that is possible. It seems to me that money just makes avarice dream bigger. There is no end to the wealth rich men and women want to acquire. Enough is never enough.

I have to believe that the desire to accumulate great wealth is a psychological disorder akin to hoarding. People who must stuff their portfolios to the point of bursting are surely no different than those who stack their hallways with old magazines or who obsessively save tinfoil or rubber bands. At a certain point all you can do is sit on the wealth like some sleeping (but still evil) dragon. Rich people are like Smaug or King Thorin who become ill with the desire for gold.

Or perhaps they are like the legendary King Midas whose lust for gold led him to wish for the golden touch. “Let all that I grasp turn to gold” he begged and the gods granted his wish. The result was that he could not eat for the fruit or meat he lifted to his lips became metal. The final blow came when his daughter returned home after a long absence and turned to a golden statue in his embrace.

Sad, really. Money can break families — if not in the first generation then in the second when brothers and sisters turn on each other in their squabbles over inheritance. Getting the bigger share is their way of proving: ‘mom always loved me best.

There is a cure for avarice, of course, and that is generosity. A number of billionaires — those who haven’t deluded themselves into thinking that every dime they have comes from their own doing —have taken the pledge, initiated by Warren Buffet, to give their money away, either while they are still living or in death. They are building hospitals and education systems; they are funding small scale entrepreneurship to create the next generation of wealth; they are endowing arts foundations and museums. They are returning their money to whence it came — the society that made them wealthy in the first place.

Wealth is not created by the rich; it is organized and accumulated by them from the work of others and, often, by the collective investments of society. Could Jeff Bezos have grown so wealthy if there were not roads and airports to carry his goods (quite apart from all the people who actually make them)? Of course not. Notably Mr. Bezos — who in some respects is a glorified truck dispatcher — has not taken the pledge.

So as we come to the end of Xmas — on Boxing Day, the day that in Canada serves the same function as the shopping frenzy of black Friday, think a little about what you already have and pause before you acquire something else.

And send a positive thought in the direction of those sitting at the top of their heap of gold that they think a little about what they really need.

But that’s ten minutes.

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