Money Versus Wealth

I stole the title of this post from an old (1997) Yes Magazine article that my friend Dan recommend to me this morning as we enjoyed some coffee (actually Dan had hot tea), food and conversation. Here are a few excerpts from the article:
... money is not wealth. Wealth is something that has real value in meeting our needs and fulfilling our wants. Modern money is only a number on a piece of paper or an electronic trace in a computer that by social convention gives its holder a claimon real wealth. In our confusion we concentrate on the money to the neglect of those things that actually sustain a good life.
It is striking how difficult our very language makes it to express the critical difference between money and real wealth. Picture yourself alone on a desert island with nothing to sustain yourself but a large trunk filled with bundles of hundred dollar bills. The point becomes immediately clear.

During a visit to Malaysia some years ago I met the minister responsible for forestry. In explaining Malaysia's forestry policy he observed that the country would be better off once its forests were cleared away and the money from the sale was stashed in banks earning interest. The financial returns would be greater. The image flashed through my mind of a barren and lifeless world populated only by banks with their computers faithfully and endlessly compounding the interest on the profits from timber sales.
I recommend the whole article to you. You can read it here. A few points worth repeating:
  • Wealth, unlike money, has real value in meeting our real needs. I think that wealth is so much more than an accumulation of things. Actually, people who have very little money often have a lot of the things that money simply cannot buy - like love, peace and happiness.
  • Wealth is not found in banks but in every day life. The richness of friendships and fellowship are a part of real wealth. Enjoying my time with Dan this morning is a simple yet profound example of the richness that we can bring each other when we listen to and really hear another human being.
Can't Buy Me Love was the title of a 60s Beatles song and an 80s teen flick. The title hints a bit at this tension between money and real wealth and the idea that the best things in life are free. As I reflect on my life I certainly endorse that idea. I feel that I have been blessed with this kind of wealth that money cannot buy and robbers cannot steal.

How about you? How do you define wealth? Are you a wealthy person?


  1. Yes, very wealthy in both monetary terms and the ones that really count.

    I had a roommate in college who really changed my mind when it comes to my perception of wealth. While most of us bellached about being broke college students (sometimes scraping up a few bucks to buy beer and pizza), he reminded us how wealthy we were compared to people around the world who have no food, no place to sleep and not even clean water to drink. I never forgot that. Since that day I have never complained about not having enough money.

  2. This new version of an old lesson brings to mind the fable of King Midis who had the famous "Midis Touch". In this fable of 2500 years ago, Midis asked the gods for the ability to turn everything he touched into gold. At first, he was delighted. But then the instant he touched hot soup to his lips, or any thing else, it instantly turned to gold. He even turned his beloved daughter into a golden statue.

  3. How do I define wealth? I would define the word wealth as having the joy of the Lord in my life.

    Am I a wealthy person? A thousand time YES! :-)



I love to get comments and usually respond. So come back to see my reply. You can click here to see my comment policy.