The Age of Ultimate Wealth

Standards of living are rising all over the world. Some statistics may show a widening gap between the rich and poor, but the truth is the cost of the goods and services that make up a first-world lifestyle possible are shrinking. Now, I’m not envisioning some Communist, Money-free utopia. I think that there will come a day when life is simply too cheap to meter. Goods and services will become so inexpensive that money can no longer provide the kind of class distinction that it once used to.

We’re starting to see a foreshadow of this kind of thing in the proliferation of millionaires and billionaires in the past 20 years or so. Standard of living doesn’t really change once you move past the several hundred-thousand a year mark. Tim Ferris wrote an entire book on the subject called the “Four-Hour Work Week”. He argued that a lot of money didn’t really do you much good unless you had the time to spend it. Richard Branson mentioned in a recent Digg.com Interview that it was friends, not money that was really valuable to him (although not having to worry about money helps). Another portal into the Age of Ultimate Wealth is the Internet. Music and movies used to be something that came on plastic discs. Now, if you’re an independent filmmaker, BitTorrent can bring your movie to more screens than Cineplex ever could.

How would we live in this new mode of civilization? What will we do with ourselves once we don’t have to work for a living? Chances are we’ll probably do some form of work anyway, just none of the kind that we hate. There are a lot of weekend activities that people do for fun that could be considered work, like fishing, gardening, wine-making, and carpentry just to name a few. So the signs are there that we are headed towards a Gene Roddenberry-Style Utopia, failing global warming, errant asteroids, nuclear war or influenza. It’s worth mentioning that all of those dangers did a pretty poor job of wiping out civilization so far.

2 thoughts on “The Age of Ultimate Wealth

  1. Amber

    The problem is that the cheap goods come at a very high price. People are working for very little money in poor conditions to make those $5 T-shirts. We are burning a lot of cheap oil to ship stuff all over the globe. I don’t think it’s sustainable in the long run. Civilizations have risen and fallen throughout history, why should ours be any different?

    Although I would love it if I didn’t have to work. It would certainly simplify things for me. 🙂

  2. James Post author

    While working conditions in developing countries are deplorable, it’s important to keep in mind that most of those laborers took the factory job over a life of subsistence farming. We even had those kinds of working conditions in Canada up until the last century. If history repeats itself, those workers will use what little wages and time they have to organize unions and elect labor-friendly politicians. The manufacturers may eventually leave to look for cheaper labor, but eventually there will be no more poor countries to run to. And even if the resources to ship those goods run out, do you think people will just say “uh-oh, spaghetti-os!” and never ship anything overseas again? Specialization and Trade are the backbone of any civilization, and it will take more than our current difficulties to change that.

    We also need to be careful what we mean by civilizations rising and falling. History textbooks sometimes have a tendency to simplify, which makes it sound like, for example, the Roman Empire was swallowed whole by the Earth in 476 AD, when it actually split up into several successor states, one of which lasted up until the 15th century. During that time, civilization was flourishing in Arabia and Asia, pointing to a general trend of a rising standard of living that’s lasted for over 2000 years. The point is, we will be better equipped to deal with the problems of civilization if we base our actions on what is probably going to happen rather than apocalyptic wishful thinking.

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