Let me start this blog off with a disclaimer that I do not have a problem with people being rich, as long as the money was gained honestly (and really how am I to know). Like most people I wouldn’t complain if I had more money, but I do need to put things in perspective and recognize that compared to many in the world – I am rich.
With all of that said, I couldn’t help but “raise an eyebrow” when I read Shibani Mahtani’s article, Wealth Over The Edge, in the WSJ.Money (Spring 2013). The author writes about Singapore being the latest playground of the uber-rich. If you have ever been to Singapore, you know that it is a clean, orderly, and beautiful 21st century city-state. As an Asian city it could compete with the chic found on the streets of Paris, Milan, and New York. I can see why it would attract wealthy people from around the world.
In her article, Mahtani describes some of the excesses of the wealthy who are flocking to the city. For example, it is nothing for these out-of-town visitors to spend $3,000+ just to get a table at an already full nightclub, where they may purchase a $26,000 cocktail that is studded with a diamond. She points out that some of the rich young people in their 20s already own their own corporate jets (one of the jets she writes about has a basketball court and a pool). Singaporeans have seen an increase in expensive cars cruising their streets, flagship boutiques, and yacht clubs to accommodate the wants of the uber-rich crowd.
Now I get that this is their money and this type of spending is just a drop in the bucket if you are worth billions, and even millions. I also get that it is their right to spend it however they want as long as it is legal. However as I was reading this article three questions kept floating through my mind.
What effect is this type of spending having on the citizens of Singapore? Mahtani does address some of the by-product of the excessive spending. She notes since 2009 the price of real estate, which was already precious and expensive in this small city-state, increased by 59%. Citizens are complaining about the new anything goes culture, which is increasingly challenging the ideals and values held by Singaporeans. And, the criminal element is increasing in what has been known as a safe and orderly city.
Will the instantaneous pleasure many of the uber-rich are participating in be the very things that leaves many of their lives meaningless? Who better to address this question than King Solomon, a man who during his lifetime was known for his wisdom and wealth. In Ecclesiastes he wrote about the pitfalls of wealth that can lead to an empty and meaningless life. King Solomon expressed, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless… After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. …I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!… Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure… But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere…Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness” (Ecclesiastes 2: 1-11; 5:10, NLT).
The problem that King Solomon had wasn’t that he was wealthy, but his lifestyle removed his focus from what was meaningful. Scripture clearly indicates that his choices not only had a negative effect on him, but also on the people he served as a king.
(I do want to acknowledge that many rich people do use their money and time to serve others. And trying to find meaning through “things” can happen in any socioeconomic group; matter-of-fact most of us living a Western lifestyle are probably guilty of this.)
As I thought about this article it prompted my third question, how many of us if we had the opportunity would reach out to the rich just like we would to someone in our own socioeconomic group or someone poorer? I must confess I probably would be more hesitant. I need to remind myself that just because someone may be wealthy does not necessarily indicate that s/he has a life filled with meaning. Just like you and me, the rich are made in the image of God and have the same emotional and spiritual needs and longing for a meaningful life.
As I get older and become more philosophical about contemplating life’s meaning, I believe that true meaning is found in serving others. Having money certainly can make life easier in many ways, but if we are not careful it can become a resource that can handicaps us. In the end, money by itself can’t buy meaning. What can? As a Christian it should be no surprise that I believe that the foundation of true meaning is found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and following His example of reaching out and serving mankind. Perhaps some of you cannot agree with me about my Christian beliefs, but certainly we can all work together to become wealthier people by serving others.
What is a Think Through? it is an idiom that conveys the meaning of carefully considering possibilities and outcomes of a situation.
Today’s Think Through: What do you think contributes to a meaningful life? What is your perception of money and meaning?
Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/adforce1/4369749617/”>williamcho</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>