What is Wealth?

Kaliya: What is Wealth? Isn’t it many things? You can have a wealth of information, a wealth of physical things, a wealth of land, a wealth of money, a wealth of friendships and relationships…

Jean: Wealth is the collection of currencies. It is the accumulation of a currency. Think of water being poured into a container, and then, in some cases (tradeable), it can also pour out. So wealth is the fullness of that container.

image courtesy of bettlebrox

Kaliya: Mmm….

Jean: And yes, all the things you listed, I would include as forms of wealth.

Kaliya: Googling “wealth of” one gets wealth of networks, wealth of the rainforest, famously “wealth of nations” from Adam Smith…”wealth of communities” from Bill Mckibben – Deep Economy

Jean: We could also speak to this in terms of capital and access to capital accumulating to form wealth.

Kaliya: Capital is a stock of something?

Jean: Capital – yes exactly, it is the stock of something, part of a flow – probably not an end in itself, but for the purpose of producing something.

Kaliya: Like Donella Meadows talks about in Thinking in Systems articulates how systems work in terms of stocks and flows – in a forest the stand of trees is the stock and the flow “in” is the new trees growing and the flow “out” is the trees that are cut down for lumber.

Jean: Right, so, you suggested some forms of wealth, which is wonderful, and this is parallel to the forms of capital we hear people talking about in recent years:

  • financial capital
  • political capital
  • human capital
  • social capital
  • natural capital

And to know that we have these forms of capital, we have a currency that acknowledges it, and wealth is the accumulation of the flow of it. Accumulation in financial flows is what we most often think of, but it is also the accumulation of political flows of attention and influence, or wealth of the human capital as in the accumulation of skills and abilities.

Kaliya: But some are so intangible, like a “relationship” and “trust”

Jean: Yes!

Kaliya: Why do we have to MEASURE these things, they just are….or they are feelings.

Jean: Some of them are not really measureable. They might just be sortable or even acknowledgeable.

Kaliya: Sortable?

Jean: I might say one politician has more political wealth or political capital than another, but I may not be able to put numbers on it precisely,but I can see the evidence of it in the world.

Kaliya: Like what?

Jean: Anything from count of people at a rally to the public perception of their integrity.

Kaliya: I guess an over arching view is that wealth is that it transcends “money” – that to limit thinking about wealth to money is narrow.

Jean: The political influence is wealth, the framing of an issue is evidence of it, or the success of that framing is, anyway. Yes, wealth transcends money.

Kaliya: Influence is wealth ….mmmm. Yes, via relationships. Is there “negative wealth” from not wanting to damage a relationship via actually criticizing and calling something for what it is?

Jean: Well, there can be a poverty of influence, for example or a dearth of social connections.

Kaliya: Or overwhelm at trying to manage the ones I have

Jean: Yes. 🙂 So when we are talking about wealth, we are talking about the flows that contribute to prosperity, happiness, and welfare. – the sound or prosperous state of a person or thing.

Kaliya: And then I don’t want to use proprietary tools where the site I am in “owns” the information/relationship data I put in, when they are my connections I want to have them be autonomously mine.

Jean: Yes, when you give that site with proprietary tools your relationship information, you are giving them some of your wealth. Now, it could be that this form of your wealth is non-rival, so it might not diminish the wealth you have. They can, however, terminate me in their system.

Kaliya: If I violate the terms of service or something

Jean: Yes, I am not saying it doesn’t have complex issues to consider and consequences to be aware of.