The Five Forms of Wealth

Why is there a need to redefine or shuffle around the meaning of wealth? What compelled me? After much thought (and inspiration) and while writing a book on the topic of mass automation and AI, I quickly realized that we may soon be faced with an identity crisis in a search for purpose outside our work and jobs. Though not entirely inevitable, certain things indicate a tendency to be automated which I called Automaton’s Law. Taken to a logical conclusion, material wealth becomes largely automatable from extraction of raw materials to deliver of finished products of high quality.

This makes Material Wealth the least interesting and rewarding form of wealth in the end, sort of the opposite of how it is perceived today. However, even more rewarding, interesting and consequential forms of wealth await us at any moment we choose, ones that truly enrich our somewhat brief lives. They’ve always been with us and are not new. We just have not always prioitized them. We may want to sooner than later.

Wealth is a result of accrual. Here, wealth is defined as the abundant accrual of high-value assets (assets belonging to the type of wealth). Below will be described five distinct forms of human wealth though they are all governed by an intangible overlord we can refer to as Fate or Fortune (to lesser or greater degrees) these forms are:

  • Material Wealth: The possession of money and material things that are said to have value such as food, water, gold, property and art.
  • Physical Wealth: The possession/inheritance of good and clean physical circumstances, free from regular danger, toxins and accidents. A habitable Planet. Access to Cosmic Resources. In a sense Cosmic Resources alone are all the Material and Physical Wealth we need as it is for the animals.
  • Genetic Wealth: The possession/inheritance of good genes which give one various advantages in society such as good looks, height, smarts or longevity and good health or a combination thereof. This can also be thought of as Biological Wealth but I leave that for a larger purview of the Biological Domain.
  • Mental Wealth: The possession of a healthy mental state, good training and education and an appreciation of life.
  • Spiritual Wealth: The possession of a feeling of connectedness, higher purpose and a feeling of a realm beyond our senses

For a given wealth type, to possess a high amount is to be wealthy and to possess little of it is to be poor or impoverished. One can also possess a nominal amount of wealth, neither rich nor poor. A person can possess any combination of these forms and many of these are completely interdependent.

Listed first, the lowest form of wealth, Material Wealth is neither bad nor evil, but it is not as valuable as the other forms in terms of actual well being in the long run. Most people possess some form of material wealth. Material Wealth without other forms of wealth inevitably leads to a meaningless, unhappy existence. Material Wealth is also the easiest wealth to create in an enlightened civilization. Nearly as easy as growing a radish. Also, much of Material Wealth is completely subjective and has no provable objective value.

Then, Physical Wealth is listed second but since it is the prerequisite for all other wealth types, except for Spiritual, its importance is overarching the others. Even if one is born with great genetics but into a dire landscape where water and food are scarce or polluted or war is all around, one’s odds are greatly reduced for a long and prosperous life. I wouldn’t be here writing this if the Earth was not a habitable planet.

Then, Genetic Wealth because if you are born with certain genetic traits, you may suffer in your ability to achieve abundance in other areas. For example, it has been found that men of average height or less don’t tend to get promoted to higher positions as often as those with above average height. It has also been found that women are regularly discriminated against based on their genetics, which is ironic since men are actually the ones who are more genetically mutated since we all start as female.

Mental Wealth can overcome most other deficits because to be mentally wealthy is to be mostly happy and content in a creative, interesting life.

Spiritual Wealth can free you of most material needs for your well being. Picture a yogi meditating in a cave with no possessions with a big smile on his/her face. Spiritual wealth can overcome most other deficits and in this sense, it is the highest form of wealth.

Each wealth type can be said to define its own values, i.e. the things by which it is ascribed value to and by how much. Those with high value are said to be valuable. Values, from one wealth type to another, are generally not transferable though they can greatly impact potential for other types of wealth. As Jesus was quoted “A rich man can no more pass into the Kingdom of Heaven than a camel through the eye of a needle.” In other words, material wealth has no value in the spiritual realm (according to Christianity).

However, a genetically wealthy person may find the path to fame and fortune much easier than without. One type of wealth can be exchanged to gain access to other forms of wealth, for example, paying tuition (material) to get an education (mental). Also, one form of wealth can foster conditions to access and accrue other forms.

For each type of wealth there is also a corresponding poverty, or lack of wealth. Placed on a curve, one would find that each wealth also has an average level where a person is neither rich nor poor in the particular wealth. We might call the absolute dearth of a given wealth type the lowest possible amount of that sort of wealth, Zero Wealth.

However, there are many times where we can go further and speak of Negative Wealth, or debt. All physical debts are temporal in nature and can only be paid back up until the point at which one’s Physical Wealth becomes zero, also known as Physical Death.

However, it is believed by many that one might incur Spiritual Debts as well. The timeframe for payback of spiritual debts can be far longer than those for physical ones, relatively speaking, although the concept of eternal damnation seems to be preposterous overkill for Earthly transgressions, if one takes Eternity to mean infinity years.

When we use the phrase “the war on poverty,” we are mostly speaking of material and physical wealth but enlightened folks broaden this to be a war on mental, genetic and spiritual poverty as well since they are all tied together. All of these are in fact being worked on by many good people. Educators spend their time trying to enrich students with Mental Wealth. In general, we can agree that many types of poverty are undesirable and have negative relative consequences.

One supposes it is possible to be wealthy in all the wealth types simultaneously, to a degree. A highly emotionally balanced and knowledgeable scholar could soar to a degree of being a “mental billionaire” but this might not allow time to pursue other things such as physical conditioning or material wealth. We don’t see a lot of billionaire professors, though mentally speaking, they are quite wealthy. Conversely, many a financially wealthy person is lacking in education, morals or mental well-being. There are those rare gems who have struck it rich in all categories.

Mental wealth is possibly a subgenre of physical wealth because if one suffers brain damage it becomes much harder to accrue some parts of mental wealth. It has been separated out to emphasize its importance in our temporary lives and as a means to happiness and well-being.

In the end, accrual of any wealth requires the passage of time, and for us mortals that is in very limited supply, on average 75–80 years. Even if life expectancy soars, the allotted time before an accident or eventual demise will remain very finite.

The parts that make up a particular wealth, that which one accrues, can be referred to as that wealth’s assets.

Each asset has a cost of acquisition. The cost generally boils down to another asset that is traded, most profoundly, time, because time, the Primary Cosmic Resource, can’t generally be traded for more time, regardless of other wealth one might possess.

Ancillary Wealths

There are any number of subtypes of wealth, both arbitrary and also by importance to one’s own well-being. By calling it a subtype, it is not necessarily diminished in importance because there is a bigger category that includes it, such as Mental Wealth.

Some of these subtypes could in fact be as important as the parent categories they belong to because lacking such wealth could lead to misery.

Here is a partial list:

  • Biological Wealth: That one was born human and not as a shrimp or worm for example (though they too have wealth and poverty in their domains)
  • Social Wealth: Friends and fame and ability to socialize and the quality of the society in which one lives†
  • Moral Wealth: A high set of ethical standards recognized by society
  • Political Wealth: Cronies, connections, incumbency, oratorical skills
  • Agricultural Wealth: Crops and livestock to live on and share
  • Athletic Wealth: Natural gifts of vision, peripheral vision, reflexes, coordination, strength, speed, etc.
  • Musical Wealth: Composing or improvising skills, instrumental or vocal skills, sheet music, recordings
  • Cyber or Digital Wealth: Security, bandwidth, not having been hacked, excellent web presence, lack of searchable negatives, good passwords
  • Trade Wealth: Particular, hard-earned skills in a given trade such as Magic or Carpentry
  • Criminal Wealth: Wealth that is stolen or ill-gotten, a criminal mind

Generally, these are subgenres of the other Primary Wealth types, often in interdependent combination.

†Social Wealth is so important that it nearly qualifies as a Primary Wealth type but I believe it to be reliant on too many of the other primary types to be easily separated out.

Societal Wealth

Like the individual, societies can also aggregate analogous wealth types by increasing the average wealth of its constituents. Likewise, any societal grouping or unit such as family, club, neighborhood, town, state, nation, etc. could also be said to have a level of each wealth type and some more of one than another.

Take a group like Mensa where a higher IQ is required for membership. Overall, we might expect this group to have higher than average mental and genetic wealth but we’d need to know a lot more to say for sure. There could just as well be a lower degree of happiness or a higher degree of mental illness that corresponds to this group. In general, measuring societal wealth is difficult and falls into the realm of statistics, demographics and anthropology.

We currently do employ numerous measures of societal wealth such as the GDP or Happiness Index but the complexities of true wealth are not so simple. A happy society that is about to be subsumed by rising oceans might not know how low its physical wealth is or be able to do anything about it so there could even be a delusional component to it.

Ideally, the Earth taken as a whole could get to a point where we have maximized all wealth types across all borders.

The Four Importances of Wealth

With each type of wealth and assets there are four kinds of importance associated with them:

  • Internal importance: The importance to the one possessing the wealth or asset.
  • External importance: The importance that others or society at large place on a type of wealth or asset.
  • Historical importance: The importance that the future will place on wealth or assets that are no longer possessed.
  • Cosmic importance: The importance of wealth relative to other possible inhabitants, Divine or otherwise, of the Universe or perhaps the Cosmos itself, or even absolute importance, if it exists.

The impact of one’s wealth will be higher the further down this list one goes and also the less probable one’s accrued wealth would be considered to have an impact, as important as it might be to the possessor. This would also be dependent on the type of wealth or asset one is/was in possession of.

Someone who displayed great material wealth and was treated deferentially at every turn because others placed import on this display of wealth could easily be forgotten the moment they died if they had no other wealth types or assets. This is typical of someone with no historical importance. A narcissist may place great import on his own thoughts and deeds that aren’t shared by others who remain unimpressed. A humble servant may never appear to have any material importance yet be extremely important to others they have helped or perhaps on a spiritual level beyond the mundane.

I go into much greater detail regarding the assets of each wealth type and the corresponding poverty in my book Wealth and the End of Money.

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