I am wealthier than most of the human beings ever born on this planet. So are you, at least if you are reading this at a computer in your own home. Having said that… wealth is fairly poorly defined and its meaning changes easily.
A good example of this is diamonds. If you have a lot of diamonds you are probably considered wealthy. This is due purely to scarcity, and if the international diamond consortium released all the diamonds in their possession onto the market at once, the price of diamonds would rapidly approach the price of gravel. So, obviously diamonds aren’t wealth in and of themselves, they have very limited intrinsic worth (although they are somewhat useful). How about gold then? I mean, people keep talking about going to a gold standard to give money backing with something of intrinsic value. Again though, it fails several mental tests. What is gold good for? It is a decent material for electrical and electronic components, it has decent conductivity and doesn’t corrode. Still, that hardly justifies the price of gold. Gold has value purely due to scarcity, and that is why people use it as jewelry, because it allows them to let others know they are wealthy.
What, in the end, is wealth used for? Food is a good starting point. When food gets scarce, the wealthy tend to get the best of it. So does food have intrinsic value? Try going without for a week or two and you will quickly decide that it does. Access to food is without question wealth.
Given that criteria, what else is wealth? Shelter is pretty high up there. In fact, it tends to be one of the things that the wealthy have an excess of. Big, big, big houses. If you don’t have shelter, you are poor. There is no-one who lacks shelter who is not poor, period.
Water is another one… if you don’t have it you are poor, very, very poor. If your access to it is limited, you are poor, very, very poor.
There is actually nothing else I can think of that guarantees someone who lacks it is poor. There are rich people who are nudists, who choose to wear nothing much of the time. There are rich people who don’t drive (although that is rare, take a look at Howard Hughes near the end). Food, Shelter, Water. That is wealth and it is the whole of wealth. Everything else is just trappings, dross to distract the eye, stand ins that allow us to ignore that our relative poverty in real terms means that if food gets short, Bill Gates gets to have it and we may not.
The problem with wealth, as all animals know, is that you need to be able to defend it. If you can’t keep bears out of the cave, they will take it from you. If you can’t chase the lions off, they eat the zebra. When food gets short, our current wealthy should keep that in mind, or else the hungry masses will take their shelter, their food, and if it is short, their water.
I wrote this piece in order to deal with what the Austrian school of economics calls natural law. This is natural law, and the social contract is all that prevents it most of the time. When food starts to run out, the social contract loses force and those who got the short end of the stick find alternate means of wealth redistribution.