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Why do people want so much money?

Stack of MoneyWhy do people want money? Some typical answers:

  • to buy stuff, 
  • to donate to philanthropies, and
  • to bequeath wealth to heirs.

But, these standard explanations don't hold up when it comes to billionaires.

Buying stuff. Oracle's founder, Lawrence Ellison, is worth $16 billion. At a 10 percent rate of return, he would have to spend $30 million weekly—or $183,000 hourly—to keep his pot of gold from growing. In other words, he has more money than he could ever possibly spend, so "buying stuff" can't be the reason he wants money.

Philanthropy. Donation to good causes also can't be a reason why the über-rich want money. Few give away a large portion of their money; they are racking up money faster than they can donate it away.

Inheritance. Bequeathing money to heirs doesn't hold up as an explanation either. Elderly high-wealth people who are childless save just as much as those with children.

So why in the world do people accumulate more money than they can spend, donate, or bequeath away? Maybe they enjoy being able to roll around in a bed full of greenbacks. Maybe they get a high from being drunk with power. Maybe for the hypercompetitive, it's their way of "keeping score."

Whatever the reason, it's important to keep wealth and income in perspective. We often peer up the income distribution to those richer than us, and forget there are a lot of people below us. The "Global Rich List" puts people's place in perspective, even if it's based on somewhat old data. If you're living in an industrialized country (and if you're reading this, you probably are), you're living in paradise as one of the richest members of the human race. Remember the man who complained he had no shoes and then met a man with no feet.

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