Friday, July 27, 2007

Wealth and well-being — in context

"He's got to be careful; everyone wants to be rich."

The "he" in question is John Edwards, who is proposing raising taxes on the super-rich.

The warning, as quoted in today's New York Times, comes from political science Prof. Dennis J. Goldford at Drake University.

I question the professor's statement. Not everyone wants to be rich. Most of us want to be happy, and we don't equate that with private jets or a chateau in the Bahamas.

I'd direct Professor Goldford to the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson's line about "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." An earlier draft (and John Locke and Adam Smith) had "property" instead of "happiness" among the "inalienable rights," but Jefferson knew, and Edwards knows, that it's not all about big bucks.

In fact, psychologists are finding that wealth beyond a modestly adequate level doesn't equate with happiness, or even well being.

Think Paris Hilton. See, those jail house stories about Paris weren't just chewing gum journalism. All they needed was a little context.

The Times needed to provide context too, rather than let Professor Goldford's comment go unanswered in the story about Edward's plan. The money raised from the super-rich, by the way, would go to help reduce taxes on lower-income Americans. They don't necessarily want to be rich; they just want to be, well, happy, and Edwards knows it.

Let's save "what it means to be 'happy'" for another time, or for your own comments.

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