When we hear discussions of the financial costs of entitlements, those costs are almost invariably presented in aggregates: this many trillions of dollars, we are told, are spent on programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare. But what about the cost of the entitlement state to the individual?
That’s hard to measure, but it is clear that a vast number of Americans somewhere on the order of $10,000 (and often far more) of the income they earn confiscated each year via the entitlement state. Now hold that figure in mind and consider the impact that money has on their lives.
Although it is popular to speak derisively of money as “the root of all evil,” money is an indispensable tool for good. In her invaluable article “Money Can Buy Happiness,” philosopher Tara Smith outlines some of the ways that money, “intelligently pursued and intelligently spent,” is indispensable for securing a successful and happy life.
Most obviously, Smith notes, money buys goods. That alone is worth pausing on, because it’s easy to take for granted. Money can buy you a home, a car, a refrigerator. It can buy you electricity, indoor plumbing, central air conditioning and heat. Money can buy you a delicious meal and a life-changing book. It can buy you a cell phone, a laptop, or a life-saving medicine. Money can buy you an engagement ring or the fertility treatment that will let you start a family. “Money,” Smith concludes, “can. . .be a passkey to all manner of values—mundane or modest, rare or extravagant, offering immediate gratification or longer- lasting fulfillment.”
What’s more, Smith argues, money buys time. It allows us to buy time-saving goods and services, such as a washing machine or a quick sandwich at Subway, that release us from drudgery and free us to engage in more pleasant and meaningful tasks. Even someone who earns $250,000 dollars a year can benefit from making more money. An extra $20,000 might enable him to hire a cook to come by and cook the family’s meals so that he can spend more time playing with his children.
It should be obvious from all of this that money is often instrumental in the spiritual values that make life worth living. By paying our way through college, we can get a job that gives deep meaning to our lives. By paying for our travel, we can see Michelangelo’s David, New York City, or our childhood best friend. During the writing of this book, money is what enabled me to take a month off work to spend with my newborn daughter.
What money buys, in the last analysis, is control over reality. We can do more and we are threatened by less, the more money we have at our disposal. Although money doesn’t guarantee happiness, since it obviously can be misused or wrongly prioritized, it is a vital component of pursuing happiness and success.
Money buys goods and money buys time. Money buys the autonomy to mold one’s life in the image of one’s ideal. Money nourishes happiness by helping a person to achieve the values that happiness is made of. Like many things, money can be put to poor uses. Yet money can also be put to wonderful uses, including the greatest: experiencing joy in living. That fact has got to be forthrightly acknowledged if people are to embrace money unapologetically, as they must if they are to attain sufficient control over their lives to realize their ends and fulfill their dreams.
With this in mind, consider what $10,000 a year can mean to a person. If you are young and just getting started out in life, $10,000 a year can mean the difference between being able to live in a low-crime neighborhood and having to live in a high-crime neighborhood, between being able to start a family or having to put it off indefinitely, between being able to start a company and pursue your dream or having to stay at a job you are not fully satisfied with.
Even for the wealthiest Americans, the impact of that missing $10,000 (likely much more) should not be minimized. The fact is that people have unlimited needs and wants, and so, all other things being equal, additional wealth helps people improve their lives. Even Bill Gates could use more wealth—to start more businesses, to fund more research, to further all of the causes he cares about.