There's been a lot in the news recently about greedy bankers demanding huge bonuses. It looks obscene when the very rich vote themselves massive amounts of money and then try and justify it. One question that comes into my mind is "don't they already have enough stuff?". Will they ever get enough? It seems to be a tragedy of our times that we spend so long trying to get rich when actually being rich doesn't ever quite seem to be enough for anybody.
So, why is it never enough? I've recently been reading a book about alcoholism "The Effective Way to Stop Drinking" by Beauchamp Colclough, it's helping to reassure me that in fact, I DON'T have a problem. But it's very interesting to see the way addictions work and how that relates to wealth addiction.
Let's examine a typical path to problem drinking. Most of us when we are young adults start to get involved in social drinking, going out and having a laugh. The alcohol has an uplifting effect on mood and after drinking the user returns to a normal state. Some drinkers can stay in this mode and have no problems, for some however, they start to move into the next stage of heavy drinking, in this phase the drinker starts to need more alcohol to get the same mood enhancements and the after-effects - hangovers - get worse. After drinking the user doesn't return to normal, but goes down a rung to 'not feeling so great' until more booze can bring them back to normal.
This is the start of dependency and from here, without making a great of effort, things just gets worse. In the next phase the user needs alcohol just to bring themselves back up to normal and life becomes a constant struggle to find the next drink. Alcohol becomes the overriding concern in the drinkers life.
OK, so unfortunately, this process is reasonably familiar to many people, how does this relate to money? Well, it works in almost exactly the smae way... Most of us when we are young adults start to earn money, it feels good and elevates our mood, we spend it and after we've spent it, our mood returns to normal. Many people can stay in this state and just enjoy their wages, some though are driven to earn more to get more of the good feelings. They start to spend more to get the uplifting feeling and possibly get into debt, or worse still, become bankers! After spending they find that they feel a little depressed. This is the beginnings of dependency.
As the wealth (or debt) and the spending get heavier it takes more money to get the same mood elevations and the post spending spree depressions get worse. As the addict gets richer it takes more money to engender feelings of well-being. Soon, life becomes a struggle to find the next million pound bonus. Money becomes the overriding concern of the addicts life just to keep them swinging from depression to normality.
The two processes are extraordinarily similar. and both routes lead to misery. One key to understanding addiction is that once a person has indulged sufficiently heavily for a sufficient time, the wiring of the brain is physically altered and their condition becomes chronic. The super rich are in this chronic state of their wealth addiction and only ridiculous amounts of wealth will satisfy them, a yacht becomes a 500 foot ocean liner, a private plane is a jewel encrusted 747. It really is as ridiculous as drinking 3 bottles of vodka a day.
For the drinker the misery is plain top see, for the wealth addict it is less clear. The rich seem to have everything, plus they have the freedom to enjoy all the fruits of society, so how can I claim they are miserable addicts? 3 bottles of vodka a day takes a toll on the human frame, but a super yacht doesn't. But the super yacht has a worse effect on more people. Envy, pollution, crowded harbours. How do you get the money for a super yacht - does addiction lead the rich into bad decisions based on fuelling their addiction?
The need for wealth is not leading to a happy world. The more money you have the more you need. If you work your way up the ladder from a one bedroom flat to a 3 bed semi, you don't want to go back to a one bedroom flat, no matter how happy you might have been when you lived there. The new stuff that you have bought becomes normal and becomes the minimum acceptable living standard. It's a one way deal. Are you drinking a single healthy glass of wine a night or heading towards the rocks?
Wealth and power go hand in hand and the wealthy differ from alcoholics in that they can influence politicians and law-makers and user their money to demonstrate how happy they are - or at least how much richer they are. Imagine if alcoholics had the same power and influence as the super rich, I'm sure we would have a more positive image of boozers. Politicians would be snapped sitting on park benches with derelicts...
If you succumb to the addiction, then no amount of money is ever enough. Beauchamp Colclough said "One drink isn't enough and 50 isn't too many"... The richer you are, the more you need. The answer though is simple, get on the 12 step plan, live a balanced healthy life and steer clear of excess and you will still be able to enjoy the odd beer - or buying a new pair of shoes. If anything, rather than villifying the bankers, we should pity them as victims and offer them treatment and their own 12 step programme.