Mark Thoma Explains “What Is Rich?”

Mark ThomaWhen I was a little kid, being rich meant being able to buy the stuff I wanted without having to worry about how much it costs.

But as I got older — and maybe this explains my choice of jobs — being rich was much more about the ability to do what I wanted with my time. In this sense, you can have considerable wealth, but still not be rich. In fact, the quest for more and more stuff gets in the way (though it depends in part on what you want to do with your free time; if it’s to play golf at an expensive club, sufficient wealth is a necessary condition).

Some of the richest people I know are quite poor in terms of having “stuff,” but free of the rat race, and as far as I can tell, they are generally happy. I think a lot of people are actually looking for freedom as they accumulate wealth — they imagine being able to do whatever they want — but don’t realize that working longer and longer hours until there is no time left for anything else is not the best the way to get the freedom they are looking for.

—Mark Thoma
What Is Rich?

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