Unnatural Accumulation of Wealth

I’ve been reading a book on the late Scholastic monetary theory. One of the things that it claims is that Aristotle’s position on lucrative accumulation of wealth was softened. It seems to me that Aristotle was correct in his position.

He argued that there are two sorts of accumulation of wealth, one natural and one unnatural. The first is the accumulation of wealth to meet domestic needs, while the second is the accumulation of wealth with no end. The first seems reasonable and the second seem irrational in itself, but it needs to be clarified in what sense Aristotle is correct.

The end of any human activity is human flourishing or happiness. This includes economic activity. The first way meets this end in the meeting domestic needs. However, it does not seem that this is contrary to much of modern economic activity. Much of the activity in modern economies is meant to meet “domestic needs.” There have been all sorts of innovations that have further met human needs and increased human flourishing and even a man’s own lucrative work helps to meet his needs and advance his flourishing.

The second way seems to be often associated with much of economic activity. This seems to be incorrect. The activity that Aristotle condemns, at least in the Politics, is the endless accumulation of wealth. This is unnatural because it has no natural end. It is the love of money and the seeking of money for its own sake. This is unnatural in the same way as vice, because the love of money is vicious. This is manifestly part of modern economies, but such people are often seen for the viciousness that they possess.

This way of accumulation of wealth however is not contrary to much of what we see in modern economies. Much of the activity that we see is not for the accumulation of wealth without end. It is wrong to think of this second sort of accumulation as an all encompassing “lucrative” sort of economic activity. Many sorts of lucrative economic activity are good in that they help meet “domestic needs,” for the actor and those he engages.

This is not meant as an interpretation of Aristotle, but the application of what is true of his argument to present times. Economic activity that is ultimately ordered to human flourishing or meeting “domestic needs” is natural and good. Economic activity that is ordered to the endless accumulation of wealth is unnatural and vicious. This does not seem to be a controversial point, because we consider those who pursue endless accumulation of wealth, such as Scrooge as an archetype, to be vicious and wicked, but those who seek wealth, even vast amounts, that are ordered to human flourishing and the common good are good and virtuous.

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