All wealth comes from finding a new use for something that was already being used for something else.
Mining for gold digs up rocks that were already in use holding up the ground above them.
We brace the mine with timbers that served as the backbone of a tree.
Trees extract nutrients from the ground and carbon from the air, which were already engaged in their own chemistry.
Ultimately, we return to the soil, to feed the trees and hold up the ground.
Wealth is a great circle woven of many strands.
Two simple truths are obvious from this.
- Wealth is relative
- Wealth is temporary
Wealth is relative: its accumulation is always marked by a depletion elsewhere. We humans rationalize this away with elaborate fictions: that gold is more valuable than silver, that timber is more valuable than trees, that humans are worth more than the whole of the world, that some human lives are worth more than other human lives. We do this so that we may discount the wealth that is depleted as “worthless.” Common stone is worthless; an unlogged forest is worthless; an “undeveloped” ecosystem is worthless; a Muslim, or an African, or a woman, or a homosexual, or a homeless person is worthless. So taking anything — or everything — from what is “worthless” and using it ourselves is called “creating wealth.” But nothing is created, other than a rationalization.
Wealth is temporary: in the end, we all die and return to the soil. Our family lines fail. Our civilizations crumble, and are forgotten. Cities are reclaimed by forests. The land itself is recycled in the great, slow movement of tectonic plates.