Charles Schofield, a successful textile manufacturer in Philadelphia, in 1863, sold his interest in his firm for $40,000 and “retired with a competency.” Schofield, who was all of 29 years old, considered himself “opulent enough.”
Once upon a time, the American Dream was to achieve a competency – just enough to live comfortably. The concepts of amassing wealth and conspicuous consumption did not exist yet.
But over the years, living comfortably became too easy. Even the poorest Americans today live comfortably compared to those of a century ago.
It’s not that Americans are greedier than any other nationality, it’s that humans need to be challenged. Achieving a competency isn’t challenging anymore, so the next goal is to accumulate enough material goods to raise a symbolic middle finger to our next-door neighbors.
Go to any third-world country, any place where meeting daily nutritional requirements is still a struggle for the average citizen. There are no grandiose dreams of owning luxury sedans or private watercraft. But someday, when technological advancements allow all basic needs to be met, then they will become greedy as well.
Before Greed –Boston Review