In today's Times Philip Collins asks a question to which he gives a good answer but also one that is too limited. Collins is interested in why the super-rich want as much money as they do. He writes (£):
[Keynes] and Russell both assumed that, as technology increased productivity, people would choose to work less. Why bother with more work when there is no need?
We have since learnt just how far human wants exceed human need. Far from enjoying leisure, today's plutocrat is never idle.
He goes on to say that the rich choose money in preference to time, but the money some of them are getting is rightly called 'silly money', because it is silly to have that much. And then here is the money passage of the piece - to coin a phrase:
Maybe £40,000 [a year] is not enough for the good life, so let's arbitrarily increase it to £250,000. Beyond a quarter of a million, who needs it? Why not take time off to read a good book?
This is what I have called Collins's good answer to his own question. Expressed in terms of basic needs, he's right to imply that people shouldn't need more. And his plea for a greater degree of sharing of national wealth is also very much to the point. Nonetheless there's a certain naïveté in Collins's question and answer. There is something one can learn from Marx (among others) in this matter. The command of money - wealth in its most abstract form - isn't wanted, not by everyone anyway, only for what it gives its possessor in the way of good and agreeable living for him or herself. That command represents potential access to almost every kind of thing and every kind of opportunity - including things and opportunities for others who are related to the money's owner, their children, grandchildren, or anyone else whose well-being they happen to care about. Money, for that reason, is a form of power, and because of its abstract quality, its ability to command so many different kinds of 'good', its ticket, so to say, to a part of the future as well as to convenience and even influence in the present, there is no natural limit to how much of it some people will want. Once you release the idea of its purchasing power from the limits of ordinary need, £250,000 can come to look like chicken feed.
For this reason, though Collins is on one level talking good sense, on another he simply fails to note the logic that is contained in the pursuit of monetary wealth.