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You’ve probably seen this once or twice before:

He who dies with the most toys wins

Robert Stacy McCain remembers it from the days of “yuppies”:

This toy-collector mentality, the tendency to define one’s self through the accumulation of material objects symbolizing one’s social status, is childish at best and dehumanizing at worst. If the purpose and meaning of your life consists of the acquisition and possession of consumer goods — getting more toys — then your life is pretty damned meaningless, isn’t it? Genuinely successful, happy people don’t live that way.

Such a lecture may seem strange coming from a Shameless Capitalist Blogger — shop our Amazon Holiday Savings now! — but my enthusiasm for economic liberty does not mean I embrace the shallow “more toys” mentality that leads to kids killing each other over $400 jackets.

Said I, about this time last year:

Now admittedly there are a few gadgets I covet now and then, and I still buy the occasional book or “record” album. But, to rework a phrase of Barack Obama’s, I’m starting to believe there’s a point where you’ve accumulated enough stuff. I have a whole room full of stuff that I haven’t been able to get organized in eight years, and I am loath to add to it if I can help it.

For “eight years,” please read “nine years.”

It would be well to remember that he who dies with the most toys is still dead.







8 comments

  1. Robert Stacy McCain »

    6 December 2012 · 9:19 pm

    What offends me is the dimwit status display aspect of consumerism, the devotion of effort to impressing others. It bespeaks an insecurity about one’s social standing, or a childish craving of admiration: “Look at me — I’ve got a new car!”

    It’s the gesture of an arriviste, a parvenu. Have these people never read Veblen? Do they not understand that they are laughable stereotypes? The wealthiest people I’ve ever known made no effort to impress anyone and, generally, just to meet them, you’d never guess that they were rich. Occasionally I have been invited to visit the home of someone I’d known for years, only to be surprised, upon arrival, to find myself at a mansion with marble floors and servants. Truly successful people are not usually snooty or ostentatious. Most of them are quite down-to-earth and friendly — which has something to do with their success.

  2. McGehee »

    6 December 2012 · 11:49 pm

    Forget about how to recognize a well-off person. The way to tell if a well-off person will stay that way is to see if you can recognize him as a well-off person in the first place. If no, then yes.

  3. Francis W. Porretto »

    7 December 2012 · 3:13 am

    I’m starting to believe there’s a point where you’ve accumulated enough stuff. I have a whole room full of stuff that I haven’t been able to get organized in eight years, and I am loath to add to it if I can help it.

    And so it is that one approaches The Great Purge. I’ve recently been there. It’s actually a lot of fun. Liberating, even.

    An old friend whom I haven’t seen in an age once told me that “Possessions possess you.” There’s a lot of truth in that. Not enough for me to sell all my worldly goods and walk the earth in a loincloth, carrying a begging bowl, but still, quite a lot. Every article you acquire imposes obligations on you — and they can wear you out just as swiftly as six teenaged daughters and a Jehovah’s Witness brother-in-law.

    (Cf. David Brin’s novel The Practice Effect.)

  4. Roger Green »

    7 December 2012 · 5:49 am

    Some years ago, I saw this speaker who said the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life was the day he bought it and the day he sold it. He said, You don’t own a boat; a boat possess you.
    True of others stuff too.

  5. fillyjonk »

    7 December 2012 · 7:51 am

    THIS:

    “The wealthiest people I’ve ever known made no effort to impress anyone and, generally, just to meet them, you’d never guess that they were rich.”

    I’ve known my share of wealthy people (I went to a prep school for high school. Probably was one of the “poorest” kids there, but whatever). Some of my fellow students were well-off but you’d never guess it from dealing with them. Others, they had all what you thought of as the trappings of wealth, but one of the first things I learned? The people who had the more obvious “bling” (except we didn’t call it that in those days) tended to be the most miserable or the ones with the most screwed-up families.

    I remember one young woman, whose mother sent her a “bribe” of six pairs of Guess! jeans (this is when they were first out and were the incredibly hot status symbol) for her not coming home some weekend – because the mom wanted more time with her new boyfriend, and no daughter in the way.

    After hearing that, I happily went home to my (still married) parents and wore my Sears jeans without complaint.

    Money can buy a lot of things, but it’s still true that it can’t really buy happiness.

  6. CGHill »

    7 December 2012 · 7:57 am

    I think we have finally gotten a handle on Diamond Tiara.

  7. fillyjonk »

    7 December 2012 · 8:13 am

    Very likely, though I wonder if that’s a storyline the writers would be willing to tackle.

  8. CGHill »

    7 December 2012 · 8:34 am

    I figure that at the very least, being the daughter of somepony named Filthy Rich has to have its drawbacks: either he likes his name, suggesting he’s a sociopath, or he hates his name, suggesting he’s subject to mood swings.

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