AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SUSTAINABILITY
Heading: Economy Topic: Wealth
The aim of any economy is wealth creation. The challenge for achieving sustainability is not only to ensure that current wealth is not generated at the expense of the environmental capital of the planet, impoverishing future generations, but also to achieve social sustainability through an equitable distribution of the wealth available. While the free-market economic system has demonstrated a remarkable ability to generate wealth, it has generally failed on both sustainability criteria. Environmental resources have been steadily degraded, and extremes of wealth and poverty have increased.
Some take the ethical position that wealth is inherently evil. Admittedly wealth can be a barrier to individual spiritual development. The scriptures of many religions warn the wealthy of the difficulty of becoming spiritual while being rich. But for society as a whole, wealth is absolutely necessary, and that wealth must be generated through the individual efforts of everyone.
This requires an ethical approach to wealth. Wealth is praiseworthy if it is acquired by an individual's own efforts in commerce, agriculture, art and industry, and if it is used for philanthropic purposes. An individual should be motivated not by individual wealth, but by enriching the masses of the people, as this would supply the needs and insure the comfort and well-being of all. Wealth is most commendable, provided the entire population is wealthy. If, however, a few have inordinate riches while the rest are impoverished, this is morally wrong. Wealth should be dedicated to the welfare of society by promoting knowledge, supporting education, encouraging art and industry, and training orphans and the poor. ( 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 1882)
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