I think there are really only two good reasons for having a significant amount of money: To maintain a high standard of living and to ensure your personal freedom. There are other, lesser reasons, of course, including: to prove you can do it, to compensate for failings in other things, to impress others, to leave a legacy, to help perpetuate your genes, or maybe because you just can't think of something better to do with your time.
But I'll put aside those lesser motives, which I tend to view as psychological foibles. Basically, money gives you the freedom to do what you'd like – and when, how, and with whom you prefer to do it. Money allows you to have things and do things and can even assist you to be something you want to be. Unfortunately, money is a chimera in today's world and will wind up savaging billions in the years to come.
As you know, I believe we're well into what I call The Greater Depression. A lot of people believe we're in a recovery now; I think, from a long-term point of view, that is total nonsense. We're just in the eye of the hurricane and will soon be moving into the other side of the storm. But it will be far more severe than what we saw in 2008 and 2009 and will last quite a while – perhaps for many years, depending on how stupidly the government acts.
Real Reasons for Optimism
There are reasons for optimism, of course, and at least two of them make sense.
The first is that every individual wants to improve his economic status. Many (but by no means all) of them will intuit that the surest way to do so is to produce more than they consume and save the difference. That creates capital, which can be invested in or loaned to productive enterprises. But what if outside forces make that impossible, or at least much harder than it should be?
The second reason for optimism is the development of technology – which is the ability to manipulate the material world to suit our desires. Scientists and engineers develop technology, and that also adds to the supply of capital. The more complex technology becomes, the more outside capital is required. But what if sufficient capital isn't generated by individuals and businesses to fund further technological advances?
There are no guarantees in life. Throughout the first several hundred thousand years of human existence, very little capital was accumulated – perhaps a few skins or arrowheads passed on to the next generation. And there was very little improvement in technology – it was many millennia between the taming of fire and, say, the invention of the bow. Things very gradually accelerated and improved, in a start-stop-start kind of way – the classical world, followed by the Dark Ages, followed by the medieval world. Finally, as we entered the industrial world 200 years ago, it looked like we were on an accelerating path to the stars. All of a sudden, life was no longer necessarily so solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, or short. I'm reasonably confident things will continue improving, possibly at an accelerating rate. But only if individuals create more capital than they consume and if enough of that capital is directed towards productive technology.
Real Reasons for Pessimism
Those are the two mainsprings of human progress: capital accumulation and technology. Unfortunately, however, that reality has become obscured by a morass of false and destructive theories, abetted by a world that's become so complex that it's too difficult for most people to sort out cause and effect. Furthermore, most people in the OECD world have become so accustomed to good times, since the end of WW2, that they think prosperity is automatic and a permanent feature of the cosmic firmament. So although I'm very optimistic, progress – certainly over the near term – isn't guaranteed.
These are the main reasons why the standard of living has been artificially high in the advanced world, but don't confuse them with the two reasons for long-term prosperity.
The first is debt. There's nothing wrong with debt in itself; lending is one way for the owner of capital to deploy it. But if a society is going to advance, debt should be largely for productive purposes, so that it's self-liquidating; and most of it would necessarily be short term.