Topic 14: The responsibility of wealth and fame

“The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced,” the famed quote of American industrialist Andrew Carnegie in his essay ‘the gospel of wealth’, alludes to a sense of brotherhood and charity that the wealthy ‘must’ exercise in a society. Reportedly, the world’s 85 richest people have the same amount of wealth that is shared across the 3.6 billion people in the poorer half of the world. While more people than ever before can now access basic resources and amenities, this decline in poverty is eclipsed by the rate at which the rich are getting richer. The result is a marginal change for global poverty alongside a drastic increase in income inequality.

One might argue that it is the responsibility of the more fortunate folk to ensure a fairer and more equitable society. This is an idea that some among the 85 live by, dedicating billions of dollars to charitable work. However, others argue that wealth itself is the reward that the wise receive as a result of their foresight or intelligence. It is not the responsibility of the rich who have, through legitimate means, won the race that we are all running. Whether or not this is true, it is undeniable that wealth garners a certain level of power and the question that arises is what is the responsibility that comes with this power? Power, at the end of the day, is a tool of influence and how much should one be able to wield? What are the implicit responsibilities under these circumstances?

Power is not only flaunted through wealth but even more so through fame (though usually these two are mutually inclusive). Does fame come shackled with responsibility as well? Celebrities always come with ardent followers hanging from their every word. One could easily argue that this grants celebrities immense sway over a large group of people, but does this make them responsible for the beliefs and actions of their fans? Should we hold celebrities accountable at all? In this dynamic between the ‘rich and famous’ and ‘normal people’ where do we draw the line? What is it that we can reasonably expect from the people we see on TV or the people that pay the salaries of the millions?

Optional reading material:

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