Wealth is so concentrated that a large segment of society is virtually unaware of its existence
Concretely, in such a society, the poorest half of the population will generally comprise a large number of people - typically a quarter of the population – with no wealth at all or perhaps a few thousands euros at most. Indeed, a nonnegligible number of people – perhaps one twentieth to one tenth of the population – will have slightly negative net wealth (their debts exceed their assess). Other will own small amounts of wealth up to about 60,000 or 70,000 euros or perhaps a bit more. This range of situations, including the existence of a large number of people with close to zero absolute wealth, result in average wealth of about 20,000 for the poorest half of the population. Some of these people may own real estate that remains heavily indebted, white others may possess very small nest eggs. Most however, are renters whose only wealth consist of a few thousand of euros of savings in a checking or savings account. If we included goods such as cars, furniture, appliances and the like in wealth, then the average wealth of the poorest 50 percent would increase to no more than 30,000 or 40,000 euros.
For this half of the population, the very notion of wealth and capital are relatively abstract. For millions of people, “wealth” amounts to little more than a few weeks’ wages in a checking account or low-interest savings account, a car, and a few pieces of furniture. The inescapable reality is this: wealth is so concentrated that a large segment of society is virtually unaware of its existence, so that some people imagine that it belongs to surreal or mysterious entities. That is why it is so essential to study capital and its distribution in a methodical, systematic way.
In order to gain and to hold the esteem of men it is not sufficient merely to possess wealth or power. The wealth or power must be put in evidence, for esteem is awarded only on evidence. And not only does the evidence of wealth serve to impress one's importance on others and to keep their sense of importance alive and alert but it is scarcely less use in building up and preserving one's self-complacency.… Abstention from labor is the conventional evidence of wealth and is therefore the conventional mark of social standing; and this insistence on the meritoriousness of wealth leads to a more strenuous insistence on leisure.[...] According to well-established laws of human nature, prescription presently seizes upon this conventional evidence of wealth and fixes it in men's habits of thoughts as something that is itself substantially meritorious and ennobling.
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.
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