What is wealth?

The great Robert Anton Wilson died in 2007. He should have lived to see our interesting times; he would have been amused by the current panic and hysteria and, as always, would have had some wisdom to impart. Take this thought experiment from his essay collection The Illuminati Papers, first published in 1980 and strikingly relevant today:

Dissociation of Ideas, #5

Distinguish between wealth, illth, and money.

Wealth is best conceived as all the changes in the “natural” (prehuman) environment that are to the benefit of humanity and/or other life forms. A bridge that gets you across the river without your having to stop and build a raft is wealth in this sense. So is an airport. So is the furniture in your house. Think of ten other examples.

Illth, a term coined by John Ruskin, can be conceived as all the changes in the environment that are detrimental to humanity and/or to life itself. Weaponry, then, should be classed as illth, not wealth. Think of ten other examples.

Money is neither wealth nor illth but merely tickets for the transfer of wealth or illth.

Proof: if all the money disappeared overnight, the national standard of living would not change (whatever happened to individuals in the interim); things would be back to normal as soon as the Treasury printed more tickets. But if all the real wealth and illths—all the industrial plants, natural resources, roads, communications, and “real capital” generally—were to disappear, we would be plunged back into the Stone Ages and no issue of currency would improve the situation.

Note also that for all the “real capital” to disappear, all the technical knowhow in human heads would have to vanish. No economist, to my knowledge, has tried to calculate how much of our “real capital” consists of ideas in human heads (brain power) and/or of canned ideas stored in libraries or on tape. A reasonable guess is that 90 per cent of our wealth and illth consists of such brain creations.

The Illuminati Papers is still in print and it’s filled with real wealth.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2023: I publish an email newsletter called LANDLINE = https://jaybabcock.substack.com Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca.

One thought on “What is wealth?

  1. R.A.W is the man..
    my favorite philosopher.
    I highly reccomend all his work but the book that altered my perceptions ( my sense of who? and what? I am.. ) most dramatically was Prometheus Rising..
    check it out!!!

    ( my other favorite.. favorite.. is Alan Watts who RAW liked a lot and I highly recommend, especially for coming to peace with the universe..)


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