Inspired by overheard condemnation of a rich guy’s spending habits

Values works better than arbitrary standards.

No matter how we characterize our personal spending, a hypothetical Financial Morality Analyst could always go through our purchase histories and find evidence that we are consuming conspicuously, wasting money on things we don’t need, attempting to fill voids in our souls with material goods, etc.

Yet at the same time some people clearly are more wasteful, status-driven, materialistic etc. in their consumer habits than others, and it seems socially counterproductive to remove a basis from which those people can be criticized. On what, then, can this basis be built?

My inclination is to say that people’s spending should be (hypothetically) judged not against some arbitrary standard we project onto others—perhaps because we are secretly guilty about our own spending—but that people’s spending should be judged against their own stated values. If you are someone who values status above all else, and your spending reflects that, then there is no moral problem with your spending. (There might be a moral problem with your values, but that is a different issue.) If you are someone who values simplicity and enjoyment of life, but you are spending as though you value status, then it can be said there is a moral problem with your spending.

It therefore becomes important to have a framework by which to understand and articulate our values. I’m not certain whether our society has such a framework, or at least an effective one we can all use and understand.

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