Huge Houses Are Morally Wrong

The news of the day: America is poor, but wealthy people are still building themselves huge mansions. Is it wrong for someone to build an obscenely luxurious home for themselves with their own legally obtained money and means? Yes. It is wrong.

Some people think that if the money is legally made, it is the right of the moneymaker to use that money how they see fit, and it's not anyone else's business. Well, if you believe that you're some sort of Randian libertarian, and you should not be reading this website. Most reasonable people accept the fact that society itself contributes greatly to the ability of rich people to gain and, crucially, hold wealth (that is, the rule of law that society enforces ensures that rich people don't all immediately get robbed and guillotined, as has been the fashion at various points in history); therefore, rich people owe a great debt to society. More than others do.

Rich people like to put forth the idea that everyone should pay an equal percentage. The "flat tax," for example. This ignores the fact that such a plan leaves the rich far more well off in terms of actual dollars. If we're picking random mathematical measures of fairness out of the air, we could just as easily say that everyone should give back to society until we all have, say, $50K per year. Fair is fair.

Rather than choose either of these extremes, we tend to try to find something middling, in which success can be amply "rewarded" (with money) but enough is given back to ensure the needs of all are met. Clearly, that is not how America works, these days. The pendulum has swung so far to the victors' side that the least they could do would be to avoid outright, in-your-face ostentation. Plus, it is unethical. Let's relive this quote from Peter Singer circa 2006, about Bill Gates, America's greatest philanthropist:

Gates may have given away nearly $30 billion, but that still leaves him sitting at the top of the Forbes list of the richest Americans, with $53 billion. His 66,000-square-foot high-tech lakeside estate near Seattle is reportedly worth more than $100 million. Property taxes are about $1 million. Among his possessions is the Leicester Codex, the only handwritten book by Leonardo da Vinci still in private hands, for which he paid $30.8 million in 1994. Has Bill Gates done enough? More pointedly, you might ask: if he really believes that all lives have equal value, what is he doing living in such an expensive house and owning a Leonardo Codex? Are there no more lives that could be saved by living more modestly and adding the money thus saved to the amount he has already given?

Which is to say, the rich are welcome to live well, but not ridiculously well. Aside from the hundreds of lives of poverty-stricken Bangladeshis or whatever that likely could have been saved had our nation's billionaires deigned to downgrade from a massive mansion to a mere McMansion, the people, eventually, just won't stand for it. Your monuments to excess will become beacons for the pitchfork-wielding mobs, rich folks.

Don't be stupid. Or too greedy. Huge houses are immoral just like gold plated cars are immoral and massive private jets are immoral. Because you don't need them, and the money you waste on them could actually save people's lives. This is an ideal towards which we all need to strive; not buying a mall-sized home is the easiest possible way to adhere to it. You can save those starving peasants and afterwards you will still be rich. So do it. Or don't complain when the raging poors finally rage onto you.

[For a better explanation of this point read Peter Singer. Photo: Atwater Village Newbie/ Flickr]