Quotations about   wealth

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We’re like a rich father who wishes he knew how to give his son the hardships that made the father such a man.

Robert Frost (1874-1963) American poet
Comment, “Meet the Press” (22 Mar 1959)

When asked by Ernest Lindley whether American civilization had improved or declined in his lifetime. Often misquoted as "Americans are like a rich father who wishes he knew how to give his son the hardships that made him rich."
Added on 13-Mar-19 | Last updated 13-Mar-19
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In reality, the likelihood of reaching the pinnacle of capitalist society today is only marginally better than were the chances of being accepted into the French nobility four centuries ago, though at least an aristocratic age was franker, and therefore kinder, about the odds. It did not relentlessly play up the possibilities open to all, … and so, in turn, did not cruelly equate an ordinary life with a failed one.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, ch. 9 “Entrepreneurship” (2009)
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Added on 3-Jan-19 | Last updated 3-Jan-19
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Fortune to many gives too much, enough to none.

[Fortuna multis dat nimis, satis nulli.]  

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 12, epigram 10

Alt. trans.:
  • "Fortune gives too much to many, enough to none." [tr. Bohn (1871)]
  • "Fortune hath overmuch bestow'd on some; / But plenary content doth give to none." [tr. Fletcher]
  • "Fortune, some say, doth give too much to many; / And yet she never gave enough to any." [tr. Harrington]
  • "Fortune gives one enough, but some too much." [tr. Hay]
  • "Fortune to many gives too much, enough to none." [tr. Ker (1919)]
Added on 21-Nov-18 | Last updated 21-Nov-18
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‘Tis a hard task not to surrender morality for riches.

[Ardua res haec est opibus non tradere mores.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 11, epigram 5 [tr. in Harbottle (1897)]
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Alt. trans.:
  • It is an arduous task to preserve morality from the corruption of riches. [tr. Bohn (1871)]
  • 'Tis rare, when riches cannot taint the mind. [tr. Anon. (1695)]
  • 'Tis a hard task this, not to sacrifice manners to wealth. [tr. Ker (1919)]
  • It is a hard business, not to compromise morals for riches. [tr. Nisbet (2015)]
Added on 14-Nov-18 | Last updated 14-Nov-18
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Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages; who says, “I will build myself a spacious house with large upper rooms,” and who cuts out windows for it, paneling it with cedar, and painting it with vermilion.

Are you a king because you compete in cedar?

Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him.

He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well.

Is not this to know me? says the Lord.

But your eyes and heart are only on your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Jeremiah 22:13-17 (NRSV)
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Alt. trans.
  • KJV: "Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work; That saith, I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cutteth him out windows; and it is cieled with cedar, and painted with vermilion. Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him? He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the Lord. But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it."
  • GNT: "Doomed is the one who builds his house by injustice and enlarges it by dishonesty; who makes his people work for nothing and does not pay their wages. Doomed is the one who says, 'I will build myself a mansion with spacious rooms upstairs.' So he puts windows in his house, panels it with cedar, and paints it red. Does it make you a better king if you build houses of cedar, finer than those of others? Your father enjoyed a full life. He was always just and fair, and he prospered in everything he did. He gave the poor a fair trial, and all went well with him. That is what it means to know the Lord. But you can only see your selfish interests; you kill the innocent and violently oppress your people. The Lord has spoken."
Added on 26-Oct-18 | Last updated 26-Oct-18
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Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

Timothy Snyder (b. 1969) American historian, author
On Tyranny, ch. 10 (2017)
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Added on 7-Jun-18 | Last updated 7-Jun-18
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You confuse what’s important with what’s impressive.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
Maurice (w. 1914, pub. 1971)
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Added on 8-Jan-18 | Last updated 8-Jan-18
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If poor you are, poor you will always be,
For wealth’s now given to none but to the rich.

[Semper eris pauper, si pauper es, Aemiliane;
Dantur opes nulli nunc, nisi divitibus.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 5, #81
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In Thomas Harbottle, ed., The Dictionary of Quotations (Classical) (1897). Alt. trans.:
  • If you are poor now, Æmilianus, you will always be poor. / Riches are now given to none but the rich. [tr. Bohn (1871)]
  • If thou are poor, Æmilian, / Thou shalt be ever so, / For no man now his presents can / But on the rich bestow. [tr. Fletcher]
  • You want, Æmilianus, so you may; / Riches are given rich men, and none but they. [tr. Wright]
  • Poor once and poor for ever, Nat, I fear; / None but the rich get place and pension here. [tr. N. B. Halhed]
  • You will always be poor, if you are poor, Aemilianus. Wealth is given today t none savethe rich. [tr. Ker (1919)]
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Where Plenty smiles — alas! she smiles for few,
And those who taste not, yet behold her store,
Are as the slaves that dig the golden ore,
The wealth around them makes them doubly poor.

George Crabbe (1754-1832) English poet, writer, surgeon, clergyman
The Village, Book 1, line 136 (1783)
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Added on 2-Oct-17 | Last updated 2-Oct-17
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Ability is a poor man’s wealth.

Matthew Wren (1585-1667) English clergyman, bishop, scholar
(Attributed)

First found in Day's Collacon (1884).
Added on 11-Sep-17 | Last updated 11-Sep-17
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Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition.

Barack Obama (b. 1961) American politician, US President (2009-2017)
Commencement Address, Knox College, Galesburg, IL (4 Jun 2005)
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Added on 6-Sep-17 | Last updated 6-Sep-17
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She ate her trifle, reflecting that grinding poverty, though loathsome while one is in it, has the advantage of making one enjoy money in a way denied to the rich-from-birth.

Kerry Greenwood (b. 1954) Australian author and lawyer
Flying Too High, ch. 2 (1990)
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Added on 13-Jul-17 | Last updated 13-Jul-17
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Man has three friends on whose company he relies. First, wealth — which goes with him only while good fortune lasts. Second, his relatives — they go only as far as the grave and leave him there. The third friend, his good deeds, go with him beyond the grave.

The Talmud (AD 200-500) Collection of Jewish rabbinical writings
(Attributed)

I could not find an actual citation for this quotation, but the story (the explanation of a parable, in which a man is summoned before a king, and while his dearest friend will not go with him, and his second best friend will only go to the palace gates, his least-loved friend goes with him before the throne) shows up with different translation in multiple sources:
  • The Talmud: SelectionsPart 5 "Civil and Criminal Laws -- the Holy Days" - "The Day of Atonement" [tr. Polano (1876)].
  • Isaac Aboav, Lamp of Light [Menorat Hamoar] [14th C], Fifth Lamp "Teshuvah," Sec. 2 [ch. 3]  in Leonard Kravitz and Kerry Olitzky, <i>Journey of the Soul: Traditional Sources on the</i> Teshuvah (1995).
  • Talmudic and Other Legends [tr., comp. Weiss (1888 ed.), "Man's Three Friends" (Pirke R. Eliezer).
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Any reasonable system of taxation should be based on the slogan of “Soak the Rich.”

Heywood Broun (1888-1939) American journalist, author
(Attributed)
Added on 14-Jun-17 | Last updated 14-Jun-17
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The urge to distribute wealth equally, and still more the belief that it can be brought about by political action, is the most dangerous of all popular emotions. It is the legitimation of envy, of all the deadly sins the one which a stable society based on consensus should fear the most. The monster state is a source of many evils; but it is, above all, an engine of envy.

Paul Johnson (b. 1928) English journalist, historian, speechwriter, author
The Recovery of Freedom (1980)
Added on 11-Apr-17 | Last updated 11-Apr-17
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The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist
The Communist Manifesto (1848) [with Friedrich Engels]
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[Capitalism is] the astonishing belief that the nastiest motives of the nastiest men somehow or other work for the best results in the best of all possible worlds.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
(Attributed)

Attributed by Sir George Schuster, Christianity and Human Relations in Industry (1951). Frequently quoted, but no direct citation found. More information here.

Variations:
  • "... the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all."
  • "... the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone."
  • "The great merit of the capitalist system, it has been said, is that it succeeds in using the nastiest motives of nasty people for the ultimate benefit of society." (written by E. A. G. Robinson, Monopoly (1941). (Robinson was a colleague of Keynes.)
Added on 28-Mar-17 | Last updated 28-Mar-17
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My father deals with millionaires and billionaires on a daily basis, the sort of people who have egos just this side (and sometimes way over the edge) of sociopathy. The sort of person who thinks he’s the apex predator wading through a universe of sheep.

John Scalzi (b. 1969) American writer
Lock In (2014)
Added on 24-Mar-17 | Last updated 24-Mar-17
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What has destroyed every previous civilization has been the tendency to the unequal distribution of wealth and power. This same tendency, operating with increasing force, is observable in our civilization to-day, showing itself in every progressive community, and with greater intensity the more progressive the community. Wages and interest tend constantly to fall, rent to rise, the rich to become very much richer, the poor to become more helpless and hopeless, and the middle class to be swept away.

Henry George (1839-1897) American economist
Progress and Poverty, “How Modern Civilization May Decline” (1879)
Added on 22-Mar-17 | Last updated 22-Mar-17
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“Rich people show their appreciation through favors,” I said. “When everyone you know has more money than they know what to do with, money stops being a useful transactional tool. So instead you offer favors. Deals. Quid pro quos. Things that involve personal involvement rather than money. Because when you’re that rich, your personal time is your limiting factor.”

John Scalzi (b. 1969) American writer
Lock In (2014)
Added on 14-Mar-17 | Last updated 14-Mar-17
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You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away men’s initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

William J. H. Boetcker (1873-1962) German-American religious leader, author, public speaker [William John Henry Boetcker]
“The Industrial Decalogue” (1916)

Often referred to as "The Ten Cannots," and also often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln.
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People say law, but they mean wealth.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1841)
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It is not merely that the ownership of any substantial share in the national wealth is concentrated to-day in the hands of a few hundred thousand families, and that at the end of an age which began with an affirmation of the rights of property, proprietary rights are, in fact, far from being widely distributed. Nor is it merely that what makes property insecure to-day is not the arbitrary taxation of unconstitutional monarchies or the privileges of an idle noblesse, but the insatiable expansion and aggregation of property itself, which menaces with absorption all property less than the greatest, the small master, the little shopkeeper, the country bank, and has turned the mass of mankind into a proletariat working under the agents and for the profit of those who own.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
The Acquisitive Century, ch. 5 “Property and Creative Work” (1920)
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When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession — as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life — will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.

But beware! The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to everyone that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
“Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” (1930)
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The exact measure of the progress of civilization is the degree in which the intelligence of the common mind has prevailed over wealth and brute force.

George Bancroft (1800-1891) American historian, statesman, education reformer
Speech, Adelphi Society, Liamstown College (Aug 1835)
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“Which of them shall be accounted greatest?” Let the churches stop trying to outstrip each other in the number of their adherents, the size of its sanctuary, the abundance of wealth. If we must compete let us compete to see which can move toward the greatest attainment of truth, the greatest service of the poor, and the greatest salvation of the soul and bodies of men. If the Church entered this kind of competition we can imagine what a better world this would be.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Cooperative Competition / Noble Competition,” sermon outline
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Added on 30-Dec-16 | Last updated 30-Dec-16
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Money is that dear thing which
if you’re not careful, you can squander
your whole life thinking of …

salter-money-is-that-dear-thing-wist_info-quote

Mary Jo Salter (b. 1954) American poet, editor, academic
“A Benediction,” part 6, ll. 1-3 (1994)
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Convinced that character is all and circumstances nothing, [the Puritan] sees in the poverty of those who fall by the way, not a misfortune to be pitied and relieved, but a moral failing to be condemned, and in riches, not an object of suspicion but the blessing which rewards the triumph of energy and will.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926)
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Industry, thrift and self-control are not sought because they create wealth, but because they create character.

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) American lawyer, politician, US President (1925-29)
Foundations of the Republic (1926)
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You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a mother who read to me.

Strickland Gillilan (1869-1954) American poet and humorist
“The Reading Mother”
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Some men rob you with a six-gun,
Some with a fountain pen.

Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Guthrie (1912-1967) American singer-songwriter and musician
“Pretty Boy Floyd the Outlaw” (1961)
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When people ask, “Why should the rich pay a larger percent of their income than middle-income people?” — my answer is not an answer most people get: It’s because their power developed from laws that enriched them.

Ralph Nader (b. 1934) American attorney, author, lecturer, political activist
“Public Citizen Number One,” by Debra Saunders, San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle (13 Oct 1996)
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He who withholds but a pennyworth of worldly goods from his neighbor, knowing him to be in need of it, is a robber in the sight of God.

Meister Eckhart (1260?-1327?) German Dominican mystic, theologian [a.k.a. Eckehart von Hochheim]
Meister Eckhart, Tractate 6, “Sister Katrei” [ed. Pfeiffer (1857), tr. Evans]
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I will enjoy the pleasure of what I give by giving it alive, and seeing another enjoy it. When I die, I should be ashamed to leave enough to build me a monument if there were a wanting friend above ground.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) English poet
Letter to Jonathan Swift (9 Oct 1729)
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No man can tell whether he is rich or poor by turning to his ledger. It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich or poor according to what he is, not according to what he has.

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) American clergyman and orator
Life Thoughts: Gathered from the Extemporaneous Discourses of Henry Ward Beecher (1858)
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This planet has — or rather had — a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Preface (1979)
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The truest American president we have ever had, the companion of Washington in our love and honor, recognized that the poorest man, however outraged, however ignorant, however despised, however black, was, as a man, his equal. The child of the American people was their most prophetic man, because, whether as small shop-keeper, as flat-boatman, as volunteer captain, as honest lawyer, as defender of the Declaration, as President of the United States, he knew by the profoundest instinct and the widest experience and reflection, that in the most vital faith of this country it is just as honorable for an honest man to curry a horse and black a boot as it is to raise cotton or corn, to sell molasses or cloth, to practice medicine or law, to gamble in stocks or speculate in petroleum. He knew the European doctrine that the king makes the gentleman; but he believed with his whole soul the doctrine, the American doctrine, that worth makes the man.

George William Curtis (1824-1892) American essayist, editor, reformer, orator
“The Good Fight” (1865)
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Of great riches there is no real use, except it be in the distribution; the rest is but conceit.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Riches,” Essays, No. 34 (1625)
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I cannot call riches better than the baggage of virtue. The Roman word is better, impedimenta. For as the baggage is to an army, so are riches to virtue. It cannot be spared or left behind, but it hindereth the march: yea, and the care of it, sometimes, loseth the victory.

Bacon - loseth the victory - wist_info quote

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Riches,” Essays, No. 34 (1625)
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No matter how poor I am; no matter though the prosperous of my own time will not enter my obscure dwelling; if the sacred writers will enter and take up their abode under my roof, if Milton will cross my threshold to sing to me of Paradise; and Shakespeare to open to me the worlds of imagination and the workings of the human heart, and Franklin to enrich me with his practical wisdom, I shall not pine for want of intellectual companionship, and I may become a cultivated man though excluded from what is called the best society in the place where I live.

William E. Channing (1780-1842) American moralist, author, cleric, Unitarian theologian
“Self Culture,” lecture, Boston (Sep 1838)
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What a country wants to make it richer is never consumption, but production. Where there is the latter, we may be sure that there is no want of the former. To produce, implies that the producer desires to consume; why else should he give himself useless labor? He may not wish to consume what he himself produces, but his motive for producing and selling is the desire to buy. Therefore, if the producers generally produce and sell more and more, they certainly also buy more and more.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
“The Consumer Theory of Prosperity” (1830)
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One of the temptations of upper-middle class life is to create sharp edges of our moral sensitivities that allows comfortable confusions about sin and virtue. The difference between rich and poor is not that the rich sin more than the poor, it is that the rich find it easier to call sin a virtue. When the poor sin, they call it sin; when they see holiness, they identify it as such. This intuitive clarity is often absent from the wealthy, and that absence easily leads to the atrophy of the moral sense.

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) Dutch Catholic priest and writer
Encounters with Merton (2004)
Added on 22-Apr-16 | Last updated 22-Apr-16
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Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist
Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production (1873)
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To have money is a feare, not to have it a griefe.

George Herbert (1593-1633) Welsh priest, orator, poet.
Jacula Prudentum (1640)
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Riches are a trust. … Power is a trust. So also is genius or every degree of wisdom. … Talents are a trust, too; that is the condition of their increase. They must be put out to use, or they will ruin the steward.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (July 1831)
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The desire of knowledge, like the thirst of riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it.

Sterne - desire of knowledge - wist_info quote

Laurence Sterne (1713-1786) Anglo-Irish novelist, Anglican clergyman
Tristam Shandy, Book 1, ch. 3 (1760-1767)
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The history of the Jews also shows that oppression and persecution are far more efficacious in binding a nation together than community of interest and national prosperity. Increase of wealth divides rather than unites a people; but suffering shared in common binds it together with hoops of steel.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Patriotism,” Outspoken Essays: First Series (1915)
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“Money does not bring happiness” — only the wherewithal, perhaps, to endure its absence.

Ehrenreich - money happiness - wist_info quote

Barbara Ehrenreich (b. 1941) American feminist, journalist, political activist
Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class, ch. 6 (1990)
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Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are, we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow men. It then appears that we are among the privileged.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) American author and lecturer
The Open Door (1957)
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More quotes by Keller, Helen

The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.

Carnegie - dies thus rich - wist_info quote

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) American industrialist and philanthropist
“Wealth,” North American Review (Jun 1889)

Reprinted in The Gospel of Wealth (1889).
Added on 11-Dec-15 | Last updated 11-Dec-15
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I know that a man who shows me his wealth is like the beggar who shows me his poverty; they are both looking for alms from me, the rich man for the alms of my envy, the poor man for the alms of my guilt.

Ben Hecht (1894-1964) American writer, director, producer, journalist
A Child of the Century (1954)
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Senseless extravagance is the best friend of revolution.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Our Present Discontents,” Outspoken Essays: First Series (1919)
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I hold it to be our duty to see that the wage worker, the small producer, the ordinary consumer, shall get their fair share of the benefit of business prosperity. But it either is or ought to be evident to everyone that business has to prosper before anybody can get any benefit from it.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
Speech, Ohio Constitutional Convention (1 Feb 1912)
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We cannot exist as a little island of well-being in a world where two-thirds of the people go to bed hungry every night.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Speech (8 Dec 1959)
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SYDNEY: You don’t seem to realize that a poor person who is unhappy is in a better position than a rich person who is unhappy. Because the poor person has hope. He thinks money would help.

Jean Kerr (1922-2003) American author and playwright [b. Bridget Jean Collins]
Poor Richard, Act 1 (1965)
Added on 12-Oct-15 | Last updated 12-Oct-15
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