November 4, 2009
From the School of Life
Money, Aristotle felt, needed not one virtue, as one might expect, but two. The virtue of Generosity deals with every day amounts. It tells us it is mean not to tip and spendthrift to buy shoes we will never wear. The virtue of Magnificence (as it is usual translated although there is no equivalent English word) deals with large amounts of money. This separate virtue recognises something crucial. Wealth is not simply a case having more money. Wealth, especially great wealth, imposes different requirements upon us.
What we find lacking in bankers is Magnificence. We are incensed not by the quantity of their wealth, but its quality and tone. Bill Gates is always clear he believes himself lucky. This makes him hard to hate. Footballers do something thrilling and beautiful to earn their money which makes them magnificent in our eyes. Rock star decadence is cool and warns us of the dangers of excess. Bankers, in contrast, appear only to have piles of money and the trinkets it buys them. If they could learn from Aristotle to be a little more magnificent they would be easier to love, or at least a little harder to loathe.