Cover image: What is Wealth?

What is Wealth?

Written by Callum Mason, Reboot the Future

This May, the theme of Global Dimension is wealth. Wealth is such a timely topic that has applications in so many vital areas of our lives. As a concept, it can have very different meanings and allowing students to think through these will open up discussion about what we should value and what we should share. 

Here, we outline some of the key ways we could think about wealth and what resources can help us teach about it. Through these lessons we can explore what ‘wealth’ really means, what it has meant and what it could mean in the future.

Traditional Wealth

The most traditional understanding of wealth is about how much money and material things we possess. We should ask students: what is good about this wealth and what is bad? How much money and stuff is enough, will it make us happy?

Naturally, this kind of wealth also draws attention to its opposite: poverty. For both the rich and the poor we must ask, how did this come about? Where does this wealth come from, why is it concentrated here and not there? We can apply this at a local, national or international level and, in asking this question, we are always drawn into social history with its questions of ethics and exploitation. 

Our monthly resource on redistributing wealth is a great place to start here as is the Philosophy Man’s workshop on the ‘Fairest Queen’ which asks primary school children to consider wealth, inequality and the rule of law. A great resource hub for teaching about inequalities is the economic injustice website which is packed with teaching resources and explanatory videos.

Shared Wealth

Shared wealth is all about access. A group of people have equal rights to something and together they can be considered wealthy. Nationalised resources and assets such as the NHS are great examples of this, as are community pubs or gardens. Encourage students to think about how collective ownership can be just as fulfilling as personal wealth. 

Here, you could explore our international cooperation activity which asks students to use counters to practise how groups can effectively share resources. Or with the Working Class Movement Library you could explore the history of trade unionism and the Chartist movements that fought for a greater share of economic resources.

Cultural Wealth

Cultural wealth is about diversity and the incredible array of human cultures, arts, and knowledge that exist and have existed. The human experience - our history, ideas, languages, emotions and arts- has been recorded through humanity's collective cultural heritage. This is a bottomless resource which we can learn from (or simply enjoy) and it should be celebrated as such. 

To explore this further check out Historic England’s pack on British cultural heritage and how to explore your local heritage sites or Groundwork’s great pack on the diverse cultural heritage of refugees. Alternatively you could dive into another cultural region with the British Library’s West African Culture pack or the British Council’s packs on Polish culture and Arabic culture.

Planetary Wealth

Planetary wealth focuses on the staggering abundance of the natural world, its resources and how this allows us to flourish. There is rightly much focus on the responsible use of the Earth’s resources, but a crucial point is that, if we stop wasteful consumption, there is more than enough to go around. The Earth has provided for everyone for thousands of years and this should be celebrated. Show students that, through protecting and restoring ecosystems, we can provide everything we need and more. This is the ultimate definition of wealth. 

To explore this in the classroom you could use Groundwork’s Making Space for Nature or Urban Nature Challenge, two multidisciplinary programs that help students engage with nature on their doorstep. You could also try WWF’s Living Sustainably pack or our activity on connecting and protecting nature.

Other Wealths:

With the various definitions above, encourage students to think about what other kinds of wealth there might be. This is great for introducing discussion about what students value and what we should be thankful for. Time wealth (having time to do what we want) is a great example. As is relational wealth e.g. possessing lots of meaningful friendships and family connections. 

There are countless ways to explore what wealth might mean to you and your students. See if they can come up with some unique answers themselves. Ask them, what do you truly value, what really matters? Finally ask, what can we do to ensure everyone around us has flourishing, wealthy lives? What would that world look like, what steps can we take to get there?