Money Addiction: How Much Is Enough?

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US Currency is seen in this January 30, 2001 image.
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Wealth can be a tool for investment, for development and even for change.

But wealth can also be an end in itself—a status symbol, a way of wielding power, and even an addiction. That was the case for Sam Polk, a former hedge fund manager.

In his last year on Wall Street, Polk earned a $3.6 million bonus. But, he says it wasn't enough.

Today on The Takeaway, Polk explores why Americans love and possibly have an addiction to money.

"It is a sickness," says Polk. "The idea that wealth is an addiction is a really scary one because we actually exist in a culture where there's no consequences. We live in a culture that promotes this wealth addiction. The bigger that addiction gets, the more adulation, the more support, the more TV articles, the more radio interviews people get. That's really the scary thing."

Polk says that many view Wall Street with a lot of anger—they see bankers as evil individuals consumed with greed. He says that the super rich have an addiction and should be viewed as individuals that are "spiritually sick." He adds that the super rich often feel, despite their mass wealth accumulation, that they don't have enough—leading them to constantly seek out more and further worsening their addiction.

When viewing the issue through that lens, Polk says that the issue of rising inequality should be looked at as a function of sickness that stems from an addiction to money and wealth.

"We're existing in a world right now where people at the bottom don't have enough and wages for the last 30 years haven't gone up at all, and still the people at the top feel like they don't have enough," he says. Polk says that he saw this addiction to wealth when he was on Wall Street, with some of his colleagues making upwards of $5 million and still not feeling satisfied. 

"While this idea of the American dream is really important, I also think this idea of a connected America is really important—where people feel responsibility for the people that have less than them," says Polk. "The structure of our system, where we're encouraging these people to go out for themselves on a purely selfish basis so they can get more and more is scary."

Polk compares money and addiction to a body building addiction. 

"[There are] these huge guys with all these muscles and they're working out 10 hours a day so they can just get another five pounds. That's what Wall Street is like," says Polk. "These guys have it made—I had it made. But once you have it made, there needs to be this idea where you look around at the people below you and say 'I have a responsibility to these people.'"