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“Shouldn’t money free us to be better?” Lucy Mangan on why longing to be rich is a difficult dream

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In the wake of the Panama Papers, Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan explains why she is baffled by how much money is really enough.

A question that permanently intrigues me is: how much money is enough? How much would be enough to enable you to stop work? To stop worrying? Is it different for all of us or is there an amount that would unite us all in idle luxury? My friend reckons she would kick back and relax if the lottery furnished her with £10m. She’s high maintenance. I would be happy with enough to provide a lifetime’s supply of Pret chocolate croissants, a Liberty sofa and the annual liposuction to remove the combined effects of enjoying same. Bigger dreams make me anxious.

This is not the case for everyone, clearly. I doubt, for example, that anywhere in the thousands of documents involved in the offshore accounting and tax evasion uncovered via the Panama Papers investigation, will there be a single memo saying, “Mr X feels he has accumulated enough to be secure for the rest of his life and is now happy to work within the traditional limits of the law.”

Lucy Mangan

And £180m evidently isn’t enough for Sting. Despite this being his estimated personal fortune after a lifetime of musical success (even the lute-based years were lucrative), he recently played at the lavish wedding of the son of Russian billionaire Mikhail Gutseriev, who made his money drilling for oil in the kind of regions whose destruction eco-warrior Sting professes to abhor. Still, it wasn’t as controversial a gig as the one he played for the daughter of the dictatorial president of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, a man repeatedly denounced by human rights organisations for his persistent habit of conscripting child slaves, slaughtering protestors and literally boiling his enemies to death. Sting claimed he thought the party was sponsored by Unicef. They replied that they were “quite surprised” by this claim.

You would have to conclude that no amount of money is enough. Even I, with my tiny, crabbed and frightened dreams would find that once my croissant needs were met I would start hankering for something else. Brownies, possibly. Or daily dim sum. Yes! Daily dim sum! Delivered! You see how it goes?

But you still must ask – what is the point of having loads of money (£180millionish-type loads of money) if it doesn’t free you to be… better? To compromise your ethics less, to move closer to your best self now that you are effectively independent of the kind of pressures that habitually bring ordinary humanity down?

I used to think that this would be the best thing – after the Liberty sofa spree – about winning the lottery. Because you haven’t gained that through systemic corruption (oligarchs and tyrants), you hadn’t earned it by the sweat of your brow (lute-playing makes you sweat, right?) – money is visited, suddenly, gloriously, upon you. You are still you when it arrives.

But then I read about the winner of £148m on Euromillions who recently closed down the cafe she bought with some of her winnings, telling the casual workers she laid off that they ‘may be entitled’ to a £100 payoff each. So maybe money just frees you to be as good or as horrible as you actually are. Maybe none of us should long to be rich after all. Maybe we’re better off not being free to be ourselves. What am I going to dream about – on my lumpy couch with my sub-standard chocolate croissants – now?


Photography: Ellis Parrinder

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