I kept, and just got around to reading “The Purpose of Spectacular Wealth, According to a Spectacularly Wealthy Guy,” subtitled "Are the Rich Worth a Damn?" This article was in the May 1 New York Times Magzaine: the “money issue.”
The spectacularly wealthy guy is Edward Conard: “His wealth is most likely in the hundreds of millions; he lives in an Upper East Side town house just off Fifth Avenue; and he is one of the largest donors to his old boss and friend, Mitt Romney.”
Conard’s argument is that we are all much richer because of innovations financed by super wealthy investors trying to make even more money. The trickle-down benefits are cheap, accessible food, wonderfully useful internet, delightful entertainment, etc, etc.
This argument is similar to the one in favor of supporting all kinds of scientific research even if no “desired” end is in sight, because we cannot predict what wonderfully useful discoveries might result. For instance, NASA's space exploration has resulted in beneficial technologies in health science, transportation, agriculture, just to name a few. Or the Human Genome Project has resulted in vastly expanded understanding of how genes and epigenetic molecules work, leading to amazing therapeutic techniques spawning futuristic medicines to fight off viruses and anti-biotic-resistant bacteria and scourges like AIDS.
But there are problems with spectacular wealth that are dissimilar from those in scientific research. These have to do with frightening political power and influence that are the exact opposite of universally beneficial. Science has its power plays, but they’re nothing like banks gambling with our money, or the super-rich running our elections.