Money Addiction: How Much Is Enough?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

US Currency is seen in this January 30, 2001 image. (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty)

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.'"


Sam Polk

Hosted by:

Todd Zwillich

Produced by:

Ellen Frankman and Mythili Rao


T.J. Raphael

Comments [15]


Bravo for Polk! Wall Street is full of addicts and they are the first to deny it. The bigger problem in "wealth addiction" is the fact that the Wall Streeters make money on money for the sake of money trading derivatives of derivatives. If the world swas suddenly forced to make money the old fashion way (earn it by providing value) the world would change overnight. Instead, the Financialization if our economy separates money making from value creation. In the last 20 years we hit a tipping point where money making via hedge funds, Wall Street etc. Has become infinitely easier then value creation. So the 1% cutter ally adopted money making techniques not realizing that this very act is the act that ultimately destroyes capitalism. Like an algae bloom, we all become scared and scramble for the last resources as a means for self-preservation not realizing that the very thing we do creates our own implosion. All predicted by Karl Marx. We have lost touch with our purpose and therefore the purpose of capitalism and democracy. Polk has awakened and we should support his recovery and hope others follow. Unless we recognize our interdependence and our natural state of being to support our interdependence, the viscous cycle will break us all. Bravo Sam!!! The real wealth of man costs a lot more than money!!

Jan. 31 2014 10:48 AM
sam winston from detroit michigan

Yo mark from dallas. Libertarianism is idealistic and makes us isolationists.

To quote the late great george carlin:
"One of the more pretentious political self-descriptions is "Libertarian." People think it puts them above the fray. It sounds fashionable, and to the uninitiated, faintly dangerous. Actually, it's just one more bullshit political philosophy."-carlin

People like ron and rand paul are worthless when it comes to real policy. They're simply career politicians complaining that there are too many career politicans. Its irony, hypocrisy, anf idiocy all rolled into one.

Jan. 21 2014 04:36 PM
Robert Lee from Anchorage, Alaska

If one looks at this 85 individuals/ half the planet ratio for wealth, it would seem that this situation doesn't even seem to add up to a good exploitation paradigm of the resource. If I were a "bazillionaire", I'd much rather nurture a planet in which there was a secure population that could not only afford to buy my high end products and services, but could "educate" their offspring, to continue that trend at an even higher level of return for me. Your contributor is spot on, it is a disease.

Jan. 21 2014 04:23 PM

Not to make this guy feel overly bad -- but he worked (or whatever the active verb is for that activity) at a hedge fund and made $3 million? Isn't that how much waiters at hedge funds make in a night? If you don't have at least a liquid $10 million, as this guy well knows, you can't get a real wall streeter to sneeze on you.

Jan. 21 2014 04:10 PM

"The people below you."

what a dope. As in: "I didn't hit that dope in the face, officer! It was my 'hit the dope in the face' addiction.'"

Jan. 21 2014 03:50 PM
Pat from NYC

$3.6 million as a bonus? My God. Most of us make 1% of that per annum.

Jan. 21 2014 03:23 PM
Mark from Dallas

If the pursuit of wealth is addiction so the the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of progressivism or philanthropy. I'm 50 and not wealthy and the best thing I did was give my kids free minds, no religions of priests or politicians. If we survive, humanity will mature into free thought, reason, and libertarianism. Of course that's scary to believers, especially progressive believers since their fundamentalists have killed the most the past century. Belief is addiction.

Jan. 21 2014 01:52 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Frank Norris wrote a great book called "McTeague," it was also turned into a movie called, "Greed."
Fantastic stuff about money and hoarding it.

Jan. 21 2014 01:40 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I think Polk is working hard to understand his addiction to money and should be cut a break.

Jan. 21 2014 01:34 PM
Jerrold Richards from Lyle, Washington

So if we eat the super-rich, will we become infected with their disease of wealth addiction? Maybe it will ok as long as we make sure they are well-cooked.

Jan. 21 2014 12:46 PM
Sam Winston from Detroit, Michigan

Ed, meh, he should give us some of his money. Screw it, our representatives do not want to make any reforms to wall street or the banking system, and no changing our currency to gold is not a solution, so we might as well start pushing redistribution of wealth. give us the money of our oppressors.

too socialist for some of the conservatives? well, conservatives, you should not have used the system to promote that specific type of exploitation and corruption but ya did, so give us our money back.

when somebody robs you there should be justice. these people that live in this world where money is not enough - these psychopaths, it's time they are put in a prison and we use the money they stole to rebuild our society that has been destroyed by the idea that we can make money off of war. or that it's alright to be so rich that all you need to make money is more money. that's exploitation. straight up. shouldn't be legal. we should quit coddling these people simply because they have large quantities of currency hidden in banks across the world. it'd be one thing if our countries populace showed signs of upward mobility, but well, that hasn't happened since the 40's-50's. back when unions were not seen as evil but seen as a way for humans to get a fair wage without breaking their back and some security for their families.

worker run, worker owned companies. it's the only way to fix this. they should have done it with the car companies in Detroit.

Jan. 21 2014 09:58 AM
Ed from nyc

I love how he just "dropped" his nonprofit into the conversation in a completely anti-organic manner. It just plopped in and the host stopped to give him another egotistic platform.

Read more about this Sam Polk. He is an ego in search of acclaim.

Jan. 21 2014 09:48 AM
Ed from NYC

A wealthy dude talking about his unhappiness while he sits upon piles of money? Give me a break.

He is vapid and has NOTHING meaningful to say. He should stick to writing because he talks like a teenager.

Ugh. Stop giving this jack*ss a platform.

Jan. 21 2014 09:46 AM
Sam Winston from Detroit, Michigan

agree Peg. Greed, The reason for the collapse of every massive empire in the history. with few exceptions.

Jan. 21 2014 09:45 AM

Greed is not only a sin it's a very severe and addictive Hoarding Disease.

Jan. 21 2014 09:25 AM

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