Alexander Chancellor

Long life | 25 August 2016

Philanthropy seems the best way to handle great riches. We should learn from the Americans

The 6th Duke of Westminster, who died this month, was living support of the claim that wealth doesn’t make you happy. He was as rich as can be, but said he wished he hadn’t been. The dukedom, and the billions of pounds it brought with it, came to him unexpectedly. He had been brought up on a farm in Northern Ireland and wished he had stayed there and become a beef farmer. Instead, he inherited a great property empire in England and around the world, as well as various estates that allowed him the pleasure of game shooting, but otherwise gave him little but grief.

He was overwhelmed by the onerous duties that great riches imposed on him, and he succumbed to depression. ‘Given the choice I would rather not have been wealthy, but I never think of giving up,’ he once said. ‘I can’t sell it. It doesn’t belong to me.’ He could have just run away from it all, I suppose. But the heads of ancient noble families tend to feel an obligation to take care of their inheritance for future generations, and Gerald Grosvenor was one of those. He came into the dukedom at 28, and it seems thence to have blighted the rest of his life.

There are certainly some disadvantages in being very rich. It makes people isolated and treated warily by others. And they don’t have many pleasures that are denied to the merely comfortably off — only yachts, aeroplanes, and the like — and, as Frank Sinatra sang in High Society, who wants those? Nevertheless, there are few people who wouldn’t rather be richer than they are at the moment and thus be spared from the worries that shortage of money can cause.

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