I'm not even certain that such an ethics system exists, but I can think of at least a few people who consider economic levity to be a sign of moral absolutism, and that those who are economically destitute are immoral individuals.

Is there a word or phrase for this belief? The belief that one's economic standing indicates one's value on an ethical scale?

In other words, an ethical system in which the good are rich (or rewarded by becoming rich) and the bad are poor (or punished by becoming poor) would be called...

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    Those who don't subscribe to this belief call it capitalism. But it really depends what you mean by words like "immoral", "ethical", etc. Money is pretty much the generic term for what people give to other people they approve of, so in principle at least, those with the most money are the ones with the highest "approval rating" (unless they happen to be merchant bankers, of course, in which case they've got all the money because they're self-serving leeches on society). Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 16:23
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    It's not a single word, but I've heard people refer to social darwinism for this concept.
    – Gus
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 16:24
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    @FumbleFingers Capitalism is the system by which that money is exchanged for goods and services, but doesn't necessitate an ethical system.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 16:25
  • @Gus Now that you've said those words, and I remember it, that sounds very similar to the idea I'm trying to find a word for - and a phrase I think would also do.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 16:27
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    plutocracy is the veneration of wealth and implies that power flows to the rich. Such that power is its own reward it applies, but it does not have the implication that they are morally superior to the poor.
    – Aaron K
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 16:53

3 Answers 3


Welfarism has this sense in it and it is one of the theories in normative ethics.

Welfarism is the view that the morally significant consequences are impacts on human (or animal) welfare. There are many different understandings of human welfare, but the term "welfarism" is usually associated with the economic conception of welfare.

Welfarism is a form of consequentialism. Like all forms of consequentialism, welfarism is based on the premise that actions, policies, and/or rules should be evaluated on the basis of their consequences.

From the book "Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics" By L. W. Sumner:

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Also, a basic definition and an example of welfarism from the book "Business Ethics For Dummies" By Norman E. Bowie, Meg Schnieder:

enter image description here

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    I'm not sure I agree. The implication here seems to be that ethical decisions should be based on whether or not it impedes one's economic welfare...which may be a consequence of what I'm describing, but what I'm describing could equally be used to justify the opposite - that individuals 'earn' their worth, and that by giving away what you've earned, you're devaluing yourself. But that also isn't necessarily true...I am conflicted on how to feel about this answer.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 17:32
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    @Zibbobz: I think it makes sense from both sides. Welfarism promotes economic growth and thinks that economic growth increases morality, thus it supports actions that will make this happen.
    – ermanen
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 17:49
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    Also, the example in the last source that I gave almost perfectly fits.
    – ermanen
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 18:00

The notion you have in mind may be related to "prosperity theology," according to which God rewards faith with increasing material success and inflicts poverty as a punishment (or an inherited curse) for wrongdoing. Viewed without sophistication (or sophistry), this explanation for economic inequality would seem to make wealth a sign of moral virtue and poverty a sign of depravity.

"Prosperity theology," in turn, seems to have something in common with "economic Calvinism," the notion that God's providence flows to those lead their lives properly (by obeying God, working hard, and avoiding frivolous luxuries), so that prosperity may become a sign of God's favor—assuming that the prosperous individual also upholds the other tenets of the religion.

The somewhat awkward theoretical relationship between religious or ethical virtue and economic affluence has been a subject of sociological inquiry at least since Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905). The emergence of a religious rationale that equates the two is especially interesting because, during the first 1500 years of Christianity, the orthodox view was certainly not that dedication to acquiring wealth represented a reliable path to virtue.


be worth its/your weight in gold

to be extremely useful or valuable

A really good teacher is worth his weight in gold.

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