Overcoming Bias makes an interesting point about societal contributions. In talking about how rich people often donate large sums of money to have their name put on stuff (hospital wings, academic institutions), the author, Robin Hanson, wonders whether that money couldn’t be better put to use funding innovation:
But when folks like Alex [Grass, founder or Rite Aid,] spend their later years trying to “do good” with the millions they were paid for actually doing good, they usually end up pissing it away. We already have too much medicine and academia, because such things are mainly wasteful signals. We didn’t need and shouldn’t be thankful for more hospital wings or lecture halls. Imagine how much more good could have been done instead via millions spent trying to make more innovative products or organizations.
Of course the latter strategy is far from guaranteed to succeed, leaving the rich person with a much-less well-rounded life story (theoretically), but it’s a good point.