Four of Pentacles: The Paradox of Wealth

In high school Spanish class, I read a short story that stuck with me my whole life. It was called “Las Abejas de Bronce” or The Bronze Bees by Marco Denevi. It’s a fable about a fox who runs a honey business where he makes good money. One day, he learns about the invention of bronze bees–mechanical bees superior to natural bees in every way. They didn’t get caught in spider webs, they were tireless, and they could refine their own honey. Yes, okay, they had a few drawbacks–for example, the honey didn’t taste as good (it had a metallic flavor) but the profits! Oh, the profits would worth it!

So the fox killed all his natural bees and replaced his entire operation with bronze bees.

And then the problems began.

One day the honey was contaminated with some foul substance. Lacking the intuition of natural bees, the bronze bees couldn’t differentiate between real flowers and fake. They’d harvested wax instead of pollen. Not only did the fox have to repay the owner of the fake flowers for property damage, he also lost all of his honey for the day.

The problems didn’t stop there. The bronze bees accidentally killed a bird and mixed its blood with the pollen. The resulting honey was pink…which was alarming.

But the real problem was that, due to their weight, the bronze bees were destroying all the flowers. Soon there were no flowers at all left in the region. The fox’s short-term success was great, but his operation failed in the long term. In the end, the fox abandoned his operation and fled the woods.

Usually, this fable is taught as a sort of anti-capitalism, be-wary-of-technology story. But today I’m thinking of the story from another perspective.

The 4 of Pentacles (or Coins of Rupees) is about clinging to wealth to the point that it becomes your world. The man in the card is obsessed with his wealth, such that his whole world is dedicated to protecting it. He can’t even enjoy it, because hoarding it and protecting it uses all his time and resources.

Today, I’m thinking about the trade-off between protecting our wealth and enjoying the life that wealth provides. The fox from the fable was so intent on building his honey empire that he did not notice the destruction his business caused until it was too late. His focus was too myopic.

When we think about wealth, we should also think about the energy we are putting into maintaining it. Are we happy? Are we enjoying the fruits of our labor? Are we hurting others? Are we being greedy? Wealth for wealth’s sake shouldn’t be the point. The point should be enough wealth to enjoy the world and life we have been blessed with.

You’re holding on too tight. The material world is not the end. Find balance between earning and enjoying. Careful not to let greed grind you down. Your things will own you if you let them.