Or, Riches vs. Fame, Fame vs. Repute, Repute vs. Riches
What would you rather have — riches or fame? It's a neat question, an old question. Personally, if it's between the two I'll take riches (more on that later), but I'm also more intrigued by a variant on the question:
Which would you rather have: fame or repute?
It may help to break down what we're talking about here. Since I'm a nerdy writer, I'll use the dictionary to start off:
Riches: "abundant and valuable possessions; wealth." (source)
Fame: "widespread reputation, esp. of a favorable character; renown; public eminence" (source)
Repute: "1. estimation in the view of others; reputation. 2. favorable reputation; good name; public respect" (source)
That's the dictionary. Here are my own personal definitions:
Riches: "Focusing on the monetary angle of wealth, riches are having enough money and then some."
Fame: "A pain in the arse. No thanks."
Repute: "Repute is selective fame. To put it a more approachable way, repute is being known and respected by the right people. Personally, I interpret 'right people' as the people I want to know and want to know me."
Riches vs. Fame?
To answer the original question — riches vs. fame? — I'll take money and the freedom to walk — mostly — unrecognized.
Riches vs. Repute?
For me, riches vs. fame and fame vs. repute are easy questions. I don't give a toss for fame, and don't ever want it. I like money, and I like repute.
If my life came down to it, which would I rather have: riches or repute?
This is not easy, but ultimately, I'll take repute.
I'll take repute because, in my view, repute is the selective fame of being known and respected by those I consider to be the right people. The "right people" can be as wide or narrow a range as you want. For me, I want to be known (and, hopefully, respected) in part by other creative professionals, especially writers and editors.
Specific case in point
To put it another way, I want to buy Terry Pratchett a beer. (In case you aren't familiar with him, Terry Pratchett is a best-selling author of dozens of novels, including the long-running Discworld series. Along with J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame, he is one of the best-selling British authors of all time.)
Why Pratchett? The best-selling author thing is cool, but frankly, I just think he's an interesting, thinking, independent, driven person. I believe we'd have a lot of fun talking, from a good over-beers breeze-shoot to more in-depth discussions.
Earning the respect of someone like Pratchett, for me, is an example of repute in its highest form.
But what about the money?
There's money galore in our world, but repute — and the attendant respect that comes with it — is much rarer.
Money won't buy the esteem in which my wife, colleagues, friends and other loved ones hold me.
Money won't earn me the respect of anyone I would also respect.
Repute will. And repute will, because repute is an end result of being a person of intent, direction, consideration and action.
With money I can buy Terry Pratchett a round of his preferred tipple.
Repute can make me worthy of his time.