How much is enough?
Although my wife is the household expert in the operation of our washing machine, what I do know is that when she selects the “Economy” programme it uses less water, power and detergent – not more. That’s because the Greek root of the word economy is oikonomia, meaning household management, or thrift.
But today, the word economy has been turned upside down. We must now produce and consume more of everything. More power, more water, more sales, more profit, more GDP, more TV and more popcorn.
So why did this happen and is this a good thing, or not?
Let’s look first at our physiology and psychology. The design of homo sapiens is over 200,000 years old and we are designed to hunt and gather food which is scarce. We are also competing with other species for food calories and nutrients. So when we come across a surplus of something, we are programmed to consume it or to store it because we do not “know” when the next meal is coming from.
This programming served most of us well into the middle of the twentieth century. Then after the Second World War, as brilliantly described by Douglas Rushkoff in Life Inc., our political leaders faced the very real problem of what do with millions of fighting men and thousands of armaments factories. So instead of making guns, tanks, bombers and battleships, we worked making fridges, cars and TVs. Our social norms also changed to encourage us to buy and sell this stuff that we never needed before. And so the advertising industry was born.
Today, this philosophy not only drives our physical cravings, it has now been embedded in every aspect of our psychological, social, politcal, economic and cultural lives. Not only are we addicted to more industrial, processed food, we are addicted to the status anxiety induced by social media, itself driven by advertising dollars. And to keep us hooked on social media and the goods and services it peddles, social media has itself been hijacked by politics. Despite so many of us having more than we need, so many others are struggling to afford a home or to feed their children. So many are now getting very angry at immigrants who they believe are taking our jobs, our homes, our benefits and our very identities. They are also very angry at the ruling elites who just don’t understand how they feel.
Is this a good thing? Well that’s up to each of us to think about, to debate and then to decide. To do that, we need to think deeply about our purpose in life, the moral values we believe in and the good simple rules we must obey.
So what is your purpose in life and at work? How can you achieve your purpose without caring for others? And what are the moral values and good simple rules that help us to have just enough?
And if you had to prosper and thrive on less, what do you actually need for a good life? Because its likely that we will all have to answer this question sooner rather than later.