updated: June 17, 2022 23:59 IST
Washington [US]Jun 17 (ANI): A new study by the University of Bath invalidates the well-established economic belief that all humans are motivated to desire more and more, which could have important implications for sustainability policies.
The authors of a new study say the foundational economic principle that everyone is driven by “unlimited desires,” sticking to a consumer treadmill and striving to accumulate as much wealth as possible, is incorrect.
The firm economic belief that people have unlimited desires has permeated economic thinking and government policies and shaped much of modern society, including advertising and consumerism.
But belief in this principle has also had dire consequences for the health of the planet. The pursuit of continually increasing individual wealth, and the pursuit of never-ending economic growth, has come at a great cost. As wealth increases, so does resource use and pollution.
So far, researchers have struggled to find proper ways to separate economic growth from harmful economic principles. Despite this, a new study led by psychologists at the Universities of Bath, Bath Spa and Exeter challenges the idea that unlimited desires are human nature, which could have important implications for the planet.
Across nearly 8,000 people from 33 countries across six continents, they surveyed how much money people want to make their “perfectly perfect life.” In 86% of countries, most people thought they could make it with $10 million or less, and in some countries with less than $1 million.
While these numbers may seem like a lot, they are considered relatively moderate when viewed as representing the ideal wealth for an individual throughout his life. In other words, the wealth of the richest person in the world, which is more than 200 billion dollars, is enough for more than two hundred thousand people to achieve their “perfectly perfect life”.
The researchers collected responses about ideal wealth from individuals in countries across all populated continents, including countries rarely used in cross-cultural psychology such as Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Tunisia, Nicaragua, and Vietnam. People with unlimited needs were identified in every country, but they were always in the minority.
They found that those with unlimited desires tended to be younger and urban dwellers, who placed greater importance on success, strength, and independence. Unlimited desires were also more common in countries with greater acceptance of inequality and in countries that were more collective: the focus on the group rather than on individual responsibilities and outcomes.
For example, Indonesia, which is more collectivist and accepting of inequality, had the most people with unlimited needs while the United Kingdom, which was more concerned with equality and individualism, had the fewest. However, there have been anomalies such as China, where few people have unlimited needs despite high cultural collectivism and acceptance of inequality.
Lead researcher, Dr Paul Payne, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath (UK), explained: “The ideology of unlimited desires, when portrayed as human nature, can create social pressure for people to buy more than they actually want.
“Finding that most people’s ideal lives are in fact moderate can make it socially easier for people to act in ways more in line with what makes them truly happy and support stronger policies to help protect the planet.”
Co-author, Dr Renata Bonjorno from the University of Exeter and also the University of Bath Spa (UK), added: “The findings are a stark reminder that majority opinion is not necessarily reflected in policies that allow excessive amounts of wealth to be accumulated by a small number of individuals.
“If most people struggle for limited wealth, then policies that support people’s limited needs, such as a wealth tax to fund sustainability initiatives, may be more common than is often portrayed.” (Ani)