We humans, like all species, have needs. Our tip-of-the-tongue list of needs usually begins with food, clothing, shelter, safety, relationships, and money. Of course, the order and intensity of our needs shift depending on circumstances. And although our needs may feel expansive and endless, Maslow and others have identified a relatively short list and order of our individual and collective needs. Notice, I use the word ‘needs’ and not the word ‘wants.’ Two very different words with very different meanings and consequences.
We humans, seemingly unlike other species, however, have fears that our needs won’t be met. Because of plantation economics, those fears are legitimate for an increasing number of humans. But even for those of us whose needs are usually and reasonably satisfied, we frequently harbor fears to the contrary. When we allow our fears to run unfettered, when we allow them to be stoked by advertising or political fearmongering, our fears blossom into our insecurities and our insecurities motivate us to act in selfishly desperate ways.
I offer the following illustration, extreme as it may appear, to quickly make a point about controlling our fears as we work toward fulfilling our needs. We all have a need for food. We all eat food all year long. At the beginning of a new year we each could calculate how much food we expect to need that year then sit down and try to eat it all at once in an attempt to take care of that need for food. What an absurd illustration for so many reasons, right? But is it really? Isn’t this absurdity just the usual reaction to an insecurity taken to its (il)logical extreme?
At least with the example of food, and for no other reason than our physical limitations, many if not most people have learned to manage our fears that our need for food will be taken care of all year long. In other words, many if not most of us have learned to gauge what is enough for the day. Occasionally I have the honor of talking with an elder who has navigated a difficult and resource-limited life. Interestingly, he or she usually mentions “but I rarely missed a meal.” On the other hand, we humans are increasingly over-eating for a host of reasons, including lack of discipline, food insecurity, and confusion between our needs and our wants. Many of us are eating beyond what is enough, with adverse consequences.
Our need for money can easily be as intense as our need for food. Indeed, in this post-agricultural world not having enough money often means not having enough food. Given the all-encompassing way money is used to satisfy our needs, it is little wonder that we have developed such fears, insecurities, and selfishness around acquiring and hoarding money. How might we manage our fears, insecurities, and selfishness around seeking, acquiring, and hoarding resources like food and money, particularly when it comes at the expense of ourselves and others?
We offer a perspective in Better Capitalism by connecting to the story typically called the parable of the Rich Fool:
A rich man gained abundance from his land, so much so that he did not even have the capacity to store it all. Rather than share, he tore down his barns to build larger ones, resulting in strong condemnation from God. In our time, storage capacity is no longer a concern due to electronic currency management. The danger of excessive hoarding (greed), on the other hand, has aged well. We find it interesting and instructive that the biblical text gives no explicit judgment against the rich man’s storage of the crop in the original barns. Storage is not bad in and of itself—the problem is in increasing storage beyond what had ever been necessary. There is a threshold of storage which is wise, and beyond that threshold lies greed. The man’s barns were good enough to help him manage his resources to become rich. When blessed with an exceptional abundance (according to the story, the land produced the plenty—God’s provision), the rich man failed to partner with those in need.
From any number of perspectives, it is clear there is such a thing as enough. Sure, we can agree what’s enough for one person isn’t enough for another. But the difference in needs is usually close and not exponential. One family of four likely has about the same needs as another family of four. So why do we accept the exponential wealth gap between the average American family of four and the average billionaire? The needs of the average billionaire can be satisfied by the income of the average American family of four, but of course, not the selfish wants. There are objective, rational, and logical measures of what is enough – what takes care of our needs and even our productive wants – for both individuals and corporations. We develop and offer those measures, what we term “enough-ratios” in Part 3 of Better Capitalism. We encourage you to read and consider our arguments for enough-ratios. We likewise encourage your thoughts and feedback regarding applying these enough-ratios to yourself and within your realm of influence.
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