In today’s modern society, economic beliefs in an unlimited world of desires, constantly striving to accumulate wealth, is a myth. It is founded on the erroneous assumption that consuming can satisfy all possible wants, and it has its roots in 19th-century romantic capitalism. You will wonder what the response is when people are asked, “who wants to be a millionaire?” Recent findings from the research indicate that most people don’t.
The model of unlimited wants has permeated economic systems and policies. It has enormously influenced advertising, consumerism, and government advocacy.
But the pursuit of economic growth at very high rates and the belief this would lead to everyone becoming prosperous panned out. As wealth has grown, the population has also steadily increased, demanding more water, electricity, and fossil fuels; producing oil and other resources leads to pollution.
Until now, researchers have struggled to find appropriate ways to decouple economic growth from damaging economic principles. A new study led by psychologists at the universities of Bath, Bath Spa, and Exeter challenges the idea that unlimited wants are human nature, which could have important implications for the planet.
Nearly 8000 people from 33 countries spanning six continents surveyed how much money people wanted to achieve their ideal life.’ In 86% of countries, most people thought they could accomplish this with the US $10 million or less, and in some countries, as little as $1 million.
While these figures may still sound a lot, when considered that they represent a person’s ideal wealth across their whole life, they are relatively moderate. Expressed differently, the wealth of the world’s single richest person, at over $200 billion, is enough for more than two hundred thousand people to achieve their ideal lives.’
The researchers collected responses about ideal wealth from individuals in countries across all inhabited continents, including countries rarely used in cross-cultural psychology, such as Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Tunisia, Nicaragua, and Vietnam. People with unlimited wants were identified in every country but always in the minority.
They found that those with unlimited wants tended to be younger and city-dwellers, who placed more value on success, power, and independence. Unlimited wants were also more common in countries with greater acceptance of inequality and in more collectivistic countries: which focused more on the group than individual responsibilities and outcomes.
For example, Indonesia, considered more collectivistic and accepting of inequality, had the most people with unlimited wants, while the more individualistic and equality-concerned UK had fewer. However, there were anomalies like China, where few people had unlimited wants despite high cultural collectivism and acceptance of inequality.
Lead researcher, Dr. Paul Bain from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath (UK) explained: “The ideology of unlimited wants, when portrayed as human nature, can create social pressure for people to buy more than they want.
“Discovering that most people’s ideal lives are quite moderate could make it socially easier for people to behave in ways that are more aligned with what makes them genuinely happy and to support stronger policies to help safeguard the planet.”
Co-author Dr. Renata Bongiorno of the University of Exeter and Bath Spa University (UK) added: “The findings are a stark reminder that the majority view is not necessarily reflected in policies that allow the accumulation of excessive amounts of wealth by a small number of individuals.
“If most people are striving for limited wealth, policies that support people’s more limited wants, such as a wealth tax to fund sustainability initiatives, might be more popular than is often portrayed.”
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