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Needs, Desires, and Wealth

Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow developed "the hierarchy of needs", which starts with the the basic human needs for survival. At that level, we are only interested in the primitive life-sustaining needs and cannot progress to the the next level, until these survival needs are fulfilled.

These levels provide us with the basic quality level, below which we cannot find life even livable. Yet, today there are still millions of people at this primitive survival level. Something to think about.

Here they are:

  1. Physiological Survival Needs:
  2. Safety and Security Needs:
  3. Need for Belongingness
  4. Need for Esteem
  5. Need for Self-Actualization

Need vs Desire

Maslow was right at the lower levels of need:

Without air you survive only 3 minutes
Without water only 3 days, and
Without food somewhere between 3 weeks to three months
Shelter is much more elusive and sleep is more serious than most think
Most people need about 7.5 hrs of sleep per day
Some can last with less, as they take 'catnaps' during the day.
Others need as much as 9 hrs, because of poor sleeping habits.

As we get higher into the hierarchy, the needs become lesser and the desires become greater. People tend to think that most of their desires are needs, and if their motivation is strong, they can make other people's life miserable because of them.

No wonder that the old sages said that desire is the root of all suffering.
Actually most desires are frivolous and certainly no real needs. Let's explore that some more now.

Suffering by Desire

Few of us would like to agree that we desire to suffer. Yet, it is clear that if we had no desires, there would be little or no suffering (excluding the suffering due to unfulfilled true needs ).

Whenever we desire something, and circumstances make it difficult or impossible to fulfil that desire, we get frustrated and suffer. That is called stress. This leads us to the first law of Stress Management:

"Desiring the impossible gives high stress, desiring the possible low stress."

So we can control our level of stress and suffering by the desires we develop. Note that it is US that develop the desires, not the circumstances. Therefore, when two people meet the same circumstances one may suffer, while the other doesn't, because the first one may desire the impossible, while the second may be more realistic.

This also means that geniuses must suffer, because they are attempting to break through the barrier, to desire to accomplish what thusfar has been impossible . They suffer by their own choice, as we all do.

What motivates us to desire?

We are motivated to desire by the elusion or the delusion that the grass is greener on the other side of our dream.
As the old sages say: By Greed, Fear, Anger, Envy, and Ignorance.

We all want to improve the Quality of our Life, that means for most of us:
More material wealth, more security, keeping up with the Joneses, and whatever we 'think' will help us. Unfortunately, our thinking is not always clear. What we think will improve our life, may turn out worse than we had it before, because we did not 'think' through the implications of having our wish fulfilled. The consequences of our actions usually come and hit us when we don't expect it. Again, we suffer due to our own ignorance, and inability to plan ahead and to foresee what will happen.

Life is Change

Nothing remains the same for very long. The moment we are lulled into the belief that life is stable, something will happen to disturb it. We foolishly often plan for the wrong moment.

There is the famous Hog Cycle, that applies to many things we do, not only Hogs, but any market, even the stock market.

The Hog Cycle

It takes two years to grow a hog. So, one year the price of pork is high and the farmers decide to grow hogs. But by the time the hogs are grown, there is a glut of hogs on the market, because all hogfarmers were doing the same thing, and now the pork prices are low. So, they cut the hog production, which results in increases of the pork price in the time that they don't have hogs ready.

Now, you can fill in, for hogs, any item of your desire in the market place.
You can also see it in traffic, sports, tv, fashion, and any other fad.
We constantly are creating new hog cycles.


Let's start by looking at material wealth as a measure of the quality of life.

It seems to be a given that we should share and share alike, if we were ever to improve the quality of life, no matter how you define the quality of life. This is because we are dependent on each other, and if we don't share, we only feed greed, anger, and envy. We all have different resources, and to live together, we must share those resources. If we don't, the havenots will envy the haves and, if the stakes are high enough, war will ensue. This is not a threat but an observation.

Originally, wars were fought at the village level, then the city, then the county, then the province, then the country, and now continents. Fortunately, it seems that we are finally learning to share. Finally the GDP of under-developed countries is growing. Now, finally, we may call them developing countries. This may slow the developed countries down, but that is not a bad thing! At least it means that those living at the subsistance level have a chance to improve their quality of life

Not Sharing?

Unfortunately, if there is anything we find hard to do, it is sharing! Few of us have learned our lesson in Kinder Garden.

In Ontario, we just gone through an interesting experience, when the previous Government under pressure to cut spending proposed a 'Social Contract'. This contract was to prevent layoffs by cutting work of all workers by 5-10%, by having them take 'Ray Days', i.e. Compulsory time off without pay.

Unexpectedly, it was the Labour Unions who objected. The Government then forced the 'Social Contract' at the 5% level, but was voted out by the Unions at the next election.

The new Government was more ruthless and decided to layoff some 20,000 people (the exact figure is still unknown). And again the unions screamed, but ended up accepting the layoffs, after they had their layoff allowance boosted in negotiations.

This now will create more havenots, while the haves will get richer. I cannot see that contributing to the overall quality of life, but only to the quality of life of some.

It is your guess what the Labour Union's objectives are.

In this age of the 'gimme, gimme' society, I am not holding my breath to find out how many others are willing to share their job.

Population Growth

Limited resources shared by a growing population spells a decrease of resources per capita, and thus a decrease in overall quality of life. And if the statistical distribution of wealth is less than even, more people will suffer.

The world population is still growing at an alarming rate, only being contained by wars and famines. I cannot get away from the notion that population growth is at the root of much serious suffering today. And much of it is at the elementary needs level.

Unless we learn to control our own explosion, we are bound to suffer from our own expansion drift. Our quality of life depends on how well we control the population growth in the rest of the world.

Population growth is not a given, it is created by us.

Distribution of Resources & Wealth

We have already reached the point where the total of our consumption exceeds the total of our resources. This is what leads to poverty and what requires both redistribution and population growth control. If you break down the GDP, you find that the economy consists of a pyramid with some 6 major layers of activities. The ratios vary from society to society.

It is clear that it is only category #1 which is essential and which is supporting the whole of the rest of society. All economic activity, including the market economy depends on the Natural Resources Industry. That is what feeds us and what provides all we need to make anything else possible.

The frightening thing is that the Natural Resources Base is slowly disintegrating as our resources are being exhausted and polluted, while farmers and fishermen are going broke. To fix that takes more than redistribution of wealth and reduction in population growth, it takes a complete holistic and ecological approach to the economy.

It is called Ecological Economy. Is there anyone ready to tackle that? That takes more than world peace, world socialism, or world economy. For now, world economy has only helped it get worse in some areas, while trying to develop others.

We got a long way to go baby!