Are We Hardwired To Be Greedy?

Hardwired Into Our Brain
Hardwired Into Our Brain

New Scientist this week features an article casting money as a psychologically-rooted instrument. It may be a tool in the market to trade for goods, but it can be perceived by our minds as something with deeper significance and even activate the same centers of the brain as addictive drugs like cocaine and nicotine.

We have long associated money as the “root of all evil,” but perhaps it is more accurately a source for bad behavior. In the article, author Mark Buchanan explores the recent studies done in the fields of marketing, anthropology, and psychology showing an interesting trend linking money with narcissistic and competitive behavior. Of course, this might not be news to you. Turns out some of us are predisposed to this type of behavior, while others are inclined to treat money as an friend rather than a drug or compulsion.

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Say No to Bonuses

AIG paid more than 20 times the average US yearly income to executives in bonuses.

We own a substantial amount of companies that were on the brink of going under not to long ago. Now they are trying to defend what they call “retaining” bonuses: extra money to keep on executives. These are not the average “good-job, here’s a grand” bonuses that most professionals might be accustom. These are more than $1,000,000 bonuses. That is 20 times the average yearly income in the US – in a yearly bonus! 52 people who received these payouts are no longer with the company.

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New Parenthood Without Consumerism

babypile
Babies have simple needs

Any day now I will be changed in one of the most dramatic ways a person can be; changed by the birth of my first child. While we were at our midwife’s clinic yesterday I found myself flipping through a copy of Pregnancy magazine.

While it is fair to say this periodical is not in my typical reading repertoire, I did see an article that caught my steady-state-oriented mind, “How many activity mats does a baby really need?” by Pamela Paul. In a magazine with pages of ads and articles mostly written about what to buy, it was relieving to see an attempt to tell you not to buy.

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Accountability in Media?

Jon Cramer on Daily Show
Jon Cramer on Daily Show

The financial crisis is largely attributed to the collapse of the housing market and reckless leveraging of bad securities. Recently Jon Stewart began a campaign on The Daily Show to expose the effects of our corporate-owned media’s influence on this crisis, namely CNN (no link to them for a reason).

Our media should be a protected, locally-sourced, community-driven industry. It should not be corporate owned, money-driven. Radio and TV were once a community service, now they are a community annoyance.

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Fair Distribution: Ending the Wealth Gap

Tax cuts in 2006 gave 70 percent of their benefits to the top 5 percent of Americans

The growth-centered nature of our world economy is relatively new. For most of human history, growth has been slow and almost stagnant. Over the last 200 years (essentially since the invention of fossil-fuel driven machines) that has changed significantly and our growth has largely benefited us: increased our health and means. That is, until sometime between the 1950s and the 1980s when growth become uneconomic and actually harmful to our happiness.

Today, most of that “economic” growth now goes to the Liquidating Class, the top 1 percent of our economy. According to some Northwestern University economists quoted in Bill McKibben‘s book Deep Economy, “the top 1 percent of wage earners ‘captured far more of the real national gain in income than did the bottom 50 percent'” between 1997 and 2001.

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Quaker says “Go Humans Go”?

Quaker Billboard
Quaker Billboard

I can’t help but think that it is an oddly ironic slogan to appear in an economic crisis. Is the Quaker Oatmeal guy trying to give us some socioeconomic encouragement? Is he trying to tell us to “get back into the game” and buy/consume more?

We all could use a cheerleader from time to time, right? When times get tough it’s nice to have someone on our side to rally us  “into the game.” As time gets tough economically, who better than the Quaker Oatmeal guy, right?

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The Great Disruption

The Great Depression

A fellow citizen sent me an article; one that I feel everyone should read. New York Times columnist and writer of The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas L. Friedman (not to be confused with Benjamin Friedman) recently wrote about our dire times and what Paul Gilding calls “The Great Disruption” – “when both Mother Nature and Father Greed have hit the wall at once.”

As Friedman notes in his article “The Inflection Is Near?“:

“We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese …

We can’t do this anymore.”

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Development vs Growth

In a steady-state economy the focus is on development versus growth. As Herman Daly puts it, growth refers to “physical scale of the matter/energy throughput that sustains the economic activities of production and consumption of commodities.”  In other words, growth is the increasing of production and consumption of goods and services. This is a quantitative increase in scale. Development is a qualitative improvement of the same scale. A contained system (the Earth, for example) can develop inside but does not significantly grow. (Daly, Beyond Growth)

econecosystemWe live in a contained system, of which our economy is a large part of and, currently, the largest driving factor in changes within that system. In our system, we can choose to develop or “grow,” but our growth is limited by the constraints of that same system (e.g. Earth’s natural capital). If we change our focus to development, we will increase the quality of our lives (qualitative development) instead of the amount of production and consumption (quantitative growth).

As our system is right now, we are increasing the production and consumption, but decreasing the quality of our lives.

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