Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

How would the economy work in a world where people weren't materialistic?

Asked by wundayatta (58377 points ) December 8th, 2011

We’ve been in a recession for a few years now and it’s been bad for many people who are out of work. Most jobs make stuff (or ideas) and people are encouraged to make stuff because other people will buy it. The more that is bought, the more people are needed to make it and the more jobs there are. The more people work, the more money they make and the better off they think they are.

So the jobs depend on people buying stuff. Christmas is, at least in part, about good will towards others and helping each other out, especially people in bad situations, where they have no homes or food or jobs. The best way to create jobs is to create demand for stuff. Christmas is also about buying stuff, which will help the whole economy and help people out of poverty.

And yet…

People almost universally decry the materialistic aspect of Christmas. It shouldn’t be about things people don’t really want or need. It should be about something deeper. A spirit of generosity, perhaps. Good will. We don’t need stuff to be happy or fulfilled.

So, suppose we weren’t a materialistic society. Suppose no one bought stuff. What would happen? What would happen to income distribution and wealth distribution? How would a non-materialistic society work? Would any of you be happy in such a society? Honestly?

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18 Answers

judochop's avatar

I think it would look more like communism which personally I would love.

Coloma's avatar

I would, absolutely.
Sure, I’ve enjoyed a few of the finer things in life, I have also been on both sides of the financial fence and my personal philosophy is nobody should work more than a 6 hour day, and preferably a 6 hour, 4 day work week.
I would happily and easily forgo extra “stuff” of all kinds if this were a reality.
I also have long felt that the stress of survival in modern society is responsible for much relational disconnect and adversity, it is nearly impossible to properly nurture children and any relationship when people are forced to work and be away from home 50 or more hours per week.

There are only so many hours in a day and families and relationships get the short end of the stick almost always.
I have long been a proponent of ” we are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS ”, but, in our society this philosophy is not embraced.
The american “work ethic” is closer to indentured servitude and those that choose to work less hours are often considered lazy rather than smart and possessed of a healthy attitude.
Employers frown upon those with healthy self esteem and boundaries that are not willing to be exploited for all they are worth, or, that do not, voluntarily, volunteer to work extra hours or overtime.

I think a focus on more time and less materiality would render some remarkable results, but, I don’t see that happening anytime soon, if ever.

I’ve spent the last 8 years working part time and loving it, and am not at all happy with having to ramp it up again, as I will have to, in the new year.
So much for semi-retirement….I knew it was too good to be true! haha

Blondesjon's avatar

Read The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.

gondwanalon's avatar

When you say “materialistic” do you really mean “capitalism”? Capitalism has helped to make the U.S.A. the most powerful county on Earth.

Throughout the history of civilization we’ve never had it so good as in recent years. Yet we still sit around on perfumed pillows even in a recession and pontificate our navels and whine about life not being completely fair or easy.

I’m no economist so I can only guess that if factories stopped making stuff (like medical equipment, medicine, toys, smart phones, computers, clothes, tools, cars, medical research halted etc, etc) then our lives would likely become harder and shorter. We wouldn’t have more time on our hands to socialize and loaf around as we would likely be spending all day every day working our butts off and fingers to the bone in the fields for food.

Paradox25's avatar

Pure communism. The Amish and early Christians are examples of communist societies.

laureth's avatar

A gift economy might be part of the answer here.

incendiary_dan's avatar

To build on @laureth‘s contribution: material isn’t the problem, simply greed is. Cultures that practice gift economies, you’ll notice, happen to tend to enjoy plenty of material wealth, just not useless trinkets and disposables.

wonderingwhy's avatar

Sigh, perhaps once we can each manage to see that those around us are more important than ourselves we’ll have a chance at finding out. I believe all the advancements of individualistic materialism can be achieved in its absence through individuals recognizing the greatest value of their work comes in its benefit to society. But we have to work together even when greed blinds us and keeps us apart.

wundayatta's avatar

I could be wrong, of course, but it seems to me is that greed is what keeps people employed. Greed is what keeps people fed and housed. If we give up greed, there will be no reason to work any more because there will be no jobs. Or only those jobs making the things we absolutely need.

It seems to me that the disparity in wealth and income would grow even wider than it is now, unless there was some radical taxation scheme to redistribute wealth. If there was, then perhaps people would buy more stuff that was the stuff they absolutely needed and not stuff that is wasteful.

Right now, we could redistribute wealth if we started taxing the rich the way they should be taxed. But if we did, and somehow gave it to people to help them live better, would their spending revive the economy? But is that materialism?

The gift economy is about status, too. Whoever is the most generous has the most status. But still, how much do you give away? You don’t want to impoverish yourself. Not sure what is really going on there.

@wonderingwhy That is a wonderful sentiment. Could you tell me how that would work on the level of an individual’s economic behavior?

tedd's avatar

It wouldn’t.

Capitalist economy is predicated entirely upon materialism and to some level greed. That is what makes it great, and it is also it’s greatest flaw.

EverRose11's avatar

I would, I have recently been very aware of all we consume, and waste and I am finding it disgusting. I believe becoming aware of all that is wrong , and all the seemingly evil plots possibly going on with all the 1% has my mind reeling , I have been seriously re assisting life in general and on how did we get to here. When and how did money become an idol in all our lives. We live to work, eat and consume, surely Life was meant to more than just this. Yeah I could live more simply and I am now working towards doing just that.

wundayatta's avatar

@EverRose11 Do you care about comfort? Do you care what others think about you?

EverRose11's avatar

@wundayatta Comfort can always be found, I have learned this from my many travels, And no just this past year I have come to just not care what others think of me, After giving much thought about the whole caring what other;s think of us. Seriously what stops an unhappy woman from leaving her husband or lover? What prevents someone who is miserable in his job from making a switch? To what extent are those decisions inhibited by worry about what other people might think? Ultimately it comes down to us looking for approval, and in some cases making sure we don’t receive disapproval from others. That ever need in us for approval has been conditioned in us from the day we were born. Approval from others gives us a sense of higher self-esteem. We’re convinced now even as adults that others recognition matters to our self worth and how deeply we value ourselves. When I faced the difficult decision to leave my family after my Mother passed away, I was still in a state of shock of losing her, so I moved like a Zombie, But I knew deep inside I could not stand being around as they rummage through our things because I was living with her and I would have had to fight over material things and I did not have the strength to do that, with all of those questions going through my mind, it wasn’t until I asked one very important one that I realized what I needed to do: “Why would I continue to stay in a situation that was making me increasingly miserable?” I soon realized the only solution was to do what was right for me, no matter the outcome. When I was able to let go of caring about what other people thought and make my decisions free and clear of other people’s opinions, I could easily and powerfully move forward on my own terms. What I have learned through this is There are two types of decision makers in the world. The first are internal decision makers. These are the people who self-analyze every step, every option, every possible outcome and never talk it through with others. This doesn’t mean they don’t care about others opinions. In fact, my experience is that it is quite the opposite. They’ve been burned so many times, they choose to make their decisions on their own as a way of avoiding being rejected. The second is an external decision maker. These people constantly seek the opinions of others, asking for their approval in ways such as, “Do you like this idea?, Does this dress look nice on me? these types of people simply can not move forward without the validation from others. Have you ever come up with an idea that you thought was brilliant? You said to yourself, “No one else has ever thought of this” and you’re going to make millions of dollars on it, right? You tell your sister, best friend, neighbor and they say, “That’s a ridiculous idea! No one will ever buy that.” Bam! You’ve been stopped cold before you ever had the chance to get your idea off the ground. What happened to the dream? It died on the table. Someone else’s opinion meant more to you than your dream.Caring what other people think has significant impact on our lives; it more often than not represses us, which in turn keeps us in a sort of purgatory, afraid of the consequences of pursuing the life we really want. So yes @wundayatta I do not care any longer what others think of me and I and happier for it.

wundayatta's avatar

@EverRose11 You asked, “When and how did money become an idol in all our lives.” It occurred to me that most people care about comfort and they care about what others think. Money buys us things that make us comfortable (e.g. barcaloungers), and money is our reward for pleasing others in many situations (mostly in workplaces).

If you don’t care for comfort or what others thing, then certainly, money won’t be an idol. Others have different priorities. Not sure it would be fair to say money is an “idol,” though. Just a means to an end.

EverRose11's avatar

@wundayatta I have learned there is a happiness that no words can express when I am a bit dusty, my hair has not been washed for a day or two, and I open the flap on my makeshift tent, I crawl out and I am hit with the hugs of the homeless and hungry children I am there in Africa to care for. Yeah That is my sort of comfort. This is the life style I am most comfortable, the life that makes sense to me is when I am uncomfortable as millions of others are in this WORLD. And when I am here living in the States and I see the waste, and the pettiness on small trivial matters I feel a bit at loss to what is life really about…. Little matters to me these days. I believe there must be more to life then Pleasing others to GET MONEY to Buy things? But that’s just me.

wundayatta's avatar

@EverRose11 That is just you, and I hear you. Your psychology requires that you feel like you are really doing something to help. You need to be personally involved. That makes life feel like you are accomplishing something worth while.

Others get their meaning differently. They may want to be seen as important. They may need prestige that comes from hiring others or ordering others around or teaching others or being listened to. They may also want physical comfort. They don’t want to sleep on the hard ground. It might hurt their backs. They might not sleep at all. They don’t like flies in their eyes or food or getting stomach disorders all the time. They might not want malaria, which is endemic in some parts of the world.

I’m sure everyone judges. You might not care at all for the prestige that comes from running a big business that makes lots of money. You might prefer the prestige that comes from keeping a dozen kids from getting malaria. Or teaching them how to build solar stoves from locally available materials and use those stoves to cook nutritious meals. Or from teaching agricultural practices that double the yield of their crops.

The skills on a managerial level might be the same. The community is different. Some people just don’t care about what people who speak another language think of them. They want prestige in the community they were born in. They need to be in a context that makes sense to them.

Others think there’s no place in their home community. Let me go and make a place elsewhere, where I can see the difference I make. Either choice is a statement of a value and an aesthetic. I don’t think they compete, but lots of people do try to argue that one choice is more important than the other.

I no longer care what others choose. My choices are based on the unique circumstances of my life, and no one else has a grasp on all that’s involved the way I do. After all, as with us all, I am the only one who has lived my exact life.

EverRose11's avatar

@wundayatta I have developed and was a CEO for a rather Large company, I did order people around, I taught, I earned man did I earn ! Yes I was a part of that world and No gratification was found. I stumbled upon helping others, Not so much as a need to do such acts, but a want, I walked away and reentered the corporate World I had wealth, and Glitz, I jetted around and met all the people beautiful or so they believe. I walked away stayed dormant for a few years . I was pulled back to the third world country The Philippines and ever so gingerly I injected myself into the world of the homeless children there , slowly it dawned on me that it was here I felt more productive than being wealthy ever brought to me

wundayatta's avatar

@EverRose11 I spent most of my life working for social change in my country. I know many people who have been in the Peace Corps, and I have heard their stories. I know lots of organizers and people who have built non-profits for many, many different issues.

After 20 years of work for social change (give or take), I got burnt out because it seemed like all the work I’d done did nothing. I can relate to this idea of working directly with homeless children because it seems to me you could actually see that you were making a difference.

My work was all theoretical. It was all policy analysis. It had to do with health care reform during those decades before it finally became a national issue. My job went kaput before that happened and I was ready for something more stable and most importantly, working for a humanistic boss. I’m in a university now, and I do work for a humanistic boss, but stability in this economy is still elusive.

Of course, all the health care stuff got hot about five years after I got out of the business. It would be nice to think that what I did played some role, but if it did, it was only in a very diffuse kind of way. I can’t point to a child and say I build a home for that child.

I think that we hunger for tangible results. I know I do. Business is good for that because you are constantly aware of the bottom line. In social change, the bottom line is far less tangible. Sometimes you have a victory, but other times, your only victory is in a change in attitudes, and that is difficult to measure. Even if you can measure it, you don’t know what caused the change.

Maybe it doesn’t matter whether it is business or social change. Maybe what matters is whether you are looking at things globally or locally. I have been raised to think of things globally. But local is what makes me feel like I have done something useful or not. I provide retail service right now, although I also do some global stuff. It’s better to have both, for me. And fluther, also helps.

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