Consumerism and capitalism have been driving forces for the growth of wealth and the expansion of world economies. However, a study led by psychologists at the University of Bath has shown the pitfalls of these systems and that they have had dire consequences for the health of the planet and its population.
Studies show that global income inequality – the gap between the amount of money the poor and the rich make – has almost doubled in size in the past two decades. This accumulation of money in a small percentage of people has pushed more and more into poverty and hugely contributed to climate change. Research shows this desire to pursue unending economic growth and the lifestyle that accompanies it has been key in driving the use of resources and increasing pollution.
The new paper surveyed 8000 people from 33 countries spanning six continents to look into if this way of life is really what people aspire towards. Each person was asked what sum of money they would want to achieve their “absolutely ideal life” spread over their lifetime. In 86 percent of countries, most people estimated they could accomplish this with 10 million US dollars or less, and some countries averaged one million dollars.
These figures sound like a lot, but when compared to the world’s single richest person, this is pocket money. Worth over 200 billion dollars, Elon Musk’s wealth is enough for more than two hundred thousand people to achieve their “absolutely ideal lives!”
People with unlimited wants were found in every country across, but they were always the minority. This group tended to be young, city-dwellers whose core values were placed around power, success, and independence. Interestingly, people with unlimited wants generally came from countries with greater acceptance of inequality and which focused more on the collective.
“The ideology of unlimited wants, when portrayed as human nature, can create social pressure for people to buy more than they actually want,” said lead researcher Dr. Paul Bain “Discovering that most people’s ideal lives are actually 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 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 wealth that is limited, 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.”
Source study: Nature Sustainability – Evidence from 33 countries challenges the assumption of unlimited wants