MD economics of want and greed

From: Wim Nusselder (
Date: Sat Aug 23 2003 - 15:56:58 BST

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    An attempt at applying a MoQ to economics:

    Economics needs a new paradigm. The present one, serving economic growth and
    those who benefit from it, has quit serving humanity. GNP is less correlated
    with human well-being and humanity than it used to be. Being a stream
    quantity and not a stock quantity (as 'growth' wrongly suggests), GNP can be
    compared to a running tap. As long as thirst is humanity's main need and
    want, a faster running tap correlates with more well-being and a decrease in
    suffering that impedes human flourishing. This correlation becomes less when
    some people, having quenched their thirst, use it to indulge other wants,
    when a faster running tap becomes a measure of status and power and when
    restricting others' access to one's tap induces ruinous conflicts.

    I define economics as (our study of) the way in which we organize that
    people get what they need (some more than that, other not at all). Or, less
    morally biased: (our study of) the way in which we organize that people get
    what they want.
    The key concept is want...


    Every system of ideas is founded in metaphysics. Or in denial of the need
    for it, which amounts to an anti-metaphysics which has the same founding
    That is, if metaphysics is understood to mean our answers to three
    1) How can we know? (epistemology)
    2) What can we know? (ontology)
    3) How can we know what we should do? (meta-ethics)
    My answers are:
    1) We can only know by experience.
    2) Only Quality or value can be known experientially.
    3) We can only know what we should do by attaching differential meaning to
    alternative actions.

    I experience, therefore I am. I act to give my existence meaning.

    Experience is structured and patterned.
    Structure enables us to distinguish different experiences. The
    smallest entity of experience is a 'Quality event'. Quality
    events differ at least temporally or spatially from each other.
    We can distinguish myriads of other 'qualities' however that can
    be present in a Quality event (or not).
    Recognizing a pattern implies experiencing similarity (equality
    of at least one quality) between Quality events that are
    temporally or spatially different.
    Patterns 'demand' explanation. It is an essential human urge to
    ask 'why' a pattern exists and endures. Children learn early that
    the 'normal' answer is that 'someone wants it'. Someone
    apparently values creating, preserving or reproducing that
    pattern. Experiencing a relatively stable (in time) or consistent
    (in space) pattern of values implies experiencing the value of
    creating, preserving or reproducing it.
    Children also learn early to want things themselves. They are asked why they
    do things. They learn to identify with a pattern of values in their
    experience, with 'I', a pattern of creating, preserving and reproducing
    other patterns. They learn to extrapolate the development of these latter
    patterns into the future and that an accepted answer to 'why do you do
    that?' describes a future state in such a development: something they want!
    'I' is a collection of 'wants'.
    Children learn that some wants are more acceptable to others than
    other wants. Some kinds of wants somehow never come true whatever
    they do ... apparently someone else does NOT want it...
    They learn 'how to get what you want' and 'to want no more
    than you can get' as two sides of the same coin.

    We do things because we want things. We want things that give our
    existence meaning.
    Any possible action has a (superficial) instrumental meaning: it
    is (or is not) a way to get something we want.
    The metaphysical question 'how can we know what we should do?'
    can thus be split into 'how can we know what we should want?' and
    'how can we know how we can get what we want?'.
    The first sub-question is still metaphysical. My answer is still
    that we can only know what we should want by attaching meaning to
    possible wants.
    The second sub-question can be reduced to the non-metaphysical
    question 'how can we get what we want?', IF we assume (as our
    culture does) that we experience our wants independently from
    what we can get. If that assumption is true, we can determine
    experientially whether we have got what we wanted. Any
    possible 'way to know how' to get what we want is then
    falsifiable: just try it (that 'way to know how'), apply the
    results (the knowledge) and if we don't get what we want, it
    apparently was a wrong way.

    We not only do things because we want things, however. Most of what we do is
    involuntary. Usually we do not attach meaning to a want before doing
    something that gets us at it. We do not answer prospectively 'why should I
    do it' but retrospectively 'why did I do it'. We do not act, but we behave
    and rationalize our behavior
    Even our actions, the things we do do with prior motivation, are
    more often than not motivated with avoiding things we don't want
    rather than getting things we want.
    Our inability to choose between all the things we could get, often makes us
    choose a course of action that leaves open as many options as possible. Just
    making money for instance, or saving for possible future wants what we don't
    really want now. For money is a to make other people do what we want them to
    And last but not least, for lack of really wanting something
    ourselves, we often take for guidance what other people have
    got, supposing that if they (apparently) wanted it, it must
    be worth wanting. Homo sapiens, 'the knowing human', has always
    been a predominantly social animal, knowing relatively little
    individually and drawing heavily on collective knowledge about
    what we should want and how we should get it. Historically
    the main 'way to know WHAT to want' AND 'way to know HOW to
    get it' has simply been to copy other people's behavior and
    motivating our actions with the help of whatever stories are
    available about why people (or Gods ...) want things.

    On the other hand even if we do something involuntary this
    behavior is driven by differences in quality between behavioral
    options. We often do experience quality in what we do after we
    have done it even if we haven't consciously wanted it previously.
    Reflexes (e.g. closing your eyes when something comes to close)
    are an extreme example. Prospectively motivated actions are only
    the other extreme with a lot of retrospectively rationalized
    behavior in between.
    Prospectively motivated action is the best guarantee that we get
    what we want, but if we usually don't really know what we want
    (apart from avoiding some things, leaving options open and
    keeping up with the Joneses), why bother...

    Most of what we do therefore forms patterns of values very
    similar to the patterns we experience in the instinctive behavior
    of related animals or patterns of values that are more distinctly
    human but equally irrational.

    Want, defined as unsatisfied wants, is a rather elusive phenomenon...

    It is against this background that I want to develop my economic thinking
    and my political economy, a system of ideas about how we organize that the
    members of our society get what they want and how we should organize it.
    Such a system of ideas should establish four things:
    1) How can we know what people want?
    2) What is the present economy, i.e. in what (organized) way do
    people now get what they want?
    3) What should the economy be?
    4) How can we change (where necessary) the present economy?

    [to be continued]

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