Economics, human nature, and contentment

I suppose I could have called this post something along the lines of analysis of capitalism and socialism/communism along with human nature and contentment. Whatever.

Socialism’s problems are much more readily obvious than capitalism. Usually summarized as something along the lines of:

  • Governmental corruption
  • Lack of desire/motivation of people to start businesses due to profits being reduced heavily from taxation
  • Lack of productivity
  • Envy/covetousness of what others have**

** Thanks to Chris in the comments for mentioning this.

Capitalism comes with some obvious and not-so-obvious problems:

  • Greed — pretty obvious
  • Exploitation of the market — fairly obvious. Reduction of costs and wages (outsourcing) is one of the biggest issues here in pursuit of profit above all else.
  • Products are geared to exploit addiction — probably the least obvious.

The reason for this post was to specifically talk about the last one. In socialist markets, there are also products geared to exploit addiction, but it can most readily and obviously be exploited in a more capitalistic leaning market.

Smoking is a surefire product that aims to exploit addiction with nicotine. So are addictive drugs like opiates or any other possible drug where people chase a “high.”

However, most people don’t think of foods or other products in this way. I discussed this a bit in food porn (well, the post is short so here’s the whole thing again):

The most prevailing theory now in obesity research is the concept of food reward.

Basically, the concept of food reward is based around the hedonic pleasure derived from taste. This hedonic pleasure derived from certain foods short circuits the brain, much like an addiction, and encourages increased food intake. The main offenders are foods that have increased sugar/starch, salt, and fat in certain proportions which send signals to the brain to continue eating.

Potato chips are one of the best examples because of the prevalence of starch (the potato itself), salt (copious amounts), and roasted or baked in fat (usually vegetable oils). They are a notoriously addictive food, and there are even marketing tactics around this fact. Lays — “Bet you can’t eat just one.”

Just as marketing is fixated around the sexualization of men and women, so too the food industry is fixated around making food as addictive as possible. After all, they want you to buy more because that means more money. This is one of the inherently negative aspects that all capitalistic societies[1] manifest: greed.

Gluttony is simply one form of how greed manifests. This is why obesity is ugly.

[1] Socialist societies are negative for other reasons.

Indeed, all of the massively sugary or fatty or salty foods including combinations of all of those are designed to be exploit the addiction of taste. You want more and more and more.

Restaurants are similar to that. The restaurant that can best exploit the market via a combination of price and taste stand at the top. For example, Starbucks has been so successful in such a market that their quarterly earnings are at about 5.71 billion, and all of their shares summed up are worth 82.43 billion.

Indeed, what inevitably happens in a capitalistic society is a sort of “globalization” of such companies. As a product gains more popularity, it takes in an increasing market share. If there are enough forces to drive the market share up high enough (and in particular in restaurants there generally are), it tends to force similar but smaller stores out of business.

Walmart is a good example with their low(er) prices than most competitors and their ability to minimally wage their workers has led to the Walton family’s combined fortune of $130 billion, the largest in America (and probably the world).

Note: I’m not saying that minimal wage is a “bad” thing either because there are a lot of factors that go into it. Neither am I saying that a CEO making big bucks is bad either because it’s not. Surface value judgments are sometimes not very accurate.

The ugliness of human nature simply manifests differently in two drastically different economic settings. Socialization has the greedy government officials power grabbing and money hoarding with the businessmen buying them off. Capitalism has exploitation of human desire in various different ways (taste, sex, convenience, etc.) manifested into corporate greediness above all else.

All of this is to say that any ‘economic system’ can play a role in stimulating and bringing forth evil from human desire.

Anyway, the point is that I think it’s a good thing to be aware of how much goes into marketing and exploiting human desires, so that we can learn to be content.

Philippeans 4:10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak [g]from want, for I have learned to be [h]content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things [i]through Him who strengthens me.

That’s the correct context of “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me.” How to be content in all circumstances, whether with little or much.

1 Tim 6:6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.

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2 Responses to Economics, human nature, and contentment

  1. Chris says:

    I think you make a mistake attributing greed to capitalism, without the corresponding entry for envy under socialism. Greed is a human condition, not related to any particular economic theory. While capitalism allows it, maybe even rewards it, socialism tries to stifle it by burying it with envy. Folks get tasty food, and good coffee from greedy capitalists. What do they get from socialists? Envy and anger.

  2. @ Chris

    Good point. I’ll put that into the OP.

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