New research suggests that no matter how much money you have, you always think you’d be happier if you had more.
What it means: ABBA might think it’s always sunny and funny in a rich (wo)man’s world, but studies by a couple of academics has suggested that most millionaires and billionaires are actually a bit miserable… because they don’t think they’re rich enough.
They say the reason is down to how we decide if we’re doing well financially or not. Instead of counting up our coins or comparing our wealth to the global average, we tend to think about whether we’re (a) richer than we were a short time before, say last year, and (b) richer than the people we interact with on a daily basis - our friends, our family, our neighbours etc. (It’s not just rich people who do this, FYI - apparently we all do.)
That’s interesting from an economic perspective. For instance, it suggests that anyone who wants to create a society in which members feel economically successful (e.g. democratic governments) can’t just raise everyone’s standard of living to a certain level and call it a job well done.
Instead, they have to keep finding ways to raise people’s personal wealth, even after people can comfortably meet all their basic needs. This idea of ever-increasing living standards underpins many people’s obsession with economic growth (i.e. raising the value of all the stuff a society is producing to higher than it was a short time before).
While lots of economists like economic growth, a common criticism of using it as a measure of success is that it encourages societies to keep creating more and more stuff, without always considering the consequences. E.g. production uses up natural resources (including fossil fuel energy) which damages the environment.
And more production usually means more labour (aka work), so people keep having to work long hours (which most people aren’t fans of) even after technological advances mean that we could keep producing stuff at the levels we did historically, but with less labour hours.
We wouldn't even have to take a salary cut, because no drop in production = no money hit for the business (although of course some firms might decide they'd rather increase their profits.)
…So where next? Not only do economic ideas shape the institutions and communities we live in, they also influence our own ideas of personal success – be it earning well, achieving a ‘Dr.’ or ‘CEO’ at the front of our label, or living a sustainable life. But what with the speed at which technology is transforming our economies, we can barely predict what ‘s in store for our economies and where we’ll fit in…