Motivation and capitalism

Mon, 10 Nov 2014

People's Motivation

I believe that people, naturally and deep down, want to make the world a better place.  I don’t think philosophy (let alone economics) can prove that is the right goal, but I do believe it is a good one (whether justified on evolutionary, religious or other grounds).

Trying to make the world a better place is definitely easier said than done.  I believe the biggest challenge is knowledge: knowing how to achieve that goal.  Much of what is wrong in the world can be explained by people taking shortcuts, failing to fully consider the impact of their actions.

For example, it is a lot easier to think about the impact of your actions on your company or family or self, than on the whole world.  That could be blamed on selfishness, but I prefer to believe that these people, if they did look more broadly, would not take actions that they knew to make the world worse.

I often don’t know how to make the world better, and am often guilty of making simplifying assumptions.  While there is a lot of merit in trying to improve my understanding of the world, I believe their is as much to be achieved by acknowledging my assumptions, and where my conclusions are limited (hopefully this comes across in the blog!).

(I’m sure by this point some of you will be thinking, “Isn’t that all obvious?” and some of you be thinking, “how could Guy be so stupid and naive?” - that’s the joy of having a diverse readership!)

 What it means for capitalism

My beliefs about people wanting to make the world better may seem completely at odds with capitalism.  Surely if people were motivated by global and societal improvement, they wouldn’t be motivated by incentives like money?  While I definitely believe it is right to do what makes the world best irrespective of how it changes your personal position, I do think it is right to consider incentives, for three reasons: