“The invisible hand” she told us, eyes gleaming with excitement, her bleach blond hair too shiny of a distraction. At that time, it seemed to me as if the concept of market equilibrium were life altering. Today, it sounds laughable.
I do not, by any means, wish to demean Adam Smith in any way, I do however wish to reflect on that particular moment, when that woman confidently asserted that the market would eventually adjust itself. More importantly however, that that was good for me.
I learnt to dismiss the notion, particularly since it was theoretical in essence, as all economic models are. There is no such thing as a pure capitalism. There was however another term that I came across recently that made my soul itch, with laughter on the one hand, fury on the other. The page read: Gross National Happiness.
Yes, it exists.
I was shocked, or to use a better term, mortified that any economist would have the audacity to go as far as identify “happiness determinants”. Apparently these include (but are not restricted to) individual income (shocker), social security, employment and leisure. Utility I could accept, but happiness? Nidhi Dave’s words came to me as bright as day: “Happiness is not very good for the economy”.
For years, mankind has lived under this false impression that happiness had to have some form of material manifestation. A successful fulfilling life often boiled down to several things. First of those is wealth, enough of it to buy comfort, and if lucky, a lavish living. Unfortunately, our definition of happiness has instilled a hunger for consumption that even the most human of our actions entails some form of monetary transaction. An overpowering belief that Consumption is good for my country’s economy, also suggests that it’s good for me. But Not really.
The truth is that all business is founded on one maddening concept: human dissatisfaction.
Think of the happiness determinants. How do you get people to slave for some meaningless job that in essence, is really not a whole in itself? Promise them that eventually they will get a higher income, which no matter how high, will never ever seem enough. How do you get people to believe that their job is their only and ultimate priority? Set constraints on their time for leisure. If you are happy for too long, you forget what “really matters”. How do you get someone to leave a whole life behind, even if it’s on the other side of the planet, to work for you? You make their home, everything they already know, feel empty and foreign. How do you get people to buy? You take something away from them. Worse, focus on what they don’t have, instead of what they have. Shatter their self-esteem or remind them that they, too, are aging. Make them feel left out (let’s get real, the iPhone 7 was really just a replica of iPhone 6s). Make them feel that they HAVE TO fit in. that they MUST be trendy. How do you get them to buy life insurance? Make them worry about surviving everything in a system that has been designed to kill them slowly. Add pressure to their already stressful lives with quests to meaningless pursuits that they choose to take anyway. Why? To be happier. Never happy, but happier.
Achieving some sort of material and financial security becomes the ultimate goal, rather than internal and emotional stability. As Nidhi Dave puts it, in our world, “to be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act”. To be happy, and content, with our raw naked selves, becomes a triumph that no one recognizes, let alone awards.