We’ve all heard about the evils of economics: multi-national companies monopolizing the world’s wealth, government policies dictated by economics alone, or wealthy businessmen who care only about money and flaunt their wealth endlessly.
The rest of us, we think, are the victims of this obsession with dollars.
But might this money mentality reach a bit deeper than we think—perhaps into our psyches themselves? To borrow a term from Australian economics, perhaps we are all “economic rationalists.”
In Australian economics, the term refers to those who are neoliberal in their views of a free economy, dictated only by the flow of money. But let’s dissect the term a bit further.
Firstly, a “rationalist” is someone who believes that reason can be relied on as a source of knowledge. Many of us are rationalists in that we do rely on our reason to help us discover what is true and also to live a practical, safe life.
An “economic rationalist” then, we could say, is someone whose rationality itself is centered around economic considerations. Based on this definition, most of us would probably not consider ourselves economic rationalists because we believe we value other things more than money.
But let’s ask ourselves some questions:
>> Is one of my biggest hopes to have more money?
>> Have I ever chosen to work over-time instead of spending time with my family?
>> Do I ever buy the cheapest products at the supermarket or department store, without thinking much about the quality?
>> Before embarking on my career, did I think more about how much money I could make from this career path than my passion for it?
>> Do I devote myself to making more and more money?
>> Do I save all or most of my money?
I think if we answer “yes” to any of these questions, then—at least to a certain degree—our rationality is driven by economics.
I have realized that I, too—to some extent—am an economic rationalist. I hate wasting money, so much so that when I am watching a movie and someone loses a large sum of money, I cringe. And though working part-time at the moment, I sometimes doubt my decision to do this when I think about the rest of my colleagues working full-time and earning twice as much as I do.
But historically, haven’t we always had money in mind? Or just survival?
We certainly have needed to concentrate on surviving—on finding food and shelter and all the essentials. But perhaps now, at this stage in history, what many of us deem as “essential” is a bit of a stretch. Especially since others on the other side of the planet or even a few minutes down the road, are living with much less.
Now, the “essentials” for some of us are: a huge house, a new car, fast food, designer clothes from this season—none of which are essential and all of which require money. So we think we need to work more, to make more money, to pay for our “essentials.”
We need to be honest with ourselves about why we do things.
Not only is money on our minds, it can shape our very values—without us even knowing it.
Sometimes a lack of emphasis on making money can be seen as laziness. This is not only connected to the Protestant work ethic but also to cultural mentalities in different countries such as China. Many of my students are Chinese whose parents have worked very hard to make enough money to send their children overseas to receive an international education of some repute. Hence, to them, money is a sign of hard work.
One of my students said that people in Australia are lazy because they don’t work on the weekends. I thought to myself, “No, they are not lazy. They just value their free time and time with family over making more money.”
The fact that many people don’t work seven days a week shows that they have some balance between money and the other facets of their lives. Although, some of us are just bound by the cap on working hours that the government sets.
Of course, there is a huge number of people all around the world who have to work practically every day of the year just to meet their basic needs. They are not economic rationalists: they are survivalists—just like each and every one of us who, put in that position, would do our utmost to earn a living to feed ourselves and our families.
But for the “lucky ones”—who have all of their basic needs met—money can still be the greatest obsession, sneaking its way into almost every decision made and clinging to the very foundations of their minds.
What seems to be most important is that we are conscious of the values that we want to govern our lives and aware of how economic rationality can infiltrate our psyches without us even knowing. The economic machine is powerful; not only does it control the economies of the world, but it also has a grip on the minds of the citizens who are the cogs in this machine.
We need to consciously choose whether we want to be cogs or free agents.
Author: Peter Gyulay
Editor: Leah Sugerman
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Khara-Jade Warren