Don’t Blame Human Nature

Screenshot 2018-02-12 09.20.03

The other day one of my students said, “It’s human nature just to want more and more.” Any time I teach the classics in political economy I hear this. Supposedly, we are hardwired to be acquisitive creatures with wants that can never be satisfied.

Surely my credit debacle seems to testify to this. Why would someone with an income in the top 6% get up to $107,000 in credit card debt — plus the home equity, car, and mortgage debt — unless she is inherently desirous of more and more?

Human nature is the easy answer. It is also, I think, the wrong one.

For one thing, the more I live on a budget, the happier and more hopeful I am. Even though my style is cramped, I am feeling freer and better about what I already have and also a bit horrified whenever I think about making an unnecessary purchase.

Second, I have grown me some patience. For example, there are certain home improvements I want to make — including replacing my fireplace –and before I wanted them NOW. But now I am happy to wait for the time, not terribly long from now, when I’ll be out of debt, cash-flowing kids’ college, and setting aside some money for home improvements.

Third, and most importantly, I realize that my money problems have psychological roots, not roots in a supposed human nature. Things happened in my childhood that created a hunger for care. As an adult, that hunger was temporarily met with a trip to Bloomingdales or, literally, a cartful of groceries at Whole Foods. The more I deal with the real roots of my hunger, the less I need to deny them and seek substitutions.

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