THE EXPERT WITNESS: Sufficient affluence/sustainable economy - Economics for everyone (episode four)


By John F. Sase, Ph.D.
Gerard J. Senick, general editor
Julie G. Sase, copy editor
William A. Gross, researcher

“The possession of Knowledge, unless accompanied by a manifestation and expression in Action, is like the hoarding of precious metals — a vain and foolish thing. Knowledge, like Wealth, is intended for Use. The Law of Use is Universal, and he who violates it suffers by reason of his conflict with natural forces.”

— The Kybalion, attributed to Hermes Trismegistus (Yogi Publication Society, Chicago, translated and printed 1908)

In Episode Three of this series, we explored the basics of Behavioral Economics in order to refurbish a sustainable economy with sufficient affluence for all of Metropolitan Detroit and beyond. We considered the concepts of Nobel Laureates Robert Shiller and Richard Thaler and others in order to understand the archetypal demons within ourselves that thwart our efforts to maintain renewed prosperity. Ultimately, we hope that this series of articles helps to redirect any negative energy that affects Detroit and to foster a spirit of positivity for the region.

Economics requires that we perceive our needs and wants—our requirements and desires. Consequently, we must understand the difference between what we need and what we want in order to allow them to work together by prioritizing the elements of each in respect to themselves and to one another. In this month’s episode, therefore, we will discuss human needs and wants from a polymath perspective.

Human Needs

Let us begin with our needs and their degree of priority. As an exercise, let us visualize our hierarchy of needs as a pyramid from the bottom up. The American psychologist Abraham Maslow provides us with an effective model of this pyramid from base to peak. He outlined his thoughts on the matter in order to include the following strata:  physiological needs for breathing, eating and drinking, physical stability, sex, sleep, and excretion; security and safety of body and property, employment, resources, morality, family, and health; our social need for love and a feeling that we belong through family, friendship, and physical intimacy; the need for self-esteem, which includes confidence, achievement, and respect for and by others; and self-actualization through spontaneity, creativity, and problem-solving as well as a lack of prejudice and our acceptance of known facts (Maslow, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” Psychological Review, vol. 50, no. 4, 1943, pp. 370-96).

Within this visualization, our basic survival needs rest at the bottom of the pyramid and our transcendent needs of mind and spirit sit atop it. We often exaggerate the importance of time devoted to the wide, largely materialistic base of the pyramid while foregoing opportunities of reaching our highest needs at the peak.


The Nineteenth-Century American industrialist Andrew Carnegie stressed that only the highest and most important forms of wealth satisfy the needs that nurture our peace of mind. The wealthiest individual in Nineteenth-Century America, Carnegie placed financial security in the twelfth out of twelve places while not diminishing the importance of our basic needs. This placement underscores the simultaneous fulfillment of our highest needs, which empower us to address our basic ones in a more effective way. In descending order, Carnegie lists 1) a positive mental attitude, 2) sound physical health, 3) harmony in human relations, 4) freedom from fear, 5) the hope for future achievement, 6) the capacity for applied faith, 7) the willingness to share our blessings with others, 8) engagement in a labor of love, 9) open-mindedness on all subjects toward all people, 10) complete self-discipline, 11) the wisdom with which to understand people, and, finally, 12) financial security.

We may ask ourselves if we should fulfill our needs from the highest aspirations downward through vocation, from the middle through a career, or from the bottom by way of the most fundamental activities for physical survival. Such a fragmented approach results from our specialization of skills in modern society. A “generalist” of the Pre-Industrial Age may suggest that we address all strata of needs simultaneously while attending to abilities that fulfill our most pressing needs. In taking such an approach, we strive to understand, categorize, and prioritize our needs along with those desires that we consider as wants.

Whatever the optimum number and sequence of our needs, this suggested path leads us toward a balanced fulfillment of our goals. We achieve them through the economic process of orchestrating resources that satisfy our requirements and desires as members of a community. In order to find fulfillment in life, we should need what we want and want what we need.

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