Are We All Economists?— A World of Maximizing

There’s a lot more to economics than just utility and profit-maximizing, but for anyone who casually takes an Econ 101 class and then never revisits the subject again, that’s what sticks. The entire field of behavioral economics exists to challenge those assumptions, but for most people, economics says that rational behavior is profit-maximizing. 

Utility is loosely defined as happiness, and to maximize utility, there needs to be some kind of mindfulness or interpersonal understanding to inform us of what makes us happy. In recent years, however, this doesn’t seem to be present anymore. Bigger is better, and that’s all we care about. 

My friend once surprised me by calling attention to the flaws of the self-care industry, which like most other well-intentioned, feel-good movements, has turned into a vehicle for monetary gains. When treating yourself isn’t retail therapy, it is instead piles of paperback books, an assortment of candles you can’t possibly burn through, and cute trinkets that end up being paperweights (and who needs that many paperweights?).

Pexels

Like all the corporations and industries we love to hate, are we just maximizing everything in our lives? When you’re in a bad mood, you treat yourself to, say, a sweater you see while window shopping. You never wear the sweater. When your budget app asks you how you feel about the purchase, you quickly tell it that you regret it, and then you push the sweater to the back of your closet and the thought to the back of your mind. 

The media, both in the form of popular culture and social networking content, encourages this maximizing mindset. Book-themed Instagram accounts show off entire libraries of color-coded young adult novels. Artsy blogs display their entire pen or marker or paint collection, typically barely used and pristine. Movies and shows depict shopping sprees and "life’s short" attitudes. 

Woman holding card while operating silver laptop Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Greed isn’t new to our vocabulary in this day and age. We see it with the institutions we belong to and the companies we buy from. We don’t like to think that we’re greedy, but the maximalist in us may be. More is better, we think, as we buy the same pair of shoes in every single color and purchase copies of books we’ve already read purely to display on bookshelves. 

I like scrolling through product recommendations as much as the next person, but deeper reflection might be the key to help us maximize not everything, but just our satisfaction. Like the saying goes—give it a few weeks (months?) between wanting to buy something and actually swiping your card for it. It’ll help your wallet, peace of mind, and the environment. 

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