“Man is by nature a social animal”Aristotle
By nature, we (as human being) are living in societies. To maintain their cohesion, societies are based on shared values and rules that one need to respect to be part of it.
In return to respecting those values and rules, the society brings protection (security, health) and prosperity (shelter, food) to its members.
Until now, part of the social contract is to be an active participant of the economy and to make it grow to provide the promised prosperity to everyone doing his part of the job.
Prosperity can be defined as the fulfillment of needs of an individual. But needs vary according to each individual, as they are composed of the basic material needs, more or less constant and the same for everyone, to be filled in first, and the positional goods, defined as expensive and signifying social status. Access to them depends on the income relative to others (Wiedmann et al., 2020)[i].
Prosperity = Material Needs + Social Status Goods
Prosperity is not an absolute value that can be reached collectively or individually. It is a relative notion dependent on the social expectations of individuals, linked to the relative income of the individual to the rest of the society.
Research has shown that individual happiness is linked to the individual’s income, but this happiness is negatively impacted by the increase of the peer group’s income (Clark et al., 2018)[ii].
Consequently, the permanent seek of happiness by the individuals creates a positive feedback loop seeking a permanent income increase.
Indeed, while the collective goal of the society is to ensure the collective well-being (material needs); individuals will try to increase their income materialized by their social status, which will then increase the social prosperity and income affecting the individual’s happiness pushing individuals to increase their income quicker than their social group, which leads to an infinite growth of the prosperity, called today the economic growth.
[ii] Clark, A. E. Four decades of the economics of happiness: where next? Rev.Income Wealth 64, 245–269 (2018).