We’ve grown up in a world obsessed with money. Humans, as a species, have elected money as their governor.

Consumerism and social status

Everybody agrees that money is just a means to a goal, but we usually are very bad at defining that goal. We drift for decades, adding little value to our own lives, let alone society as a whole. We see a photo from Tenerife on Facebook and immediately think we need to get there. We read the story about Samsung’s new phone and we just have to have it. We see some cool clothes and suddenly feel under-dressed.

Thanks to unprecedented access to information, it’s increasingly hard to keep up with so many cool things to have and places to go to. Temptation is everywhere. Soon enough, we need more and more money for stuff we don’t actually need – and ultimately can’t afford – but we can’t stop.

All the big companies out there figured this out and their marketing efforts turn products into must-haves, adding to this pressure, making it close to unbearable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is intentional or that it’s ethically wrong (a debatable topic). Let’s just say it is about business survival and if you’ve ever started a company you know that’s just how things are. What you need to understand is that there’s no real value in most of the stuff we dream about buying.

Even so, if we can’t have all these things we think we need, we become depressed and feel less valuable, because we’re now measuring our self-worth in number of holidays-taken and gadgets-owned, both indicators of social status.

Right under our eyes, what was supposed to be a common scale to put value on things so people can trade, is now a scale of human value. Financial wealth defines us. Let’s face it, we’ve become part of the trade. Benjamin Franklin was right, time IS money. It is now a commodity that we sell bits of in order to increase and maintain our social standing, defined by meaningless purchases. What’s worse is that we continuously take out loans and use the lifetime-installments as justification for continuing to work in a place we hate but that pays well enough to cover our debt.

Irrational spending has become so natural that even people who realize that buying a new car every other year is pointless, still do it. Nobody will admit they’re just a part of a system they can’t control, not because they don’t see it, but because their life is built around it. It’s hard to admit that most of what drives their day-to-day life is just a complex mechanism that powers the economy, by inducing absurd decisions that don’t even make economical sense and rarely bring more than a moment’s joy.

The good news

If that behavior sound coo-coo to you, GOOD! It was bound to fail and the economy collapsed. With unemployment rates going over 10% and countries going bankrupt, we’ve just had a wake-up call. It’s now also clear that…

…the economy is ruled by men, not gods

If this recession proved one thing it’s that the economy is engineered and controlled by error-prone humans. The so-called laws economy abides by are mostly just man-made theories that have stood the test of time… so far. They may or may not prove to work, in the long run.

Nobody would have thought seizing large piles of cash out of your savings account would be possible, let alone the idea be proposed and accepted by the European Union.

What about the rules about taking out a loan? One of them is, clearly, that you have to pay it back, with interest nonetheless, yet during a crisis, that rule gets bent and broken, even though there are billions at stake. Some believe that debt write-off is the ONLY solution for economic recovery.

Weren’t you told that money is under the complete control of a country’s central bank, that any type of money you spend has to have been issued by one? The text books agree, but real-life Bitcoin proved that’s not necessarily true.

The bottom line

It’s naive to think that there’s a mysterious fail-proof force keeping the world safe from people’s behavior. And if you keep letting shiny TV commercials drive your spending habit, things are never going to shape up. The good news is that you don’t need a silver bullet to stop, you just have to find more meaningful ways to lead your life.

However, if you’re running a company…

  • Releasing frequent minor updates to your products creates demand, even if the updates don’t seem at all noteworthy
  • Many things people spend money on only serve one purpose: improving or maintaining their social status. The better those things serve this purpose, the more they’re worth.
  • For the time being, wealth is your new business card. If you want people to buy what you’re selling, projecting wealth will really improve your pitch. As more money equals more value in people’s minds, you’d be a fool not to take advantage of that. At your next high-profile meeting, if you can’t afford a classy car, rent one. Nobody will ask what you drove to the meeting, but be sure they’ll take notice. However…
  • … be smart: wealth does NOT really define people. Even if you project wealth to be more successful, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of invaluable people who don’t have or project wealth at all. While your competitors follow the bling, you should be smarter and keep an eye out for the ones they’re passing over.
  • Don’t price the products you’re selling, price the products they’re buying. It’s all about perceived value, not about production cost+50%. Always make sure you understand why people are buying your product. Social validation is worth a lot these days.
  • Social media creates envy. Envy creates new customers. Don’t forget to share high-quality photos of your product.
  • Don’t be afraid of the big guys. Even monolithic financial institutions and their rules can be disrupted. Never ever take anything “as is”. As ubiquitous as money is, there’s little anyone can do to completely control it.


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