Greed isn’t good, it’s one of the 7 deadly dwarfs of the apocalypse!

 

 

Quite reasonably, people have pointed out that Boris Johnson has got it wrong  

 

That’s a good article, although it isn’t as funny as Jeremy Hardy’s brilliant comment on The News Quiz, that formed the title of this piece.

 

It’s interesting  because Boris is apparently very clever.  Apparently he talks five languages fluently, including Russian, English and nonsense.  So how can he be quite so ignorant?

 

For one thing, he talks about IQ as if it is an accurate measure of income, the higher one is, the higher the other.  There is a correlation, but it’s not that great. Intelligence (or whatever it is that IQ and similar tests measure, if you aren’t too sure they’re actually doing what they say on the tin) is the best single predictor of managerial success.  But that doesn’t necessarily correlate to income.  There are plenty of poor, unemployed high-IQ former professors etc. and I’m not sure that Premier league footballers, among the highest paid in the land, would win prizes for intellect.  

 

Boris is, as is normal in politicians of all parties, and all levels of intelligence, confusing what he thinks ought to be true, with what is true.  Like everybody (politician or decent human being) he believes himself to be a “good guy”.  Since he’s wealthy, that can’t be (he believes) because he is lucky (the most probably explanation), a money-grabbing opportunist or any description his enemies might use.  He believes he’s wealthy because he is like he is, a good guy, an intelligent guy and more worthy of money than others who are not like him.  

 

He’s wrong.  He probably is smarter than most people.  But on it’s own, that isn’t reliably going to make him more money.  Nor is he necessarily a harder worker than others, that doesn’t guarantee wealth either.  Or more deserving, or nicer or anything much else.  He’s most likely to be wealthy because lots of things came together for him (the fun way to find this out is to read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, or Bounce by Matthew Syed).

 

So he’s got that wrong.

 

He’s also got the “big picture” wrong.  Greed drives people to want material things, to “keep up with the Jones’s” to be jealous. So yes, that does drive the economy, right enough.  But what country (or world) do we want?  One that is all about having more “stuff” than other people, or one where we’re happy? There’s plenty of evidence that materialistic values lead to unhappiness.  So Boris is saying that he thinks everybody in the UK should pursue misery, but he thinks that’s OK because some (what he regards as the deserving ones, like him) will be happy.

 

Sadly, he’s wrong again.  The limited numbers of rich will be wealthy right enough, but unhappy because they don’t have as much as somebody who is slightly richer.  The person who can have a personal jet and a yacht is miserable because they can’t afford their own island as well, the person with the island can’t afford a huge art collection as well, the person with the art collection (apart from being miserable because their personal life is in the toilet) can’t afford their own planet.  The moderately rich desperately want the stuff the very rich have, and the poor would just like to have something to eat, because all their money has gone on having things that the moderately rich have.  Nobody is happy because all they think about is what they want.

 

Remember, want means not just “I’d like”, but “I’m in want of” = I don’t have.  So you can be in want of food, shelter, friendship, things that are really important. Being in want of a home cinema system or a new BMW is really not up there in the top ten in the “I want” stakes when you look at happiness.

 

And Cameron, whom I understand Boris wants to supplant, did start the promotion of “happiness” (by reinventing the wheel, ignoring all the research and appointing his own pet economist who knew nothing about it to measure the concept).  Of course, Cameron (who had the same sort of education as Boris, and who has had the same sort of opportunities to get rich – see Outliers) has messed that up by ignoring the start that he made as well as all the research that’s out there.  So obviously Boris isn’t alone in being a very limited thinker, despite having the best education that money can buy.

 

But if Boris were to have a think about it he might (if he really is smart) realise that happiness isn’t actually linked to material wealth.  And he wouldn’t even have to think too hard, just read Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert.  That gives a very nice explanation of how we keep that drive to compete going, the drive that makes us all tense, unhappy and obsessed with material goods.  But, as Dan Gilbert says (and Boris could learn, if he’d just shut up long enough), keeping on firing up the economy by encouraging greed, materialism etc. is fine if the only thing you want is a thriving capitalist economy. In fact, it’s essential. If people, in sufficient numbers, start thinking “hang on, I don’t want to do this, I’d rather enjoy my life and be happy, who cares if somebody else has a new car and I don’t, good luck to them”, the economy tends to stumble.  The people get happier, but if they are happy and content they aren’t obsessed with buying things.  And that slows the economy.

 

Personally, I’d rather people were happy, and the economy didn’t grow as fast (or at all).  And everybody I’ve ever met feels the same.  But Boris is promoting a growing economy, although that also means he’s promoting a miserable country.

 

So again, his ignorance means that what he’s saying is handy for promoting a point of view, but that point of view isn’t as self-evidently right as he thinks, and it’s actually wrong in the opinion of most people.

 

And the big impact of Boris’s mistaken understanding is on the individual.

 

A week after we had headlines about pervasive and serious debt and we’ve got record debt levels, we have headlines about Christmas shopping breaking records

 

Nobody seems to have tied these together 

 

But if people are already in debt and are spending money at record levels, what do you think is going to happen to debt?  Will it go:  

a) up,

b) down,

c) stay the same,

d) don’t know as I’m the average politician and I have no idea about finance or anything else,

e)  don’t care as I’m Boris.

 

So my advice to you, whether you’re in debt or not, is don’t spend at record levels.  Ignore Boris.  Work out whether you actually care whether somebody else has something you don’t really want anyway, can’t afford and that will cause you sleepless nights worrying about how you’ll pay for.

 

Get your own money under control by working out what really matters to you.  Then perhaps campaign for a few politicians to start talking sense and taking an interest in the Nation’s well-being and happiness, rather than only in its economy.

 

And if you speak to Boris, tell him to stick to zip wires if he wants to pull a publicity stunt, that way, when it backfires (as everything he does appears to) it will only be him who gets hurt, not everybody else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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