Capitalism is Addiction
This is part of a new series I will do called Capitalism Is. It is not meant to be persuasive; I just want to look at how capitalism in practice works and affects society. I realize the title is a bit clickbaity, but it’s 2018 and this is the internet.
Smoking kills. We all know this. Even people who smoke know this. There are some misconceptions as to how smoking kills – the public service announcements focus on lung cancer even though most smoking deaths occur because of vascular diseases. But I digress, smoking kills about half of its users early and unpleasantly and therefore is excise taxed and banned in certain public places.
Most capitalist societies enact regulations like the ones above to protect its citizens. This is good.
If we look deeper at this issue, we see a pretty big problem. If smoking kills, and the information about how smoking kills and at what rates is easily available online, why do people still smoke, especially those in high-risk groups?
Because humans are very bad at making decisions that benefit them. Now, just because I don’t smoke doesn’t mean I’m smarter than smokers, or any better at making decisions. I went to a school with a smoke-free campus, lived in Santa Monica for a while, with its very strict smoking laws, and live in California, where everyone shames smokers. Plus, my family would have a cow if I was a smoker. Therefore, I have enough pressure not to smoke.
I’m still a human and more specifically an animal. I am still terrible at making decisions. I like short-term gains like delicious meals. Social pressure (again) has caused me to start running for 20 minutes daily.
Okay – so where does capitalism come into play? Well, when selling a product or service on the free market, you want it to be as addictive as possible. You want repeat purchases and customer advocates. Do people talk more about their favorite ice cream or their health insurance plan? Short term gains have higher NPS. I’ve been in many meetings where we brainstormed how to make our product or service more addictive. This is not a nefarious thing. We looked at the customer needs, the benefits, how we could make their life easier, save them money, or give them delight.
Sometimes, in these meetings, I think about the long-term benefit of what we’re doing. Is this serving the customer long-term? Could there be a better choice for them? The answers vary, because the products and services vary. I’ve definitely worked on fantastic products where we were providing very clear short- and long-term benefit to our customers. This way, we could make it both addictive and beneficial. But it takes thoughtfulness, and providing real benefit is not always profitable and even more often not knowable. Because even I, your thoughtful internet guide, am wrong. A lot.
Capitalism evolves based on human decisions, which are often bad. Regulatory bodies try to prevent abuses, but regulatory bodies are also run by humans, who also make bad decisions, no matter how educated or informed they are. For example, the misleading marketing that smoking causes lung cancer. People know way less lung cancer sufferers than vascular disease sufferers. Lung cancer might be more visual, but it also gives people the illusion that the danger of smoking is overblown or exaggerated. This is just a theory I have – I have no evidence that more accurate marketing would cause people to smoke less and increase their lifespan.
I know I sound a little cynical in saying all humans suck at decision-making. But hear me out – It’s more helpful to be aware of your innate inabilities than to convince yourself you got it because you read a book about it. Simply put, you are a human driven largely by emotion just like all your mammal ancestors. I am always fascinated by how similar dogs are to us – self-centered in a silly, endearing way; jealous; passionate; curious; playful; communicative; easily distracted; uncontrollably focused on food and gain. I think less confidence in our abilities would yield better results. Yes, x might feel good, and you might keep wanting to do it or spend money on it, but remind yourself every now and then, that you have uncontrollable urges to fulfill ancient emotional needs and they might not benefit you long-term. Additionally, most industries are sold and marketed to appeal to them, even if unwittingly.
Food for thought. 🍔