Money Doesn't Buy Happiness and Doesn't Stop People from Trying to Buy Happiness

"For Miller the process of runaway sexual selection that gave rise to energetically wasteful ornaments like the peacock’s tail...is precisely what gives rise to Hummers and McMansions."

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With the economy lacking the luster it had a decade ago, conspicuous consumption continues to plague the American landscape. But is our need to impress friends and family with our ability to buy things our unfortunate fate? Yes and no, argues evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller. What appears to be essential is our need to demonstrate superior evolutionary qualities such as health, fitness, attractiveness, etc. "For Miller the process of runaway sexual selection that gave rise to energetically wasteful ornaments like the peacock’s tail...is precisely what gives rise to Hummers and McMansions."

What's the Big Idea?

Miller argues that marketing is the vast cultural ocean in which we all swim and struggle against just to stay afloat. To be sure, there are other forces at work in our desire to consume products we don't really need. Rather than display our unique qualities, for example, much consumption seems aimed at imitating group behavior. Witness fashion trends that render an entire nation of 20-somethings visually indistinct from one another. To overcome our present state, Miller recommends placing higher taxes on sales than income, which would in turn discourage unnecessary purchases. 

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