Who wants to be a billionaire? Most dont — which is good news for the planet

A founding economic principle that everyone is motivated by ‘unlimited wants’, stuck on a consumerist treadmill and striving to accumulate as much wealth as they can, is untrue, say the authors of a new study.

The long-held economic belief that people have unlimited wants has permeated economic thinking and government policies and has shaped much of modern society, including advertising and consumerism.

But belief in this principle has also had dire consequences for the health of the planet. Striving to continually increase individual wealth, and pursuing unending economic growth, has come at a heavy cost. As wealth has increased, so too has resource use and pollution.

Up until now, researchers have struggled to find appropriate ways to decouple economic growth from damaging economic principles. Now though, a new study led by psychologists at the universities of Bath, Bath Spa and Exeter challenges the idea that unlimited wants are human nature, which could have important implications for the planet.

Across nearly 8000 people from 33 countries spanning six continents, they surveyed how much money people wanted to achieve their ‘absolutely ideal life’. In 86% of countries most people thought they could achieve this with US $10 million or less, and in some countries as little as $1 million.

Whilst these figures may still sound a lot, when considered that they represent a person’s ideal wealth across their whole life they are relatively moderate. Expressed differently, the wealth of the world’s single richest person, at over $200 billion, is enough for more than two hundred thousand people to achieve their ‘absolutely ideal lives’.

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