Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Needs, Wants And Karl Marx

In this post I’m addressing the nature of ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ and the relationship between the two. In future posts I will be referring back to these ideas. So lets have some fun and see where we wind up.

Karl Marx said “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” Sheesh! I could write a whole book on what’s wrong with this statement. But I’m only going to pick on the ‘needs’ bit in this little essay.

First, needs are the requirements to complete a want. Wants and needs are two sides of the same coin. I don’t think you can have one without the other. If you want something, you have to meet requirements to have it. We usually call those requirements needs. If you need something, it is because you want something that requires it. People need air, water, and food because they want to stay alive. If a person needs a car, it may be because they want to travel distances for which they may consider walking is impractical, simply obnoxious or beneath their station. What ever the reason, or no reason all, a desire can be articulated and the requirement for satisfying it can be enumerated as a finite list.

Wants on the other hand are essentially infinite. I know mine are. No matter what I do, I always have something I want to follow up with. This follows from the fact that we have essentially an infinite number of choices we can make, and at any given moment (of which there are also an infinite number) we make the choice we want most. Needs on the other hand are finite. If we want to stay alive, we need air, food and water. This want has a very short needs list. Meeting these needs may involve other processes and requirements as well, but the process is still finite.

If wants are infinite, the means or things needed to meet those wants are also infinite. So the statement “each according to his needs” is something impossible for any government or social system to provide as those systems have finite resources. A government that attempts to provide for people’s needs has to limit what it can give to what it can deliver. So Marx’s thought above breaks down immediately on this point.

My basic point is this: if people want something, they should do what it takes to get it. If they are unwilling to do what it takes to get the benefit of something they want, there is no reason why others should spend time and effort to get it for them and get nothing in return.

It is much simpler if the government stays out of providing for wants. The U.S. government can’t provide for all the specific needs of its people because it can’t accommodate all the needs required to satisfy those wants. If it tries to accommodate the needs, it will restrict what people can want. That is a humongous loss of freedom. My fear is that if I say they’ll take my freedom over my dead body, they’ll respond with “We’ll be happy to accept your proposal”.