Needs versus Wants

I am really not the ideal candidate to talk about Economics 101. This is purely my take of this topic. So apparently, needs are somethings that are required for survival or for a person to live. Food, water and shelter come under this category. Wants are one step higher in the order and are something that people desire which they may or may not obtain. So basically, according to economics, anything other than food, water and shelter are wants.

India unfortunately still has a great deal of people who don’t have their needs met. Although things are slowly getting better, we have a long way to go. Being an urban middle class person, that is the section that I can relate to. Everything that we strive and struggle for are wants. Literally everything. We are not really working towards the needs any more because it is a given that they are met.

Ancient India had a person’s life divided into 4 stages or ashrams. The first stage or brahmacharya ashram is the first stage which is devoted to education. Next is the grahasta ashram where a person gets married, gets a family, earns at the same time being pious and contributing to society. The third page or vanaprastha ashram – literally meaning going to the forest – meant giving up the comforts of home and family and retiring to devote more time to the scriptures and religious texts. This set the stage for the final sanyasa ashram which involved renouncing the world and attaining salvation and self realization.

In that scenario, the grahasta ashram was the stage where we had the chance to convert our wants to needs – the time where we could amass wealth. With the disappearance of the ashram system and our anglicization, nowadays our wants are growing at jet speed and spiraling way out of the stratosphere. I am not even talking about ‘keeping up with the Jones’ – we now need to constantly upgrade for our satisfaction – the new car, the latest mobile, clothes etc – have suddenly changed from being wants to becoming needs now. The Western concept of consumerism has totally consumed us.

Taking a typical case of mobile phones – from being a means of communication to send and receive phone calls and messages, they have now developed into mini computers. There just doesn’t seem to be any end to it. it just keeps better and better. Try to take the mobile phone away from somebody and they will experience withdrawal symptoms and will literally need it to survive. So, if that is what is the definition of a need, then isn’t that a need in today’s days?

I have this firm conviction that it would be extremely difficult or rather impossible to take corrective action or rein in our desires. Until and unless there is a strong deep-rooted desire or everybody suddenly finds religion, it is not going to happen. Maybe, the economists of today need to have a re-look at the definitions and come up with a completely different take on it, That is the only way we can stop feeling a tad guilty about our excesses.

PS: My self imposed challenge to post every single working day for 30 days was broken yesterday due to WordPress having a difficulty.



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