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We All Share the Same Goal: Maximize Happiness

I call the environment in which we live the Econosphere. It is the world created by and governing of human decision making, and it is our home. It provides for us and nurtures us. It reacts to and informs our every interaction and, if we understand it, allows us to optimize the use of our life spans moment by moment. This environment is not, however, one made of oxygen and hydrogen, oil and steel, high mountains and low plains. Rather, the Econosphere is our social environment, where we work, live, raise our families, and govern ourselves. We need to start thinking about the economy as a holistic, natural system. Think for a moment about the biosphere, its makeup and its importance in sustaining life. Scientists study our complex biosphere in incredible detail, employing all kinds of technologies to understand how it sustains us. Most of us generally accept that the biosphere provides the air we breathe and thus we need to care for it by not overwhelming its capability to renew itself with harmful chemical emissions, heat, and dust. It is the biological part of our environment, and our environment needs to be protected.

What about our social environment? Should we make the same efforts to study and protect our Econosphere? The answer is an emphatic yes! Unfortunately, many people see the economy as simply the outcome of public policy, a collection of opaque statistics, or even a term that describes how much money we are or are not making, saving, or investing. But we generally do not see the economy as a natural system that nurtures and sustains us.

Now, you might be asking what is so perfect and balancing about the economy? Its fits and starts, enormous perceived inequities, and even its seemingly cruel nature give it the reputation of being far from perfect. However, consider what it does for us. On a planet that is home to billions, the Econosphere signals to each of us what needs to be conserved by assigning a market price that is dear. In that same vein, if the price of something is high relative the cost to create it, the Econosphere signals us to put our efforts into supplying more of this thing. On the opposite end of spectrum, if we have too much of one thing, the Econosphere devalues it so that we consume more or produce less of it.

And there are rewards for good behavior; the more productive we are in producing what it is that our fellow inhabitants crave, the more we are rewarded. If we produce great value, we subsequently can consume things of great value or save our earnings to share with those whom we love. Moreover, like a great coach, the Econosphere motivates us through intense competition to be innovative. The more we innovate, the more we are rewarded; but even better, the more we innovate, the better off we all are because the products and services that we create for our fellow people are ever superior to those that came before. This is what allows us to increase the quality of all our lives over time and allows this small world to make room for all those on its surface.

To those who are inclined to see it, it is breathtaking choreography on a global scale with billions of performers, each one in character, playing his or her unique role so that the entire ensemble shines. The Econosphere provides for us, yet it is also of us.

Where we do find areas of our social environment that are tarnished and polluted, we also always see a visible interfering human hand. Where there is hunger, there is typically not a lack of food, but rather a closed border, a cruel authoritarian regime, or a captive market not allowed to assign prices or incent production. Where there is poverty, we often find bigotry and artificial castes maintained by brutal rule. Where we see inefficiency and waste, we typically find central planning, public ownership, and favored status. Even in our recent financial crisis, complicit in the mistakes made by lenders, borrowers, and investors is the hand of the central-planner. In this case, public policy subsidizing the purchase of homes via tax breaks and loose borrowing standards had their start in the Clinton Administration's fixation on increasing the homeownership rate and the Bush Administration's willingness to carry that torch with its promotion of an ownership society—apparently ownership at any cost!

Fortunately, like someone trying to stop the grass from growing by stamping on it, efforts to rob us of our natural social environment are usually short-lived, eventually failing. Like plants sprouting through cracks in a sidewalk, the Econosphere finds ways to guide our lives even as some might work to pave it all over. Similarly, you always find a way to maximize your happiness, even within the confines of those impediments that might be thrown up in your path—it's just that maximum potential happiness is not as high when the Econosphere is not left to function unfettered.

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