Pleasure and The Law of Diminishing Returns

“Unlimited freedom means that identity is fluid. The search to find oneself never ends.” Mark Sayers

As humans we are hard wired for pleasure.  All you have to do is look at the magazine aisle or watch a sequence of commercials.  All of these companies are ultimately selling pleasure of some sort.  The newest electronics will give you pleasure while watching the next big game or movie.  That new outfit will give you pleasure when you get compliments and attention at your next party.  The new “fill in the blank” will give you pleasure “fill in the blank”.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with pleasure and I am the first to admit that I have sought out pleasure through people, places and things.  In most cases I do not regret any of these pleasures.  However, our culture has taken pleasure seeking to a new extreme.

Reality set in late 2008 when the country experienced a major set back due to the average American being incredibly financially over leveraged.  Why we became so over leveraged is a debate we could have for the test of time but at the basis of this is seeking pleasure.  Bottom  line, we were spending more than we were making chasing pleasure.  Each one of us, including myself, were seeking more and more pleasure.  We have become addicted to pleasure as a society.  I believe that there is a lesson in economics that can help give our society insight into our new pleasure seeking society.

The Law of Diminishing Returns:  According to Investopedia The Law of Diminishing Returns states that as the number of new employees increases, the marginal product of an additional employee will at some point be less than the marginal product of the previous employee.  Consider a factory that employs laborers to produce its product. If all other factors of production remain constant, at some point each additional laborer will provide less output than the previous laborer. At this point, each additional employee provides less and less return. If new employees are constantly added, the plant will eventually become so crowded that additional workers actually decrease the efficiency of the other workers, decreasing the production of the factory.

I believe that this law of economics can teach our society quite a bit about our issues with pleasure.  The Law of Diminishing Returns illustrates to us that there is a balance and at some point adding more employee’s will diminish productivity.  Thus, the old adage of the more the merrier does not apply in Economics.  I also believe that this is true of pleasure.  Americans are living in the most innovative and free society in the history of the world.  Prior to 2008, we were also living in a period of time of the greatest liquidity in modern history.  It was proven that matching innovation and availability to cash eventually lead to the Law of Diminishing Returns.  Suddenly we found out that as a society a 2,000 square foot home was not enough.  A road trip vacation to go camping was no longer good enough for a family vacation.  A bachelor party at your local bars was no longer an option.  We kept on adding pleasure seeking items and moments like the factory was adding employee’s until eventually the Law of Diminishing Returns came into effect.  Enter in the 2008 sub-prime crisis and the perfect storm ended when our life line (i.e. loose credit) came to an end.

This proves that there must be a balance in society and that no individual, company or government benefits from pushing the limits of the Law of Diminishing Returns.  With that said, every individual wants to buy more stuff, every company wants to earn more revenue and every government wants to support more programs.  There is nothing wrong with this until it becomes detrimental to society.  We learned this the hard way in 2008 and we are still not asking the tough questions.  What has gone so wrong that we are all seeking pleasure at our detriment?

The true question to ponder is what can we learn from this situation and how can we apply the law of economics.  We now know that pleasure seeking does have diminishing returns on a society at some point.  But the question is deeper than that.  Why are we constantly chasing pleasure as a society?  What is missing in our lives that a roof over our head, food on our table and family is no longer adequate?  I believe the core of the problem is we have lost a common purpose in our society.  There was a point in time when our society stood next to God, Family and Community.  In the last few decades we have seen the breakdown of the family with unprecedented divorce rates and single parent families. Church attendance has diminished across the country and more and more people no longer associate with any religious organization.  The breakdown of the family and the church which were pillars for the community have now left the community isolated.  This has lead all of us in society to look to pleasure to replace these core pillars in our society.  Now that we have been dealt the harsh reality of the Law of Diminishing Returns we now have no choice as a society but turn back to our families, churches and communities for identity and support.  There is nothing wrong with making mistakes or seeking pleasure, there is only wrong in not learning from our mistakes and correcting our wrongs.  Now is the time to turn this ship around and show our future generations how to lead through family, church and community.

“In a superflat culture where nothing matters, we escape into obsessions and hobbies, interests that bear little ultimate consequence.  In a commodified culture, we move and shift around meaning, giving weight to things that do not deserve mountains of time and attention.  The twenty-first century will be a century marked by conspicuous consumption but also a flagrant misuse of time.” Mark Sayers