Greed and profit motive
One of the most destructive forces now compelling the current economic system is that of personal enrichment. This is especially destructive since the pie is finite in size, taking more than one's share means someone else must lose out. Once, when the world had far fewer people in it, the pie appeared infinite in size and potential. People scrambled to get their piece. Now that the world is full of people and most of the pie has been grabbed, the finiteness is showing.
Somewhere back in history it became OK to be greedy. Adam Smith never really said so, but corporatist and capitalist world views have essentially used Smith's vision of self-interest driving markets (and conveniently left out the fact that Smith also promoted the development of moral sentiment — sympathy for others as a countervailing force to self-interest) as a virtue. The 'invisible hand' would take care of everything. Once, not really that long ago, people in many parts of the world held the view that taking advantage of lesser empowered folk was wrong. Usury, for example, was once considered immoral. Today venture capitalists argue that high rates of return on investment are expected because of the risk factors of such investments (for every one big hit they expect ten busts). There is logic to the argument, assuming one buys into the notion of gang buster's growth, but it simply fuels the idea that someone, an entrepreneur of capitalist, has every right to make mega bucks because, well, they deserve it.
But if my energy theory of money is right, and of course I think it is, then each and every richer person means there are many more poor ones to compensate. As long as new sources of energy were being discovered and exploited, as long as there was growth in the net energy available to do work, this model could be sustained on the basis that everyone would be better off. So it didn't matter that a few people made huge fortunes in spite of the inequity, because even the poor were materially better off. Certainly the rich felt this was justification. But so did many of the poorer. Especially as long as there was a large so-called middle class, a buffer, as it were, between the really rich and the really poor, the illusion of wealth production and gains could be maintained. But, again, this was a side effect of rapid energy production rather than any truly sustainable relationship.
Then too the middle class held out hope that they too might one day be wealthy. In the US, in particular, middle class incomes rose relative to prices through the 1960's and into the 1970's setting the pattern and the belief that this was to be the continuing saga for each new generation. We had world-wide slumps and fits and starts, but right up into the 1990's there was still a conviction that profits were to be maximized, share-holder value to be increased. Monetary wealth generation has become the ultimate moral sentiment. Indeed, in the minds of libertarians, corporatists, and capitalists getting rich is the only game in town. And the free market, code for no regulations by government, is the way to achieve it.
This whole story feeds the average person's limbic system. Everyone, at a deep emotional level, judges his or her well being as much by comparison with others around them. And material possessions has been drilled into the collective psyche as THE measure of well being. If you live in the smallest house on the block you will not feel good about yourself simply because you (or rather your affect system) will judge you inferior to those with larger houses. A check with the weak sapience judgment regarding the worthiness value of house size will probably confirm this. Or, at least sub-consciously, the desire for a bigger house, or one in the suburbs, will drive the intelligence machinery toward finding ways to acquire that bigger house.
We find ourselves on a treadmill. Actually, the evolutionists have a term they use to describe the continuous and accelerating escalation of evolutionary warfare between parasites and hosts — the Red Queen effect. This term comes from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and refers to the RQ character telling Alice, "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place." Our treadmill has been accelerating and now we are running just to stay on. The acceleration is due to a positive feedback mechanism. As we see some people get more wealth, we are driven to get more wealth for ourselves. And we justify our desires as good and rational, so we must acknowledge that others will have the same goals. And since some people achieve those goals, it simply reinforces in each of us that those goals are worthy and achievable. I suppose if there were infinite resources in this world it wouldn't much matter. But we know this is not the case. We also know that we are converting resources into toxic wastes that are killing other parts of the Ecos as well as ourselves. We now know it is madness. But can we stop? Can we change?
Is the sapient mind of an average person able to override the limbic system's pressure to use intelligence and creativity to find ways to make profits over their fellows? I would like to believe that good judgment and strong will (a way of describing the sapient damping of limbic desires) could change the propensity. But judgment depends heavily on tacit knowledge, if you recall, and that knowledge is largely cultural reinforcement of greed. Adam Smith first acknowledged the need for a moral sentiment toward sympathy and caring as a cap on self-interest, certainly as a barrier to greed. But I would argue it is more than just sympathy that is needed. It is also empathy and tacit understanding that if one is to have much more, then many must have much less. The moral sentiment should tend toward altruistic values. A sapient mind must understand and feel content with a sufficient material life.
I know. Now I am preaching. But I'm not really telling you or anyone what you should do. I am simply pointing out what attributes of mind will work within the constraints of a finite world with lots of people in it. We have to learn to share a limited amount of natural resources with one another if we are all going to survive. If this sounds like socialism than you 1) haven't understood any of my arguments about sapience to date, and 2) really don't understand the nature of the problem we face. If all people were both sufficiently sapient and sufficiently knowledgeable such that they produced good judgments, then the word socialism wouldn't even exist. To have a word meaning a way of living, you need a contrasting way of living with its own word. I claim that in a eusapient world, none but a sharing and caring style of life would exist (well I suppose throwback deviants would always arise). It would be second nature to be content with just the necessities (which, by the way, doesn't mean subsistence) and a few soul-fulfilling diversions without a need to have a better model of car just because a neighbor has one (after her old model finally gave up the ghost!) But we don't live in a eusapient world. It will take a lot more evolution to produce that. We have to find a way to produce a better sapient world. I'm always open to suggestions!
If you are interested in a very good perspective on this subject, please read James Gustave Speth's new book, "The Bridge at the Edge of the World"