Friday, February 10, 2012

Time Order of Needs

Many financial planners say you must distinguish between "needs" and "wants" when deciding what expenses are most important.

Survivalists have a "Rule of 3" for setting priorities:
  • You can survive about 3 minutes without oxygen.
  • You can survive about 3 hours in extreme temperatures.
  • You can survive about 3 days without water.
  • You can survive about 3 weeks without food.
These correspond roughly to the physiological level of Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs".  Sleep is another physiological need, but it doesn't fit nicely in to the above, in part because those are external.  As some point your body will likely force you to sleep; you just better not be operating heavy machinery at that time.  Some people list clothing, but that is tied in with extreme temperatures.  Sex is another physiological need, not so much for the individual as for the species.  3 decades without sex would be disastrous for the human race.

I left out the last rule of 3:
  • You can survive about 3 months without companionship.  
This is a psychological need.  It is a need nonetheless, but despite the rule people can vary greatly in how long they can go without it.  Maslow categorizes psychological needs into four levels, in order: safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.  His theory is that you need to fulfill one level before you start to satisfy the next, starting with the physiological.  One problem is this theory does not explain such conditions as anorexia nervosa, where a physical need is denied to fulfill a psychological need.  Another important criticism is that Maslow's hierarchy is culturally biased.

This brings me to where I disagree with financial planners and why this entry is not titled "Needs vs. Wants".  Except for the physiological/psychological distinction, these really are the same kinds of things. "Need vs. want" is just a matter of degree.  In the long run, any system which does not fulfill all of these is incomplete.

While a strict hierarchy does not explain things well, putting our psychological needs in some kind of order does make sense.  I think it a worthy exercise to extend the analysis that is simple with physical needs, namely how long can people survive with those needs unmet?  Quite frankly, I don't have these answers.

What I do know is that making sure all our needs are met, starting with the most urgent, is critical to not losing our way or falling down on the Long Ascent.

No comments:

Post a Comment