For those who speak another language besides English, you’ll know that there are certain phrases or words that exist in other languages, but don’t have direct parallels in our own tongue. For example, in Spanish the word “ánimo” has no direct parallel, but generally means “encouragement” or “energy”.
A major gap currently existing in English, and probably in most languages, is a term or word that clearly describes and predicts human behavior. We may use the term “self-interest”, but this has a negative connotation and is not particularly predictive. There is a term that economists use for businesses called the “profit motive”. As Wikipedia puts it, the profit motive “is an economic concept which posits that the ultimate goal of a business is to make money.” This has more predictive value, but it is only narrowly applicable. It basically says that for only one type of group (a company) and within only a certain type of society (capitalistic society with money), does the profit motive apply:
Businesses make up only one of many groups in society. What is the goal of other groups like non-profits, government agencies, clubs, and families? Even within a company, are all employees, shareholders, and managers focused on making a profit? Sales people probably care a lot more about their commission than about company profits. How can we more generally describe the goals of all players within any organization?
And what about non-capitalistic societies? Is it true that since organizations in a communistic society may not use money that they no longer have a “profit motive”? Does that mean they are less selfish or somehow inherently different? Surely people and groups in capitalist societies are not the only ones that exhibit goals or predictable behavior. Clearly then, some term is missing in the English language to describe the universal goals of people.
The term we are referring to, of course, is the value motive. What does this mean? In universal terms it means that all known biological life seeks to protect and increase its control over value. That includes cacti, tortoises, companies, and communist party bosses. Let’s take some examples.
We already established here that money is of universal value (most people want to keep the money they have and increase it, all else being equal). The term value motive clarifies that even in societies that predate or do away with money, there are still many other things of value that humans will want to control. In hunter gatherer societies, controlling sources of food and the means of reproduction were immensely valuable — often questions of life and death. In communist societies where money was seldom used or nearly worthless, the ability to restrict people’s travel, control their shelter, and curtail their speech was just as valuable as having a $1,000,000 in the bank. It also clarifies that people don’t seek fame, fortune, or power — they seek to control value, which includes all three.
So to summarize, all life — including humans — has the goal of securing value. Understanding this clarifies a great many points. For example, we can’t get rid of the value motive by doing away with companies or switching away from a capitalist society (as Marx or Michael Moore have proposed). It helps us predict how politicians, emperors, bureaucrats and military leaders will behave. Both Google and the NSA want access to our personal information because it’s valuable. It is foolish to say that Google has a value motive (commercial motive) while the NSA does not. Collecting our personal information is hugely valuable to politicians and bureaucrats, even if the value is not commercial in nature. It provides jobs and career advancement for bureaucrats, and enables politicians to embarrass, ensnare or even prosecute their opponents at will.
Dear Value Motive, Welcome to the English Language!