The Disease of More

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. Tom,

    Excellent article. I’ve been working with men, and the women who love us, for more than 40 years. As you point out, wealth isn’t the problem. People can use their wealth to help others or simply to get more and more of what never really satisfies. I’ve worked with people in prisons–too many of which are men. Many are there because of problems with drugs or with our drug laws. Addiction is a problem for many. One man summed up his real addiction. “My drug of choice is ‘more.’ Too much is never enough.” I think this is an addiction that many of us suffer from.

  2. John Schtoll says:

    I think the way companies are run is the problem.

    Here is an analogy to demonstrate.

    I say to Tom Matlock that next friday I am getting a raise and because I am friends with Tom I am going to give him $20 no questions asked. Tom is delighted, he is so looking forward to his money.

    Friday rolls around that I explain to Tom that my raise wasn’t a big as I was expecting and I can only give him $10. Now as an individual Tom is probably still delighted that he is getting $10 and is ahead of the game BUT to a company they just lost $10. That is how modern business works. A lot of what they do is based of estimates of earning and when they don’t meet expectation ,their stock goes do and they claim they lost money. Even if they made a profit if they didn’t make as much as they expect so they ‘lost’.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Not sure about the exact analogy John but I agree that much is wrong with short term profit motive. When I am building businesses I really try to establish a long term plan and strategy where everyone involved comes out a winner. And I try to keep the focus on that mutually defined goal of success and the concrete goals we all have to take to get there.

  3. Great article Tom, strong rebuttal…And I agree with you up to a point. I think it’s true we all bear responsibility for our lot in life as individuals. I also believe it is true we have a responsibility as members of a society to take part in correcting the issue.

    However, I strongly believe the old saying is true: with great power comes great responsibility. And money = power.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      For sure those with more have a responsibility to think carefully about what that means in terms of responsibility. But the instinct to point fingers and collect up the 1% as the devil incarnate is, in my view, wrong headed in that it completely ignores the fact that we live in a democracy with shared responsibility for our lot. We can elect different leaders. More than that we can reach across the divisions and see the common humanity all, even the very poor and the very rich.

      • Reminds me of a passage from a Chris Hedges article in Adbusters last year:

        “The game is over. We lost. The corporate state will continue its inexorable advance until two-thirds of the nation and the planet is locked into a desperate, permanent underclass. Most of us will struggle to make a living while the Blankfeins and our political elites wallow in the decadence and greed of the Forbidden City and Versailles. These elites do not have a vision. They know only one word: more. They will continue to exploit the nation, the global economy and the ecosystem. And they will use their money to hide in gated compounds when it all implodes. Do not expect them to take care of us when it starts to unravel. We will have to take care of ourselves. We will have to rapidly create small, monastic communities where we can sustain and feed ourselves. It will be up to us to keep alive the intellectual, moral and cultural values the corporate state has attempted to snuff out. It is either that or become drones and serfs in a global corporate dystopia. It is not much of a choice. But at least we still have one.”

        • Tom Matlack says:

          “It will be up to us to keep alive the intellectual, moral and cultural values the corporate state has attempted to snuff out.” I am with you on this much Jake.

  4. Tom Matlack says:

    NYT Author of “Capitalists and Other Psychopaths” Responds To GMP Critique: http://bit.ly/K9Xc9n

  5. “When this group of a dozen teenage boys came home they talked about faith and service in a way that truly inspired me. The idea that service is not something that you do to or for another person. “Service is the act of witness, of walking with another in their journey, of receiving Grace by honoring those less fortunate,” their charismatic leader said.”

    And would those boys be willing to give up much of their lifestyle in this country so that perhaps other countries could have more, is what I ponder. Not picking on your children, I’ve read things like this from other very well off families. Can we cure ourselves of the “More” so that others don’t have to live with less?

    My kids are not nearly as well off as yours Tom. Not by a long shot, nor is it likely they ever will be at least while they live with us. They don’t have the opportunities to go serve underdeveloped countries, but they do volunteer right here and think nothing of it but how it should be for neighbors and people worse off. They question why this is, in a city with one school suffering and one school funded well etc..they notice the inequities. My choice? Should I teach them it’s all individual failings to work hard enough? Or should I teach them that it is indeed a systemic issue and a culture of More.

    What would that look like, even? All of us having equal amounts of resources. It would look like giving up a whole lot, I think. Something that I don’t believe many Americans would welcome.

    • Julie,

      Has it ever occurred to you that the answer to ” Should I teach them it’s all individual failings to work hard enough? Or should I teach them that it is indeed a systemic issue and a culture of More?” is always going to be “both”?

      You mention a “suffering” school and a “funded well” school, so I wanted to share a story from my childhood. I grew up in New Jersey. While I was in elementary school the state set about “reapportioning” funds in the education system to correct exactly the problem you describe.

      Only what they discovered (and it remains true to this day), was that (in New Jersey at least) there really was no “underfunded” school. To this day, Camden, Newark, and Trenton, NJ all make the list of most-funded school districts in terms of spending-per-pupil, and yet have some of the nation’s worst graduation rates.

      The reason was simple: the extra money went into security guards, metal detectors, camera systems, and vandalism clean up. It did not go towards attracting and retaining quality teachers.

      Is this a systemic failing? Sure, it’s a problem that students have to go to school anywhere that requires metal detectors.

      But it’s also an individual problem: metal detectors aren’t needed if kids just stop choosing to bring weapons to school.

      So long as we keep saying “it’s purely an individual problem” we’re not going to acknowledge the reality of trying to learn when you have to fear mortal injury at the hands of your class mates.

      But so long as we say “it’s systemic” we aren’t holding students accountable for the choices they make that destroy their own futures.

      We need to acknowledge that both are correct, and that any solutions must address both sides.

      • I’m pretty sure you won’t believe me when I tell you I’m one of the most both/and people you’ll ever meet. But I am.

        • I’m happy to believe you, I’m just confused, then, about some of the comments you made.

          For example, you wrote:
          “Can we cure ourselves of the “More” so that others don’t have to live with less?”

          Yet the point of “both” is that this need not be a question we answer. You talk about underdeveloped countries, yet if we acknowledge that the underdevelopment is, at least in some part, the responsibility of that country’s governance (or lack thereof), then there’s no reason why we would have to give up “More” in order for the population of that country to also live with more.

          Part of “both” means that it’s not, and never has been, a zero-sum game.

          • Well, we get lots of goods from other countries yes? Cheaply made. Produced by people perhaps not in the best working conditions. Some may have and some may have terrible conditions to make goods that come here. Would people be willing in the US to spend more, buy less of those goods, so that the people in those nations could have better working conditions for example. Or say, produce out of season. Or mass amounts of produce farmed by immigrant workers perhaps not paid well, but we get it cheaply and sometimes with subsidies etc.
            Or the use of credit cards to purchase things (individual) that are made elsewhere, but that the media (system) inspires us to want (individual choice). Etc.

            How much would an iphone cost if it were made here under labor standards? Would people buy them? I don’t have answers to these questions, and I’m not an economist, but I figure we in the US live at a false high, based on what things cost to produce and someone has to take on the cost of it.

            So if it meant less so that other people in other countries might live better, I wonder if people would see it as a loss, or as an equalizing.

            • I think the best phrase you use here is “I figure we in the US live at a false high.”

              I find this interesting, because most economists believe that other countries actually live at a false low. This can take one of two forms.

              First, Paul Krugman wrote a fairly famous article back in 1997 about what the Philippines looked like before “sweat shops” moved in. He notes that there was at least one village where the people made their living by scavenging at local big-city garbage dump. Comparing subsistence farming and scavenging to factory work was a “no brainer” and the people all happily worked in the factories under the terrible conditions as soon as the factories opened. This is the first “false low,” we assume that the US is the cause of the low-status of other countries, we do not consider how much lower they might actually be without access to our markets.
              The Krugman article is here if you’re interested:
              http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/1997/03/in_praise_of_cheap_labor.html

              The second idea of a “false low” is more theoretical. We assume that our “high” is the cause of other countries “low.” Yet there is no need for this to be the case. It is entirely possible that both countries can consume at a “high” level. We often do not see this because we ask the wrong questions. The important question is not “why is our consumption so high?” but rather “why is their consumption so low?”

              Many countries, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea being cases-in-point, have all successfully executed strategies that led to a dramatic increase in the consumption on the part of their citizens from where it was 50 years ago. They did this without any help from the US consumer. We need to ask why this model is not being followed elsewhere.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Julie I am really not sure why you need to bring up the relative wealth of our kids. My son goes to a Jesuit high school in South Boston where most of the kids come from Dorchester, Milton, and Southie. I would say most are middle to lower middle class. One of the big take aways from the trip was just how much service work there is to do right in our back yard. You don’t need to go to a foreign country. And to answer your question, yes my son would give up all he has if I would let him. He gave all the clothes off his back to the kids in DR. Even the silver cross which I had given him for Christmas.

      • Could be yours, could be anyone’s. Like I said, I have no idea what your kids would do. I’ve seen stories like this is all I’m saying. And I see and have talked to many who feel and have actually acted superior to the kids they help out. One case in particular was at my kids school and it was really really hard to experience and I talked to the fellow for a long time, and he didn’t get it.
        Anyway, I have no doubt, based on you and your work, that your kids are loving. I’m just aware we have SO much here and to truly equalize it (if that even were possible which I know it’s not) would mean radical change for all families. Mine too, as little was we have. No steaks, no raspberries unless we could grow them.
        And I don’t believe that most Americans (myself included) really has the stomach for it. So we all try to find different ways to make that shift happen, but I’ll tell you, I’m really worried about the future, economically.

        • Tom Matlack says:

          A big part of the year long training that the boys went through before going on the trip was exactly to make sure they didn’t feel superior but they treated service as a walking with, witnessing, loving.

          Agree that we all need to think hard about these issues.

  6. Twenty years as a therapist specializing in addictions has proven without any doubt in my mind that as a nation we are addicted to more. My clients and their families will testify over and over again that the change they witnessed in their loved ones was exactly like watching someone suffering from a disease that ate the loved one’s brain: “he isn’t my dad any more: he’s changed…and I want my dad back.” What I often reply is, “you don’t want the old dad back…you want the new and improved and real dad who understands recovery and lives it.” So thank you Tom for living it and speaking it and handing on the legacy to us as readers…and especially to your children and your community.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Absolutely Denise. We all want the new and improved and real versions of our loved ones. And ourselves. Somehow we seem to have lost track of that on a vast scale.

  7. Begging your pardon, but your college economics professor was a professor. Even if he was a businessman, he was also a professor, which is an entirely different profession.

    I have worked in a business office for 20 years. Most of the psychopaths are in the upper echelons of the company – any company. They are the ones who twist your words, scheme, omit facts, and ostracize in order to get a higher bonus or paygrade. The majority of the people I’ve met and worked with in business are decent, but then, I’m not an executive.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Kitti I don’t understand your point. I said that my economics professor (who is not a capitalist but an academic) was nuts to refute the idea that only high level capitalists are psychopaths.

  8. Tom, I recently wrote a piece on what’s wrong with the profit motive whoich didn’t cut it for GMP’s publishing requirements.

    As I argued in that piece, my issue with capitalism is what has happened as globalisation has combined with the assumption that the profit motive is sacrasanct in any for profit enterprise.

    There are horrific crimes upon humanity done in the name of the profit motive such as perpetuating business models that rely upon fossil fuels when technology could have replaced that reliance decades ago.

    With globalisation the decision makers are too far from the harm they do and it ceases to be personal, and their actions can be psychopathic in the consequences, but seem to them to be just the right decision for the stockholder.

    I would like to see a world like the one envisaged by the Venus Project http://www.thevenusproject.com/ . I expect though that it is some way off.

    I believe people working within capitalism can be ethical. Profit can be set as a desired outcome that is to be achieved by creating value through integrity. When you create value thoughtfully and with a business plan and business model designed to allow you to share in the value created through profit you can run a very honourable business and a very profitable one.

    The issue is that people need to ‘opt-in’ to the values set that accepts profit as an outcome not the objective.

    I agree with Bill Deresiewicz. Capitalism does tend towards operating psychopathically. It doesn have to, but that is its tendancy because of an over-emphasis on the profit motive in every decision.

    Organisations need to wake up and remember that their prime purpose is to serve and create value. Profit is simply like the service is to the car, it allows it to function, but is not what it is about.

    • Chris Bremen says:

      Ure, if your requirement is that every involved in any enterprise be subjected to all of its downstream unpleasant effects (I was surprised you didn’t call them “externalities”) that is completely infeasible. How could such a system ever function?

      Using fossil fuels isn’t psychopathic any more than a person having more than two kids is. If you want to play by the rules you propose, then being responsible for a vast surplus of present and future humans is surely a more anti-social and destructive act than a little pollution.

  9. I agree with you that the criticism of business schools was a bit harsh. When I attended Bentley there was a heavy emphasis on service learning. In my freshman year, as part of our service learning classes that were part of english and a few other subjects, we tutored people at the Pine Street Inn. It was a lot for a first year college student on top of the normal course load, but it was an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

    I do think as a society we do tend to think of “more” as “better” far too often. I actually read this article in Forbes just before reading this, which was quite ironic given the subject’s conclusion in his quest to pay off his Harvard MBA debt in a year: http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2012/05/16/student-debt-business-school/

    That agreement aside, I do think corporations are given entirely too much latitude in this country. There are far too many examples to detail here, but in my opinion the root of much of this is their involvement in the political process. Many large corporations that get off far too easy for their infractions, especially in the age of Super PACs, can unduly influence elections and procure the candidate they want. In turn these candidates are beholden to interests that keep them in office or get them cushy jobs when their civil “service” has concluded. Real reform in campaign finance is needed to help correct this problem. The sooner we have government officials that are willing to rein in these corporations and work towards ridding the world of the sociopaths that run them the better.

  10. wellokaythen says:

    If we Americans really wanted to look at greed straight in the face, we’ll have to critically examine the article of faith that “the customer is always right.” We would have to examine our views of consumerism and give up some of the sense of entitlement that comes from being a consumer. That is a massive uphill battle, when it’s so much more convenient to blame the evil 1%. The assumption seems to be: “As a consumer, what I want is what I want, and I deserve to have it, and I’ll not accept any criticism of my desire to have it. If I can’t get it, it’s probably because some rich guy has screwed me over, the greedy bastard.”

    We would have to admit that much of what the average, everyday person does is motivated by a form of greed that leads to social problems. It’s really easy to level the blame at big-company CEO’s and the big investment brokers. (Those people are doing their best to MAKE it easy for us to demonize them.) It’s much more difficult to look at the ways that the millions of the rest of us are also responsible for the state of the economy.

    For example, if we really wanted to examine the Wal-Mart phenomenon of big stores driving out their smaller competitors, we have to be willing to blame tens of millions of shoppers for helping make that happen. When you shop at one store because the prices are lower or it’s more convenient for you, then guess what, your greed is feeding the beast.

  11. Just four thoughts, none are originally my own:
    1: Free your mind, and your ass will follow.
    I love that song, can’t remember the artist. If you are enslaved by your own addictions, the first step is free yourself from yourself.
    2: The Buddha’s main teachings: (my paraphrasing)
    a: life is suffering
    b: the cause of suffering is craving or desire
    c: to escape suffering, eliminate cravings as much as possible
    3: North Americans are the 1%, compared to the rest of the planet. People don’t starve to death here. The poorest often die of overdosing on very expensive narcotics.
    4: Roughly 5% of humans have Psychopathic Personality Disorder according to Dr. Robert Hare of the University of British Columbia (Snakes in Suits)
    Logically, though, every country would have the same percentage, and every country would have psychopaths in leadership positions. I suspect it has been this way since the dawn of humanity.
    Just check out Shakespeare, or world history of the last 5 thousand years.
    There is nothing new under the sun.

  12. Chris Bremen says:

    “Our problem isn’t capitalism or the supposed psychopaths on Wall Street, it’s our collective disease of more. It’s our unwillingness to see poverty and education and imprisonment as a collective problem. It’s our focus on the next thing we want to buy rather than the person we want to help.

    Sure tax and regulatory policy are important. But none of it will mean shit unless we all wake up from this belief that more is better.”

    You hit the nail on the head in a fashion, and missed it by a mile in another. What is this “collective” stuff? We’re all just individuals and there is no use making us responsible for someone else’s problems, when we didn’t have anything to do with it.

    The world is a capitalistic place. All biological life is based on capitalism. All organisms require a biological profit to survive. And all life is engaged in competition for resources with other organisms.

    I think the most unhealthy thing is making value judgements and rash assumptions that inspire people to saddle their fellow citizens with responsibility for supporting other people. Who gave them that right? Enslaving your fellow man, no matter what you intend from it, is evil and cannot be justified.

  13. @Chris Bremen thanks for taking the time to consider my position.

    Let me respond to some of the thoughts you put to me.

    Regarding your surprise that I didn’t refer to downstream unpleasant effects as ‘externalities’, my position is actually the opposite. Externalities implies a dualistic view of the world and I not only believe in, but along with quantum physicists, know that everything is connected, and to a degree that goes way beyond consequences we can see in the physical world.

    My argument is that we bring consciousness to strategy, to our business models, our business processes and our decision making. I am not talking about bogging the system down in minutia, but I am talking about business recognising that in this world Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is more than giving $100 million to charity from a turnover of $447 billion. CSR needs to be about responsibility for your business and the impact it has in this world. Its not OK to squeeze maintenance and rosters so hard that oil spills result, and its not OK to go after more and more difficult to get at Coal Seam Gas and Oil that carries huge risks to our planet and our water tables when Big Oil has been blocking the technologies that should have replaced fossil fuels for decades.

    Capitalism is great when the capital comes from men and women of conscience like Tom Matlack who truly are creating value in the world and expect to make a fair return across a decade of investing their capital and their sweat or oversight in a business they remain close to.

    Where capitalism has gone wrong is as we reach global scale. At this stage capital is totally disconnected from anything but IRR and NPV which as we learn in business school means any benefits beyond a ten year time horizon do not effect decisions. Capital is moved around in this world on massive scales based strictly on generating the best return. Boards and CEOs are accountable to that dispassionate capital and will be replaced unless the returns are on the upper end of the market. CEOs and their C-Suite direct reports are paid very high salaries to help them get over leaving their conscience at the door and having usually unreasonable demands placed on them as well as incentive packages to align their interests with the dispassionate capital.

    Furthermore the mega-corporations are not subject to the same competition as existed 20 years ago, entrepreneurs who would have brought to market the right technologies to serve humanity either can’t compete, or are bought out.

    I am not part of the CEO-demonising crowd (though a small percentage earn that tag) and as a CFO of 12 years with two IPOs in my experience I understand that world well. My passion comes from learning through that experience what is wrong systemically, and from achieving a level of consciousness that has allowed me to step back from the system and see with clearer eyes.

    I agree with you that personal responsibility is key to our path out. But I see it on two levels, the one you talked of to be personally responsible as an individual. Being conscious of our consumption, of supporting businesses that operate in integrity, of not checking our conscience at the door when we go to work no matter what our position is and how much authority we might perceive we lack. But secondly I believe there are major systemic issues that call for us to take personal responsibility to stand up and be part of change co-operating at a community, country and global level on the systemic issues.

    I can’t agree with your view on biological life being capitalism based. There is prey and there is the Lion that is leader of the pride, but what animal can come to own half of the planet and hold resources more than they could use in thousands of lifetimes. In biological life there is no margin, there is just sustenance, there is no banker who takes a cut of every transaction with no real value add beyond being there. More particularly there is not profit for profit sake, there is just sustenance for living’s sake.

    The current version of capitalism is headed for an almighty crash within 1 to 36 months as the fractional reserve lending system reaches the point that as a mathematical certainty will have the banking system implode. The documentary ‘The Secret of OZ’ explains why very clearly http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swkq2E8mswI

    I happily work with the capitalist system and with people of conscience who want to create a better world by the influence their business has in the world and I will help these people make gold standard profits through doing business in integrity. People like Vishen Lakhiani of Mindvalley are good examples of doing business in integrity.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8ZFU4FoNvY

    But I pray for a future where we could manage a transition to a money free world like the Venus Project http://www.thevenusproject.com/ (with the transition to it being its main challenge) and a world where the dysfunction of money goes away. It actually can work and there is almost no one other than megalomaniacs who aren’t better served by it.

    In the meantime I am grateful to Tom Matlack for creating a conscious community where discussions like these can take place in a community of good people.

  14. Heleborg says:

    Tom-your article re: The Disease of More did not address many of your fellow Americans who are living in poverty or close to it. They have low-paying jobs or can’t find jobs and often have no access to affordable health insurance. They do not have the luxury of having The Disease of More.
    This growing underclass is the result of some in the upperclass committing every crime but murder to feed their Disease of More at the expense of the rest of us.

  15. I didn’t read the original article quoted here, it seems clear from the quotes that it is overly hyperpolic and lacks nuance, but I do think there is one thing that was missed in the response. The quote asks “if corporations are people what kind of people are they?” It doesn’t ask “if corporations are people what kinds of people are they made up of?”

    Corporations themselves if personified have the ethics of a mass. No one person feels responsibility for the whole only his part of it. Thus a low level employee might dump toxins in a river feeling as though this is wrong, but actually not his fault because the higher ups ordered it. The guy in the middle might feel that there is probably something not quite right but he’s just passing the order along and the guy at the top might be unaware of what his demands for cheaper disposal of waste have wrought at the lower end.

    The guy who is a vicar at his church and gives generously to widows and orphans might sit in an office cubicle and find a way to save a bunch of money and feel proud that he is a good worker for his company and entirely detached from the fact that his recommendation throws lots of people out of work, whereas if he had to sit with the people and make the choice he might not be able to recommend relocating to Bangladesh.

    Corporations may be made up of well meaning people, but the structure means the individuals are far removed from the consequences of their small part of the venture. Their individual actions may be good, neutral or willfully ignorant of evil. The “personality” of the corporation itself, is fairly psychopathic, that it, it does not have a human conscience. (Of course, it is not really a person.) Only a human being can take capital and chose to use it with compassion.

    On this disease of “more” that we all have, I would say that a lot of people in the middle and working classes are not in trouble because they’ve tried accumulate more and more consumer goods. Real wages have been falling for years. People in the middle and working classes are trying just hold on to what was considered a fairly straightforward standard of living– the ability to own a home, being able to get a living wage that can cover rent and food if you work full time. In most cities a full time minimum wage job does not earn enough to cover rent. Wages are kept low in order to make companies more competitive and more profitable. The financial sector encouraged credit card use to pay for everything in order to take a percentage on every sale and transaction. This is money that is being siphoned off. The disease of more is not distributed evenly. Power is not distributed evenly.

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  1. [...] Psychopaths,” emailed me shortly after I wrote a response to his piece here on GMP called “The Disease of More.”  “I agree with everything you say Tom, except for the notion that the two diagnoses are [...]

  2. [...] that has been building for generations. Tom Matlack over at The Good Men Project calls it “The Disease of More.” This passage really hits home: [...]

  3. [...] that has been building for generations. Tom Matlack over at The Good Men Project calls it “The Disease of More.” This passage really hits home: [...]

  4. [...] that has been building for generations which Tom Matlack over at The Good Men Project called “The Disease of More.” This passage really hits home: We have all allowed ourselves to get trapped into this [...]

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