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The hierarchy of human needs and their social valuation

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to discuss the valuation of human needs within a given hierarchy. An important distinction is made between private utility and social relevance of needs. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The authors consider a generic hierarchy of needs in a world of similar agents. For the assumed pyramid, agents have to predict the current social value of a need that they will try to fulfill only at some future date. Several possibilities are explored about the way agents predict the social value of future needs. Findings ‐ It is found that if agents are unable to form an accurate forecast on the social value of a future need, distortions will eventually occur. Complex dynamics may emerge when agents try to learn future social values and use inaccurate learning algorithms. Research limitations/implications ‐ The paper discusses how individuals measure the value of a need that is fulfilled in some future date. Results are dependent on the assumed learning algorithm. Different learning algorithms may lead to other kinds of long-term implications. Practical implications ‐ The paper allows for a better understanding of how human needs can be valued. Social implications ‐ It is highlighted that aggregate behavior on the evaluation of needs may be different from the behavior of an average agent. Originality/value ‐ In this paper, the notion of hierarchy of needs is combined with an assessment of how agents form expectations about future events. This furnishes a new paradigm of analysis that can be explored in related future work.
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Keywords: Economic stability; Expectation; Human nature; Learning; Utility theory

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 15, 2011

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