Abraham Maslow, in 1943, proposed a theory that has now come to be known as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. This theory states that human needs fall into 5 distinct levels of a hierarchy. Once the needs in the lower levels of the hierarchy are fulfilled, a person moves to needs in the next level. However, it is not possible for a person to move higher before the lower needs are fulfilled. The needs at the five levels are as follows:
1. Physiological Needs
2. Safety Needs
3. Love/Belongingness Needs
4. Esteem Needs
5. Being Needs (Self-Actualization)Physiological Needs:
These needs include the need to breathe, the need for food and water, the need for sleep, etc.Safety Needs:
These needs, in the modern context include include the need for security of employment, security of revenue and resources, physical security (from violence, etc), familial security and security of health.Love/Belongingness Needs:
This includes the need for relationships, family and sexual intimacy. In brief, this is the desire to be needed. However, one's need for these surfaces only after the previous two levels are satisfied.Esteem Needs:
This is the need to be respected, by oneself and by others. A person at this level wants to be recognized and wants to indulge in activities that gives him a sense of contribution.Self-Actualization:
This is the instinctual need of an individual to make the most of his unique abilities and to strive to be the best.
At this point, it is important to remember that one progresses to a level only when the needs at a lower level are satisfied. Now, it is my contention that these levels of the Maslow hierarchy are somewhat related to the Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development
, and hence this hierarchy also plays an important role in understanding someone's motivation for doing something. I'll try to establish this relationship now.
Consider the case of a person who has no fixed source of income, and hence is unsure about where his next meal will come from. In such a situation, it should be reasonable to expect that he would be willing to do something simply because it ensures that he will have ample to eat for the next week. He is thus operating at stage two of the Kohlberg's stages. He might also do something if he is convinced that it is the right thing (level 5) but only if it does not jeopardize his food supply.
Again, consider the case of a society in which law and order has broken down and the mafia has taken over. They shoot anyone that opposes them and no formal authority is capable of punishing them. Thus, for an individual, physical security not present. In such a case, it is hardly reasonable to expect someone to stand up to the mafia because he is convinced that it is the right thing to do. I accept that there are exceptions everywhere, but it is hardly to be expected from a group of any size.
The reason I say this is thus. When we analyse why certain schemes of the government fail, we must keep in mind the society and the level in the Maslow's hierarchy of the general population. In a country of abundance (say the United States, which is what India is usually compared to these days), most people would be beyond the basic stages and hence can be expected to be in the higher levels of the Kohlberg's stages as well. Hence, the structure of incentives provided in the US will necessarily be different from the structure of incentives provided in say India, or worse, certain countries of central Africa. It is in this light that I will continue my exposition in later posts.Disclaimer: I am not a student of psychology and as such am unaware of any theories that may corroborate or contradict what I've just said. I'm sure about the basic theories that I've stated and the conclusions are derived from first principles and intuition. Psychology is often counter-intuitive and hence I may be wrong. Please let me know if you think so.