The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd


  • Mary Douglas
Reference work entry


To be in want is not to have. The obverse of want is satisfaction or having the wherewithal for happiness. Much Eastern philosophy recommends happiness based on few wants, just as much of Western philosophical comment condemns excessive wants. The economists’ view is different. They tend to worry when an economy comes to rest at a low level of wants and to feel more sanguine when the demand for new possessions goes up, even if they become worried again if demand is inflationary. They are clearly interested in wants. Yet the way that demand for goods is treated within economic theory blocks their curiosity about how wants are generated. This is not to say that distinguished economists have not seriously pondered the subject. Many have produced catalogues of wants, sometimes contrasting material with spiritual satisfications, sometimes comparing long-term with short-term wants, or psychic joys (such as music or affection) with physical requirements (such as food and warmth). Such lists tend to dangle free of theoretical constraints. They remain mere lists whose parts do not mesh into any theory.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Douglas, M., and B.C. Isherwood. 1979. The world of goods. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  2. Edgeworth, F.Y. 1881. Mathematical psychics. An essay on the application of mathematics to the moral sciences. London: Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  3. Lévi-Strauss, C. 1949. Les structures élémentaires de la parenté. Paris: Presses Universitaires.Google Scholar
  4. Mackenzie, D. 1981. Statistics in Britain, 1865–1930. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Malinowski, B. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  6. Mauss, M. 1925. Essai sur le don. L’année sociologique, 2nd Series, vol. 1, 23–4. Trans. as The Gift, London: Cohen and West.Google Scholar
  7. Sen, A.K. 1981. Poverty and famines: An essay on entitlement and deprivation. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary Douglas
    • 1
  1. 1.