Some respondents tell me they have "followed their bliss." As I understand it, this phrase stands for the notion that we are best served when we devote our lives to the cultivation of an enthusiasm. Prosperity, happiness, satisfaction, all of these will follow if we put first things first.
I like this idea. I may even have, in a low key way, lived this idea. But I’m not sure I get this idea.
This isn’t the way markets are supposed to work, is it? Don’t we think that the market satisfy our wants and needs because people have responded not to bliss but to opportunity. The market are responsive precisely because they are driven by self interest, not self expression. Market, our best form of dynamism, is created by people trying to figure out what we want, not what they want.
Now, there is a pretty simple answer here. People will use a decision tree that look like Mazlow’s hierarchy. If they have no choice, they will take any job on offer, bliss be damned. The more prosperous their circumstances (private and or public), the more plausible is a self expressive career, instead of a self interested one. In a wealthy society, filled with wealthy families, it is possible for lots of people to follow their bliss (in proportion to their privilege).
But this still leaves us with a problem. We are living in society that changes shape, not according to what the consumer wants to buy but what the producer wants to sell. This is the "long tail" development that Chris Anderson has documented so well. It is also the "plenitude effect" that some anthropologists have labored to discover. But these new markets are clearly dispersive in ways that old, opportunity, markets are not. It’s not clear that they will work the same way to canvas, shape and express public taste and preference. In fact, the very idea of "emergence," so beloved of economists and complexity theorists, is thrown into question. Will things emerge…and how?
Now, it is right to say that I am jumping the gun. Most people live in opportunity economies, not expressive ones. (I am put in mind of that old Leno joke: that Jerry Brown did have supporters for his run for California office, but unfortunately most of them were trapped in Biosphere II.) On the other hand, expressive opportunities are expanding, and it’s not a bad idea to get a leg up on this topic. I believe that Burning Man is probably a great place to study this topic, and I believe Robert Kozinets at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Business has done important work of this topic. (References will have to wait till I get home.)
A last point: bliss economies, we might say, were invented by tiny artistic communities. Follow your own creativity, the world will just have to catch up. And this is a simple, not very threatening exception to the rule when it is confined to communities as small as this. But the bliss economy, perhaps especially here in California, has gone wide. And now it is a larger problem with larger implications. (On the other hand, this could all be crap. I am in California and I am having the dickens of a time thinking clearly.)