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American Individualism vs. Capitalism Norms Essay

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Updated: Jul 11th, 2021


Any working person seeks some fulfillment in their labor: either internal (fulfillment) or external (notoriety). For every individual, types of motivation differ depending on what kind of satisfaction one wants to achieve. In the present capitalistic culture where economic values prevail, it may be difficult to pursue the cultural norms of individualism. However, more and more employees feel the need to gain satisfaction as a more significant driver than obtaining a financial reward. Thus, it is relevant to assume that although capitalistic values play a crucial role in laborers’ lives, individualistic aspirations are more critical for the majority of people.

Main body

There is a great disparity between each individual’s approaches to defining success and happiness. However, a large number of people would agree that the possibility to satisfy one’s basic needs is one of the constituents of contentment. There are two opposing views in modern society regarding what kind of motivation makes people more fulfilled: internal or external. Scholars tend to believe that gradually, internal motivation is growing in importance.1 Employers developed a system of rewards and punishments, and employees’ actions and decisions are largely governed by these notions. However, such an organization of work inspiration is focused on increasing one’s extrinsic motivation.2 While this approach is contingent on a capitalistic worldview, Pink argues that it does not bring the expected job satisfaction.3 As a result, many of them try themselves in new projects that are not necessarily profitable. The paradox is evident: it seems surprising that one should choose to do something creative for little or no reward. However, such a choice has become the main principle of the modern labor market.4

At the same time, Pink remarks, it is not correct to assume that those who do something for free have “taken vows of poverty.”5 Participation in a diversity of projects is viewed by these individuals as an opportunity to increase their prospects for financial gains in the future. Findings of Lakhani and Wolf’s research indicate that the most pervasive driver of the majority of program developers’ work is the “enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation” and the feeling of freedom of creativity.6 These scholars based their study on European and North American programmers. A similar analysis performed in Germany demonstrates that the interviewed employees see the opportunity to discover something new and help others with their discovery as the main motive.7 These findings serve as proof of Pink’s idea that individualism is a more crucial driver than capitalism in people’s choice of work encouragement.

It would not be right to say that financial gain does not matter for the majority of people at all. Everyone has needs that cannot be fulfilled merely by job satisfaction. People have to pay bills and buy food and clothes, they need to provide for their children, and they must take care of their health insurance. These are only a few examples of what every individual thinks about when performing work duties. However, these drivers alone are not sufficient for many employees. The common classification of business has always been profit and non-profit.8 Recently, however, the concept of “social business” has been introduced.9 According to this perception, the social-benefit principle took the place of the profit-maximization one. The organizations governed by the social-benefit approach sell their services not only with the aim of making a profit but also with the intention to bring some social good. This is another proof of the growing tendency to care about spiritual and individualistic interests rather than material and capitalistic values.

Despite the positive aspirations of such laborers, there is a dark side to this phenomenon, which is represented by the craving for notoriety. As Zweig remarks, people living in the modern world suffer from the constant need for self-promotion and fame as constituents of success.10 The scholar associates these issues with the ancient concept of kleos meaning “immortal fame or glory.”11 Contrary to Pink, Zweig argues that people have the desire for wealth and power which drives their instincts. However, the scholar notes that fame is only an illusion, and in fact, it does not help anyone become happier or more successful.12 Zweig mentions that in a society in which the need for notoriety is becoming more and more oppressive, most individuals are considered losers.13 At the same time, the author offers statistical data from the Pew Research Center indicating that as of 2007, the majority of people aged 18-25 found getting rich their most important goal.14 Thus, self-esteem and recognition are believed to be the main constituents of young people’s satisfaction.

Speaking about the creative process, Zweig agrees with Pink that it is a crucial factor in people’s work. At this point, Zweig notes that the search for self-recognition is a serious obstacle to any creative endeavors or even the whole work process altogether.15 Hence, Zweig comes to a conclusion that is similar to Pink’s idea: being guided by internal motives brings more satisfaction in a moral dimension than being governed by external forces.16 Zweig also argues that viewing self-branding as a way to success is erroneous. The scholar thus remarks that instead of looking for ways of self-promoting, people should devote their time to things that are valuable indeed, such as developing creating ideas and improving one’s performance.17 Thus, while Zweig speaks about the increasing trend of caring about self-promotion, he also acknowledges the need for satisfying one’s internal needs and increasing one’s value of creativity and willingness to share.

The concepts analyzed so far are rather important, but one should also bear in mind the significance of purpose as the component of motivation. Without the sense of purpose, according to Pink, there is no balance in the “motivation tripod,” the other two legs of which being mastery and autonomy.18 Pink quotes Lederhausen who said that “a new form of capitalism is emerging” in which employees “have a purpose bigger than their product.”19 Therefore, the scholar argues, the individual interests of modern workers are not the primary drivers of their motivation. This new form of capitalism requires employees to become purpose “seekers” who obtain their energy for living by finding it.20 Wealth maximization, which is one of the emotional catalysts, does not have enough power to mobilize laborers’ energy. On the contrary, purpose can engage people in doing anything without necessarily promising them any profit.

The profit motive is no longer sufficient to affect either individuals’ or companies’ decisions. Purpose motive, however, is becoming a reason why organizations strive to contribute something to the world.21 Purpose motivation is reported to have an effect on three dimensions of workers’ and firms’ lives: words, goals, and policies.22 Pink remarks that baby boomers and millennials are generations for which the sense of fulfilling an important goal is much more important than merely earning money.23 Thus, rather than engaging in some financially attractive work, young adults tend to seek jobs that could bring benefits to society. The non-monetary factors influencing modern employees’ motivation include a sense of a friendly team, the possibility to share their ideas with others, and the opportunity to do something good for people. Pink mentions that verbal representation of employees’ objectives has the potential to alter their approaches to work. In particular, the scholar believes that humanizing what people say can humanize their actions.24

Finally, each person’s happiness and the sense of a good life depends not only on having a purpose but also on that purpose is right.25 Even reaching the highest external aims for wealth cannot increase one’s happiness. Pink emphasizes that he does not deny the significance of material well-being, but this well-being should not become the main element of one’s life. Along with the purpose motive, such notions as empathy and friendly communication are believed to increase an individuals’ prospects of satisfaction and happiness.26


The analysis of readings allows concluding that capitalistic values are not as important in work relations as individualistic needs. These two concepts can work together only as some points, such as the satisfaction of one’s basic needs. However, when it comes to fulfilling higher aspirations, including improving one’s skills or making a positive change, people tend to give prominence to spiritual needs over material ones. Thus, it is viable to conclude that having a purpose in work, as well as setting that purpose correctly, brings more satisfaction to modern employees than the likelihood of earning more money.


Pink, Daniel H. “Purpose.” In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, edited by D. H. Pink, 129-144. New York: Riverhead Books, 2009.

“The Rise and Fall of Motivation 2:0.” In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, edited by D. H. Pink, 13-31. New York: Riverhead Books, 2009.

Zweig, Davis. “Fame, Success, and the Myth of Self-Promotion: Why Attention Doesn’t Satisfy Us and Won’t Help Your Business Prospects.” In Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion, edited by D. Zweig, 105-126. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2014.


  1. Daniel H. Pink, “The Rise and Fall of Motivation 2:0,” in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, ed. D. H. Pink (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009), 16-17.
  2. Pink, “The Rise and Fall,” 16.
  3. Ibid., 19.
  4. Pink, “The Rise and Fall,” 21.
  5. Ibid., 21.
  6. Ibid., 21.
  7. Ibid., 21.
  8. Pink, “The Rise and Fall,” 22.
  9. Ibid., 23.
  10. Davis Zweig, “Fame, Success, and the Myth of Self-Promotion,” in Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion, ed. D. Zweig (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2014), 105-106.
  11. Zweig, “Fame, Success,” 106.
  12. Zweig, “Fame, Success,” 106.
  13. Ibid., 107.
  14. Ibid., 111.
  15. Ibid., 116.
  16. Ibid., 117.
  17. Ibid., 125.
  18. Daniel H. Pink, “Purpose,” in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, ed. D. H. Pink (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009), 131.
  19. Pink, “Purpose,” 132.
  20. Ibid., 132.
  21. Ibid., 133.
  22. Ibid., 133.
  23. Pink, “Purpose,” 133.
  24. Ibid., 137.
  25. Ibid., 142.
  26. Ibid., 143.
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IvyPanda. 2021. "American Individualism vs. Capitalism Norms." July 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/american-individualism-vs-capitalism-norms/.


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