The link between narcissism and ‘money’ or the participation in markets is an interesting one. Clinical psychologist Dr Ramani Duravasula of California State University, recently said that narcissists make up one in six people. She explains the different types of narcissism both in men and women, which have been on rise. Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition. Some of the typical traits of narcissism are a sense of superiority, attention-seeking behaviour and drive for admiration, superficiality or exploitation in relationships with an absence of genuine intimacy, lack of empathy for other people.

Dr Ramani goes on to say that having money gives one privileges, allowing them to flaunt their automobiles, finest outfits, best meals, best hotels, and best technology without having to put up with any inconvenience. They exhibit narcissistic traits. This brings forth a connection between the traits of narcissism and the traits of market economy. In an abstract sense, it is the idea that producers’ decisions about what is produced is influenced by the ‘free choice’ of customers, which in turn influences how a society’s economy is organised. Of course, it is another matter that there is no free choice, and nor is the consumer actually a king. She is made to feel important, in a narcissistic way if you like. John Kenneth Galbraith talks about this conditioning in his classic The Affluent Society, where he argues that free choice is a myth in a world heavily mediated by advertising.

The customer, operating in a market driven by easy finance and powerful advertising, is geared towards pursuing happiness, defined in terms of ‘more is better’. This gives rise to the anxiety of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.

The narcissist consumer

The market has diverted consumers towards a brand-driven economy where utility has been transformed to ‘brand consciousness’. This has fed into narcissism — the ‘love yourself’ ethos. The narcissist consumer is not a king but actually a slave. She is overwhelmed by a sense of insecurity over losing what has been acquired so far and a craving for ‘more is better’. To overcome this fear, a person plunges further into the material world and finally reaches the stage of loneliness and social disconnectedness.

A recent article in The Guardian appraises the prescient work of American historian and cultural critic Christopher Lasch on these themes more than four decades ago. Lasch shines the spotlight on the corrosive effect of market individualism on bonds between individuals and between individuals and society, generating an epidemic of loneliness. This withdrawal or alienation from society creates another type of narcissist, according to Lasch — “one who blames herself for signs of fatigue and decay” and regards the world as a projection of her own fears and desires.

These narcissists, incapacitated to enter the world of market, experience exclusion, despair and inferiority. The market functions as a double-edged sword: if you join, you run the risk of being a victim of personality illness, the type 1 narcissist. If you don’t, you could turn into the second type of narcissist.

The mind has been overwhelmed by market.

The writer teaches economics at Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar College, Delhi University