Or is it something different? I wonder if it's another thing as well. . . you can't miss what you don't have. The idea of someone coming into your house, and taking away the stuff you already have is a lot more vivid than the possibility of getting fabulous new stuff, which you've barely seen or thought about. I know that I can get along without a full-time domestic staff--I do so now. (Though I'd like St. Anthony on a retainer!) The idea of not having a car or a washing machine (I guess a washing machine is a mechanical domestic staff) is a lot harder; I don't know how I'd arrange my life without them, and that causes stress to think about. (But I did get along without both, for many years, while in grad school--so I guess it's that that was then).So I guess I do think it's loss aversion. And I think loss aversion works differently with respect to the stuff you have in your life, your familiar surroundings, YOUR life, than it does with purely monetary bets. It's one thing to lose $100; it's another thing to lose your favorite bottle of perfume or your expensive cigars, around which you've created a daily ritual. When you're talking about income level, you're talking about the material matrix around which people create a life and identity. You're not just talking about currency.That doesn't say that people don't get attached to things they shouldn't, or that materialism isn't a problem. But it is a problem because of the attachment--and de-attaching from anything is harder than not attaching in the first place.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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