No matter how hard we try, humans are generally short-sighted.
If we need to make a decision and the negative consequences are far into the future, we are often guilty of missing the big picture. The evidence is both personal and global: we love to procrastinate; we eat unhealthy food; we damage the environment, and we take on too much debt.
A study from the University of California, using images of the brain, concluded that when you think of your future self, your brain acts as if you are thinking of a different person—someone you don’t know that well. This type of thinking has a dramatic impact on intertemporal (present vs future) decision-making.
Obviously, your present self will win most of the time.
Even our leaders suffer from this. Politicians are elected for four years (a maximum of eight) and are likely to make decisions that work for the country during that period. Benefits that come far into the future have a muted impact on their political success and therefore have less weighting—even if they are more crucial than shorter-term gains.
Ironically, a major role of government is to solve this present vs future decision dilemma.
For example, one of the reasons that pensions exist is to help us save. Simply put, not all humans would save enough for retirement if pensions didn’t exist (even