People have a need for meaning. This is true even for people who believe that life is meaningless in the most ultimate sense of being the result of random, impersonal forces in the universe. These people do not believe that "meaning" actually exists as a reality outside of themselves and society at large in the way that a theistic person believes that meaning is contained in God.
What is interesting to me is the way the need for meaning expresses itself among those who do not believe that life has meaning in any ultimate metaphysical sense. What I observe is that these people want, somehow and in some way, to believe that their lives are a part of something much larger than themselves. A person such as this may try to fulfill this need for meaning through some sort of genuine sacrifice or altruism. However, what I observe more often, is that these people are not willing to go to such great lenghts to sacrifice their comfort and safety find a sense of meaning in a universe that is ultimately meaningless.
What I observe more often is that these people contruct for themselves, often unconsiously, a sense of meaning that "works upward" from the inevitability of their desires. If they desire pleasure, comfort and gratification, they will find a way to frame their desires in such a way that places the expressions of those desires in the context of servicing the greater good of society, whether it actually serves society or not. In this way, one is able to service one's need for meaning without the having the need for meaning ever be compelling enough for him/her person to have to suppress or reject any desire. When a person has a drive for meaning, but does not ultimately believe that meaning exists, they are driven to create a semblance of meaning, a construction of meaning, out of the scraps left behind by the unmeaningful forces of the universe.
While desires comprise one scrap of the metaphysically meaningless universe, the vague need to perpetuate or advance society, or to "make the world go 'round", is a scrap of reality that often functions as as the greatest good for one attempting, often unconsiously, to construct meaning out of non-meaning. Advancing the GNP or some other economic index to advance the short-term economic well-being of society is a way to "make the world go 'round" within a construction of meaning that does not make claims on one's desires.
If one arrives at the idea that advancing the market is the greatest good, then the question of whether or not something sells is the yardstick for its true value and essential goodness. This is the basis for what I call Economism, an ethical system that uses the economic marketplace to determine anything's true value and to make ethical decisions based on that value assessment. In Economism, people are seen primarily as economic creatures, and to increase their economic benefit is to benefit them at life's most essential level of reality.
Economism goes hand in hand with belief that I call Primalism, a construction of meaning that makes expressing primal desires as the greatest good; as the greatest transcendant experience one can have in life and is the path to one's happiness and enlightenment. Primalists understand that life, like an economic cycle, is short and must be "played to the hilt" so one doesn't have to face death with any primal desire left un-expressed. Economismists and Primalists do not make any distinction between desires and expressions as being vices and virtues. If another moral system has labeled a desire/expression as a vice, there are any number of creative ways that a primalist can frame his "vices" in economismist terms as advancing the economy. In other words, economism is a complementary belief that helps to allow a primalist to believe that his primal experience is "making the world go 'round".
For one to have a construction of meaning that one has arrived unconsiously, apart from a self-conscious search for meaning, driven into existense only by the raw, unexamined drive for meaning, often results in one making unconsious assessments of gain and loss that grossly overvalue the "greatest good" at the expense of other things that might be good. For a economismist, if expressing a desire causes other problems throughout a person's life or throughout society at large, the short term economic benefit to the individual and to society wins out in the assessment of gain and loss. Likewise for a primalist, maximizing society to facilitate ones ability to express one's primal desires is the greatest good that outweighs other assessments of gain and loss. Ones assessment of gain and loss, whether conscious or unconsious is what I call a "gain calculus".
With the exception of thinkers like Ayn Rand, most people who are economismist/primalist or who have constructions of meaning based on meaning out of non-meaning do not consciously articulate their belief in so many words. This is because such people would rather hold onto their construction of meaning than face the metaphysical meaninglessness that their construction is based on. Furthermore, as the construction of meaning frames one's desires, so do one's desires reinforce one's constuction of meaning. Each is propping the other up, and to dismantle the whole is terrifying. It is for this reason that constructions of meaning for those who believe life is ultimately meaningless are held to with a religious ferver, and the practice that flows from it becomes the religion of the non-religious.
Yet another reason that most people do not describe themselves as Economismist or Primalist is because these are rather crass beliefs when stated so bluntly. There are many other parallel beliefs that complement Economism and Primalism that sound much more thoughtful and magnanimous which I'll elaborate on later. So it is for most Economismists and Primalists that the clues to their beliefs are found in the composite of their behaviors and justifying slogans.
"Sex sells" is an example of a common economisimist slogan that works backward from the economic-benefit-as-greatest-good view to justify the use of human sexuality as a market commodity. Contained in this slogan is the gain calculus that the need to advance the economic benefit of society via the use of sexuality is so compelling as to trump any consideration of whether the use of sexuality in question is good or healthy. If I were a primalist who believed that expressing my lust was essential to my happiness, I could use the economism to assign global value to the sexual commodities that facilitated my lust. In so doing, my lust would "make the world go 'round".