Happy, Happy, Happy!

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My very sharp friend Will Wilkinson, who researches how publc policy affects happiness for the Cato Institute, has launched a single issue blog on that topic. Already added to my daily feed, I expect it to be a worthy read if the material already transposed from Will's other blog is any indication.

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  1. Joy, Joy, Joy!

  2. metafilter has done a prettty good job keeping track of happiness research. i’d say LSE’s layard is the foremost proponent in economic circles and daniel gilbert in psychology… leading some to consider it a better measure of economic well-being or utility:

    “Around the world, a growing number of economists, social scientists, corporate leaders and bureaucrats are trying to develop measurements that take into account not just the flow of money but also access to health care, free time with family, conservation of natural resources and other noneconomic factors.”

    for instance valuing traffic externalities or intangibles.

    dan kohn has a nice overview [cf.] and joseph schumpeter btw was an early progenitor of thinking in this regard:

    “For the system of economic science the main importance of this theory lies in the fact that, if distribution can be described by means of the social marginal utilities of the factors of production, it is not necessary, for that purpose, to enter into a theory of prices. The theory of distribution follows, in this case, directly from the law of social value. This theory, indeed, seems to be the starting-point of the concept of social value and the main theoretical reason for its introduction; and it helps to set forth all economic phenomena, and especially those of wages and interest, in a very simple manner — one that is much more lucid and attractive than that derived from an intricate and cumbersome theory of prices. The first step is to describe things in a communistic society. Then it has to be shown or assumed that what happens in a non-communistic society is not essentially different, and that the same theorems apply in both cases. From this follows, on the one hand, the theory of social value as the guiding principle of economic activity, and, on the other hand, that brighter view of everything happening in competitive society.”

    [cf.]

  3. I’m really uncomfortable with a lot of the conclusions I see people drawing from happiness research. There is a reason utility has historically not been measured by polling people. Revealed preferences tell you more than asking someone how they feel. The latter seems fuzzy enough to me that I can’t imagine how you could ever make conclusions other than about what people say in different circumstances.

    Also, it seems to me that there is an evolved predisposition for ambition to some degree. Being happy in a static state is no way to bring home more brontosaur burgers. I don’t know what happiness research is supposed to tell us about happiness implications of our institutions when they are butting up against dissatisfaction as an evolved trait of the species.

  4. I’m more interested in how public policy affects happiness for all of us, not just how it affects happiness for the Cato Institute.

  5. arnold kling is similarly disenamored with happiness research btw… also revealing a preference for “revealed preference.” you might even say he’s an unhappy camper [:P]

    trick!

  6. While I join in Jason’s disdain for polling on the subject, I’d like to point out that “revealed preferences” are also dangerous data to draw broad conclusions from. Case in point – many ethical pharmaceutical companies make generic versions of their own drugs once they are off patent. In essence, they are the exact same product with different packaging (the presses are obviously different for tablets). Most people aren’t aware of the difference, but even among my friends, who are, they will often buy the brand name. There are many reasons, but the important point is that people act rationally based upon their subjective perception of reality, which in itself may be totally irrational.

  7. “No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful / Everyone dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful”
    –“Don’t Lets Start”, They Might Be Giants

    At 25, I thought this was funny, but not true–plenty of people get what they want and are happy.

    At 30, I thought OK, everyone does die frustrated and sad, but there’s nothing beautiful about it, damit.

    Now, I agree with the lyric completely. People are miserable, and it is beautiful.

    “I think I’m dumb, or maybe just happy”
    –“Dumb”, Nirvana

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