Best Use of Dead Kitten Imagery in a Blog


Will Wilkinson has a good essay on happiness statistics from the Prospect posted at Cato today. It's an interesting and subtle treatment of the proper amount of salt to take with one's social scientific studies, and also deserves the award for Best Use of Dead Kitten Imagery in a Blog:

A steady rate of growth may be necessary to keep happiness and other good things at a high stable level. (Imagine a guillotine, on which a kitten is strapped, connected to a bicycle that must be pedalled ever more quickly to keep the blade aloft. Slow down, and the kitten gets it.)

Will also combats a case of moronic acronym coinage:

David Cameron says, "It's time we admitted that there's more to life than money, and it's time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB–General Wellbeing," by which he means happiness. With Cameron's endorsement, the cockle-warming politics of happiness has officially become a multi-partisan affair, no longer the property of Labour peer Richard Layard and other social democrats. And why shouldn't it be? Certainly no one disputes that there is more to life than money, or more to politics than the size of the economy.

However, Cameron's contrast implies that increased GWB might have to come at the expense of GDP growth and economic liberalisation. Yet if you really profess to care about happiness, you must care about economic freedom and economic growth too. Our happiness depends on them more than almost anything else.

If I were trying to come up with three letters that convey broad-based happiness, I'd avoid GWB.

In related news: Kitten Thinks Of Nothing But Murder All Day

NEXT: Alert Interpol: Gas Passer On the Loose!

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  1. three letters that convey broad-based happiness

    T&A? (I know the ampersand isn’t really a letter, but TNA is much less clear.)

  2. Let me be the first to note this, since I’m one of the first to carp about M-W’s posts here or elsewhere: this is a post by her that I’m not pained to see on Hit and Run. It’s not remotely bad. It’s even a bit funny.

  3. In The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman argues that steady economic growth “fosters greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness and dedication to democracy”?a list I doubt any politician would come out against.

    Unless you’re talking about smokers, GLBT, gunowners, people who want to get high, the other party’s voters, taxpayers, and on and on and on.

    Most strikingly, Takashima and Ovaska show that “economic freedom”?a measure of “personal choice, freedom to compete and the security of privately owned property as its core components”?trumps all other variables. On the other hand, according to Ovaska and Takashima,”size of government” has a negative relationship to happiness.

    Doh. Elect libertarians –> get happy.

  4. I wonder if the higher than average happiness reported in the top quintile is a result of the correlation between job satisfaction and job performance. People who perform better would earn more.

    In other words, does the top quintile tend to earn more because they are happier as opposed to being happier because they earn more.

    Anyone know of any research from this angle?

  5. If I were trying to come up with three letters that convey broad-based happiness, I’d avoid GWB.

    LMAO. That basically sums up the total lack of logical thought that went into the substance of GWB. Er, either GWB….

  6. It’s not a true acronym unless you say it as a word. NASA is an acronym, for example, but FBI is not.

  7. brian423

    It’s pronounced guhwhub.

  8. Let’s try this again.

    3rd attempt:

    Daly has some interesting things to say on this topic:

    The American people have been told by no less an authority than the President’s Council of Economic Advisors that, “If it is agreed that economic output is a good thing it follows by definition that there is not enough of it” (Economic Report of the President, 1971, p. 92). It is evidently impossible to have too much of a good thing. If rain is a good thing, a torrential downpour is, by definition, better! Has the learned council forgotten about diminishing marginal benefit and increasing marginal costs? A charitable interpretation would be that “economic” output means output for which marginal benefit is greater than marginal cost. But it is clear from the context that what is meant is simply real GNP. Perhaps this amazing non sequitur was just a slip of the pen. At another point in the same document the council admits that “growth of GNP has its costs, and beyond some point they are not worth paying” (p. 88). However, instead of raising the obvious question–What determines the optimal point and how do we know when we have reached it?–the council relapses into non sequitur and quickly closes this dangerous line of thinking with the following pontification: “The existing propensities of the population and policies of the government constitute claims upon GNP itself that can only be satisfied by rapid economic growth” (p. 88). Apparently, these “existing propensities and policies” are beyond discussion. This is growth mania.

    The theoretical answer to the avoided question is clear to any economist. Growth in GNP should cease when decreasing marginal benefits become equal to increasing marginal costs. But there is no statistical series that attempts to measure the cost of GNP. This is growth mania, literally not counting the costs of growth. But the situation is even worse. We take the real costs of increasing GNP as measured by the defensive expenditures incurred to protect ourselves from the unwanted side effects of production and add these expenditures to GNP rather than subtract them. We count real costs as benefits. This is hypergrowthmania. Obviously, we should keep separate accounts of costs and benefits. But to do this would make it clear that beyond some point zero growth would be optimal, at least in the short run. Such an admission is inconvenient to the ideology of growth, which quite transcends the ordinary logic of elementary economics. More precisely, it is good growthmanship strategy to admit the theoretical existence of such a point way out in the future, but somehow it must always be thought of as far away…”

    For others who agree with him–

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