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Bentham from the Crypt Once More: Politicians in Pursuit of Happiness

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  • Charles Kenny

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Abstract

There is a burgeoning academic literature on happiness polls that has used a range of different measures and approaches across countries rich and poor alike to answer the question, “what makes people say they are happy?†The excitement surrounding this work is well justified. These polls suggest an idea of happiness that would be broadly understood by philosophers from Aristotle to Mill to Rawls or Parfit. Happiness studies also suggest some potential reasons why we appear to act irrationally according to the dictates of revealed-preference-utility-maximization. Subjective-well-being (SWB) polls also help to illustrate some of the absurdities of taking income per capita as our measure of the ultimate good. At the same time, a lot of things we surely care about are not reflected in SWB poll answers. Crosscountry studies involving economies and societies at distinctly different levels of development suggest a limited role for income, rights, health and social factors all combined in explaining SWB. And all the usual criticisms of and concerns with utilitarianism apply to SWB polls. Polls do not capture a be-all and end-all measure of the good. Both because of the difficulty of interpreting SWB evidence with regard to SWB-maximizing policy and because it appears clear that SWB (on whichever measure) is probably not what we want to maximize, considerable caution is required in the use of such polls for policymaking. URL:[www.cgdev.org/content/publications/detail/1425209].

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Paper provided by eSocialSciences in its series Working Papers with number id:4332.

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Date of creation: Jul 2011
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Handle: RePEc:ess:wpaper:id:4332

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Keywords: philosophers; Aristotle; Mill; Rawls; Parfit; irrationally; per capita; subjective-well-being; SWB; ultimate good; revealed preference-utility; maximization; utility; politicians; happiness; income rights; health social factors; rich; poor; happy;

References

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  1. DAVID DORN & Justina Fischer & GEBHARD KIRCHGÄSSNER & ALFONSO SOUSA-POZA, 2005. "Is It Culture or Democracy? The Impact of Democracy, Income, and Culture on Happiness," University of St. Gallen Department of Economics working paper series 2005, Department of Economics, University of St. Gallen 2005-12, Department of Economics, University of St. Gallen.
  2. Fafchamps, Marcel & Shilpi, Forhad, 2008. "Subjective welfare, isolation, and relative consumption," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 86(1), pages 43-60, April.
  3. Alesina, Alberto & Di Tella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert, 2004. "Inequality and happiness: are Europeans and Americans different?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 2009-2042, August.
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  5. Marcel Fafchamps & Forhad Shilpi, 2004. "Isolation and Subjective Welfare," Economics Series Working Papers 216, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
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  7. KNIGHT, John & SONG, Lina & GUNATILAKA, Ramani, 2009. "Subjective well-being and its determinants in rural China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 20(4), pages 635-649, December.
  8. Bjørnskov, Christian & Dreher, Axel & Fischer, Justina AV, 2008. "Formal Institutions and Subjective Well-Being: Revisiting the Cross-Country Evidence," Working Paper Series in Economics and Finance 699, Stockholm School of Economics.
  9. Hongyu Li & Jishan Zhu, 2005. "Ranking The Efficiency Performance Within A Set Of Decision Making Units By Data Envelopment Analysis," International Journal of Information Technology & Decision Making (IJITDM), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 4(03), pages 345-357.
  10. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2008. "Economic Growth and Subjective Well-Being: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox," CESifo Working Paper Series 2394, CESifo Group Munich.
  11. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Paul Frijters, 2004. "How Important is Methodology for the estimates of the determinants of Happiness?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(497), pages 641-659, 07.
  12. Andrew J. Oswald, 2010. "Emotional Prosperity and the Stiglitz Commission," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 48(4), pages 651-669, December.
  13. Michael Hagerty, 2003. "Was Life Better in the “Good Old Days”? Intertemporal Judgments of Life Satisfaction," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, Springer, vol. 4(2), pages 115-139, June.
  14. Di Tella, Rafael & Haisken-De New, John & MacCulloch, Robert, 2010. "Happiness adaptation to income and to status in an individual panel," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 76(3), pages 834-852, December.
  15. Saibal Ray & Shanling Li & Yuyue Song, 2005. "Tailored Supply Chain Decision Making Under Price-Sensitive Stochastic Demand and Delivery Uncertainty," Management Science, INFORMS, INFORMS, vol. 51(12), pages 1873-1891, December.
  16. Xiao-Ping Chen & Shu Li, 2005. "Cross-national differences in cooperative decision-making in mixed-motive business contexts: the mediating effect of vertical and horizontal individualism," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 36(6), pages 622-636, November.
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  18. Kenny, Charles, 1999. "Does Growth Cause Happiness, or Does Happiness Cause Growth?," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(1), pages 3-25.
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