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Choices, situations, and happiness


  • Koszegi, Botond
  • Rabin, Matthew


This article explores some conceptual issues in the study of well-being using the traditional economic approach of inferring preferences solely from choice behavior. We argue that choice behavior alone can never reveal which situations make people better off, even with unlimited data and under the maintained hypothesis of 100% rational choice. Ancillary assumptions or additional forms of data such as happiness measures are always needed. With such ancillary assumptions and additional data, however, the use of revealed preference to study well-being can be significantly improved, so that the choices people make can jointly identify preferences, mistakes, and well-being.

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  • Koszegi, Botond & Rabin, Matthew, 2008. "Choices, situations, and happiness," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(8-9), pages 1821-1832, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:92:y:2008:i:8-9:p:1821-1832

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gary Charness & Matthew Rabin, 2002. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(3), pages 817-869.
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    3. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, 2002. "What Can Economists Learn from Happiness Research?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 402-435, June.
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    6. Oreopoulos, Philip, 2007. "Do dropouts drop out too soon? Wealth, health and happiness from compulsory schooling," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(11-12), pages 2213-2229, December.
    7. Erzo F. P. Luttmer, 2005. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(3), pages 963-1002.
    8. Sen, Amartya, 1993. "Internal Consistency of Choice," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 61(3), pages 495-521, May.
    9. Andrew Caplin & John Leahy, 2001. "Psychological Expected Utility Theory and Anticipatory Feelings," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(1), pages 55-79.
    10. Huber, Joel & Payne, John W & Puto, Christopher, 1982. " Adding Asymmetrically Dominated Alternatives: Violations of Regularity and the Similarity Hypothesis," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 9(1), pages 90-98, June.
    11. Gruber Jonathan H & Mullainathan Sendhil, 2005. "Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 1-45, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Martin Binder & Leonhard K. Lades, 2015. "Autonomy-Enhancing Paternalism," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 68(1), pages 3-27, February.
    2. B. Douglas Bernheim, 2010. "Behavioral welfare economics," Panoeconomicus, Savez ekonomista Vojvodine, Novi Sad, Serbia, vol. 57(2), pages 123-151, June.
    3. Femke De Keulenaer & Jan-Emmanuel De Neve & Georgios Kavetsos & Michael I. Norton & Bert Van Landeghem & George W. Ward, 2014. "The Asymmetric Experience of Positive and Negative Economic Growth: Global Evidence Using Subjective Well-Being Data," CEP Discussion Papers dp1304, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    4. Paul Frijters & Gigi Foster & David W. Johnston, 2012. "The triumph of hope over regret: A note on the utility value of good health expectations," Discussion Papers Series 451, School of Economics, University of Queensland, Australia.
    5. Odermatt, Reto & Stutzer, Alois, 2015. "Smoking bans, cigarette prices and life satisfaction," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 176-194.
    6. Sibylle Puntscher & Janette Walde & Gottfried Tappeiner, 2016. "Do methodical traps lead to wrong development strategies for welfare? A multilevel approach considering heterogeneity across industrialized and developing countries," Working Papers 2016-01, Faculty of Economics and Statistics, University of Innsbruck.
    7. Marc Fleurbaey & Erik Schokkaert, 2013. "Behavioral Welfare Economics and Redistribution," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 5(3), pages 180-205, August.
    8. Robert Frank & Matthew Nagler, 2013. "On the rationalizability of observed consumers’ choices when preferences depend on budget sets: comment," Journal of Economics, Springer, vol. 110(2), pages 187-198, October.
    9. Fosgaard, Toke R. & Hansen, Lars Gårn & Wengström, Erik, 2014. "Understanding the nature of cooperation variability," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 134-143.
    10. FLEURBAEY, Marc & SCHOKKAERT, Erik, 2011. "Behavioral fair social choice," CORE Discussion Papers 2011043, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
    11. Christian Schubert, 2012. "Is novelty always a good thing? Towards an evolutionary welfare economics," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 22(3), pages 585-619, July.
    12. Akay, Alpaslan & Bargain, Olivier & Jara, Xavier, 2017. "Back to Bentham, Should We? Large-Scale Comparison of Experienced versus Decision Utility," IZA Discussion Papers 10907, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    13. Koen Decancq & Marc Fleurbaey & Erik Schokkaert, 2015. "Happiness, Equivalent Incomes and Respect for Individual Preferences," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 82, pages 1082-1106, December.
    14. Gerardo Infante & Guilhem Lecouteux & Robert Sugden, 2016. "Preference purification and the inner rational agent: a critique of the conventional wisdom of behavioural welfare economics," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 23(1), pages 1-25, March.
    15. Jean-Michel Benkert & Nick Netzer, 2015. "Informational Requirements of Nudging," CESifo Working Paper Series 5327, CESifo Group Munich.
    16. Breitmoser, Yves, 2016. "The axiomatic foundation of logit and its relation to behavioral welfare," MPRA Paper 71632, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    17. Breitmoser, Yves, 2016. "Stochastic choice, systematic mistakes and preference estimation," MPRA Paper 72779, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    18. Gerritsen, Aart, 2016. "Optimal taxation when people do not maximize well-being," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 144(C), pages 122-139.
    19. Sergio Beraldo, 2017. "An Impossibility Result on Nudging Grounded in the Theory of Intentional Action," CSEF Working Papers 485, Centre for Studies in Economics and Finance (CSEF), University of Naples, Italy, revised 30 Sep 2017.
    20. Marc Labie & Carolina Laureti & Ariane Szafarz, 2016. "Discipline and Flexibility: A Behavioral Perspective on Product Design in Microfinance," Working Papers CEB 15-020, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    21. Foster, Gigi & Frijters, Paul & Johnston, David W., 2012. "The triumph of hope over disappointment: A note on the utility value of good health expectations," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 206-214.
    22. Yew-Kwang Ng, 2011. "Happiness Is Absolute, Universal, Ultimate, Unidimensional, Cardinally Measurable and Interpersonally Comparable: A Basis for the Environmentally Responsible Happy Nation Index," Monash Economics Working Papers 16-11, Monash University, Department of Economics.
    23. Akay, Alpaslan & Bargain, Olivier B. & Jara, H. Xavier, 2017. "Back to Bentham, Should We? Large-Scale Comparison of Experienced versus Decision Utility," GLO Discussion Paper Series 52, Global Labor Organization (GLO).

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