The Economic Problem of Happiness. Keynes on Happiness and Economics
In their latest book (2008), Bruno Frey and the members of the research group he chairs at the University of Zurich announce that happiness research is leading a revolution in economics. More precisely, the revolutionary character of happiness economics would draw on measurement, on how people value goods and social conditions, as well as on policies. This paper aims to discuss critically this claim and what we identified as five crucial issues of mainstream happiness economics, i.e.: 1. the ambiguous relationship between income and happiness, 2. the “back to Bentham” approach, 3. problems of incommensurability, 4. heterogeneity and multidimensionality, 5. the scope of economics in relation to happiness. In so doing, we attempt to review John Maynard Keynes’s vision about happiness and economics, starting from a revisiting of his essay Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren in the light of his early unpublished writings on ethics as well as of the whole bulk of his writings in economics. We then provide reasons to argue that the rediscovery of Keynes’s legacy in this respect can be of help to point out and examine the most controversial aspects of today’s happiness research.
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