Surveys and Happiness
By Arnold Kling
I have already given so-called “happiness research” a pretty hard bashing. But Tyler Cowen thinks that there is something to it. He links to a paper that says that people who work for nonprofits are happier than people who work in other occupations.
To me, this shows the foolishness of the survey exercise. I hate working for a boss, and bosses at nonprofits tend to be less rational and less competent than bosses at commercial enterprises. So, even if a survey says that on average people are happier working for a nonprofit, there is no basis for concluding that I would be happier working for a nonprofit.
Bernie Saffran, my undergraduate economics professor at Swarthmore College, used to quote George Bernard Shaw: “Do not do unto others as they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.”
Do not use “happiness research” to tell me what to do. My tastes may not be the same.
For Discussion. Economists say that it is not possible to make interpersonal comparisons of utility. To what extent does “happiness research” depend on the ability to make such comparisons?