By Arnold Kling
I have an essay on Robert Frank’s use of “happiness research” to justify paternalism.
Frank is fond of using thought experiments. I have one. Imagine that you could go back a few hundred years and ask people if they are “very happy,” “fairly happy,” or “not happy.” Suppose that this survey showed that happiness was approximately the same back then as it is today. Would it be fair to conclude that the tangible goods that we have today contribute nothing to happiness? People a few hundred years ago had no idea what it was like to live with indoor plumbing, abundant food, and antibiotics. People today have no idea what it was like to live without them. How can a “happiness survey” provide a meaningful comparison of the two eras?
For Discussion. Which goods and services do you buy because other people buy them, not because they make you happy?