Focusing Illusion, Climate Change, and Demagoguery
By Bryan Caplan
While reading Schkade and Kahneman’s “Does Living in California Make People Happy?,” I was shocked to discover the paper’s underlying agenda:
The original motivation for this study concerned the accuracy with which people could predict the effect of a specified change in climate on the well-being of future generations. Beliefs about such effects may determine how urgent the problem of global warming appears today, and influence public willingness to take actions intended to influence the course of effects. A focusing illusion would lead people to exaggerate the adverse impact of climactic changes by underestimating the ability of future generations to adapt.
From the conclusion:
[W]e suspect that people will exaggerate the hedonic impact of ecological changes such as those that may result from global warming.
More general observation:
The focusing illusion may also entail an exaggeration of the importance of ideas that are currently on the agenda. A politician may take advantage of the focusing illusion by announcing small initiatives with great fanfare, encouraging the erroneous belief that these initiatives will make a substantial difference in the life of citizens.
Add these to the list of counter-examples to Loewenstein’s rule that happiness research and left-wing politics go hand in hand.