Saturday, February 24, 2007

Future Happiness

Arnold is predictably still unhappy with happiness research,

He quotes John Quiggin who says that the real problem is that happiness is a relative measure. People only know how happy they are relative to others or relative to themselves at another time.

They can’t answer the true counter-factual that we are after – how happy would you have been to live in under some completely different economic conditions. There are two ways around this as far as I can see.

1) The semi-section approach. Person A has probably experienced some range of economic circumstances. Person B another range and Person C still a third.

If we can ascertain that Person A is happier with his current than he was we he was in Person B’s shoes and we can establish that Person B is happier than when she was in Person Cs shoes then we can develop a piecemeal function for how happiness evolves with economic states

2) The proxy approach. We ask people who happy they are and then we run a bunch of tests to see if we can find a proxy. Happiness is correlated with say – lower blood pressure for a given fitness level, or more serotonin, or something else we can measure. Then we measure the proxy across different economic states.

I tend to the think the proxy approach is where we will be headed in the future.