Arnold Kling  

Robin Hanson Refutes Happiness Research

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He writes,


Me, I want to believe whatever is true even if that makes me unhappy. And with that attitude, I doubt attending church would make me happier.

More generally, even if happiness researchers found that on average "People who do X are happier than people who do not do X," that does not prove that you should do X. Among the many sins of happiness research, it seems to me to deny the possibility of heterogeneous preferences.


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COMMENTS (7 to date)
ajb writes:

But -- consistent with Brooks' research -- Hanson is a happy ideologue. He is committed to truth (or what he feels is Truth) at all costs, or rather to his ideas of the Good Life despite his having no universally acceptable rationale for why his particular variant of the Search for Truth should dominate other considerations.

Patri Friedman writes:

"Among the many sins of happiness research, it seems to me to deny the possibility of heterogeneous preferences."

I think that's an unfair strawman. It's not like happiness researchers claim that everyone should blindly follow their prescriptions, which is what you are implying. Instead, they merely say that happiness is something that many people seek, therefore is important, therefore worth studying and understanding how to get it. Much more reasonable, and doesn't conflict at all with the existence of those like Robin who may have other elements besides simple happiness in their utility function.

Chuck writes:

I think another aspect of it is that, predominanty, it is expectation and predisposition that sets the baseline, from which things like wealth and social networks deviate.

Plus, it seems that all the 'results' about how wealth or children or whatever effect happiness are really correlations and not causal in linkage.

So really, what's neat about that?

conchis writes:

"Among the many sins of happiness research, it seems to me to deny the possibility of heterogeneous preferences."

Among the many sins of the constant drivel you put out on this topic, it seems to me to deny the possibility of heterogeneous happiness researchers.

Arnold, please take some time to actually engage with what you're supposed to be criticizing or shut the hell up. This is seriously painful.

P.S. In case it isn't obvious already, Robin's comment does nothing to refute happiness economics; it refutes naive Layard-style assumptions that happiness is all we care about. They're not even close to the same thing.

Snark writes:

I think it's a bit over the top to disparage those who remain incredulous about happiness research. Much has been studied, but what has been learned? Where, exactly, are the fruits of this labor? When I read happiness research proposals like the following, I can't help but feel incredulous myself:

How can consumers best be helped to understand that happiness (or greater happiness) is their basic goal in life, and to begin seeking it directly through training rather than through often ineffective strategies like achieving greater wealth, possessions, power, knowledge, prestige, success, etc.?

Are you kidding me?

Mason writes:

"Me, I want to believe whatever is true even if that makes me unhappy."

But doesn't he want to believe whatever is true b/c, for him, knowing the truth will make him happier than not knowing it?

RogerClemens writes:

Happiness is an outcome (one of many) that social scientists may find of interest because it is likely positively associated with well-being.

One might as well "refute" labor economics by saying "People who do X *earn* more than people who do not do X," that does not prove that you should do X."

Labor economists have understood heterogenous preferences at least since Rosen (1976) and probably since Smith (1776). That hasn't stopped people from documenting earnings differentials across groups etc.

If you don't like church, don't go. If you want to understand why most Americans sometimes attend and why a large minority regularly attends, happiness research does as good a job as any other field, thus far.

Roger

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