Bryan Caplan  

Focusing Illusion, Climate Change, and Demagoguery

The Myth of Californian Happin... Why Did We Save the Financial ...
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.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (4 to date)
Snorri Godhi writes:

Actually, I do not see how it is possible to study happiness research without adopting what we might call Victorian values. Consider:
* greater income brings greater happiness, in addition to longer life expectancy;
* freedom, and specifically _economic_ freedom, brings happiness even after correcting for income;
* the self-employed are happier than dependent workers, and dependent workers are happier than the unemployed, even after correcting for income;
* the size of the welfare state does nothing for either average happiness or the happiness of the unemployed.

What more is there to say?

Lord writes:

I see little problem with the ability of future generations of people to adapt. I see a lot of problems with the ability of future generations of life to adapt. One can adopt the economic attitude that only people matter and the world must revolve about them, but that is not one I consider moral.

Dain writes:

Bruno Frey has been at the forefront of happiness research. I wouldn't describe him as left wing. He's not too keen on the New Paternalism.

Dain writes:

Sorry, I wasn't reading your post closely enough.

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