Should We Be Measuring Happiness As An Economic Measure?

from the this-makes-me-sad dept

A lot of people have finally realized that traditional economic measures have all sorts of problems. Things like GDP mismeasure a ton of things, and by presenting an aggregate set of data, often obscure lots of issues. Also, things like GDP don't handle disruption very well. I've discussed in the past how you could argue that, purely on a GDP basis, something like Craigslist has been horrible. It effectively undercut newspaper classifieds, which was a multi-billion dollar business, and turned it into a much smaller business. If you measured such things purely by GDP, you'd say that it was bad. But, of course, Craigslist also created tons of value, enabling people to make transactions that couldn't have been made before, while also allowing other transactions to be made more efficiently and with less friction. Much of that will never show up in GDP, even if, intrinsically, most people recognize that something like Craigslist provided a lot more value to the world than it took away.

In trying to deal with that, we've started to see new forms of economic measurements pop up. One popular one is "happiness." There's even been some talk about using "Gross National Happiness" as a key economic measure. There's a great book from a couple of years ago by Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, with Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi, called Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Add Up. It was actually the result of a request from then French President Nicolas Sarkozy to explore how useful (or not) GDP was, including looking into alternate measurements, such as this idea of Gross National Happiness. If you haven't read the book, I highly recommend it.

Recently, the folks at Planet Money also did a report on the growing interest in measuring happiness, particularly as an official stat for American economic health. There appears to be growing interest in establishing a happiness index for the US, not unlike the unemployment index. Of course, you can think of the immediate problem. Just how do you measure happiness:
But once you get into the details, there's a lot of debate over the happiness data. One big divide: Should you ask people how they're feeling right now, or how they feel about their life in general?

You get different answers depending on what you ask. Which one is more important is a squishy, philosophical question.
The difference between asking about "right now" or "their life in general" can be massive. It shows up clearly in the data about how happy parents are vs. non-parents. There are tons of studies that suggest parents are miserable compared to non-parents. But nearly all of those studies are based on questions about "how happy are you now" type questions. Not surprisingly, the parent changing a diaper is probably going to report slightly less current happiness compared to the non-parent who's out at the bar with some friends, for example. But... it's not that simple. When other studies are done that ask parents and non-parents about how happy their overall lives are or how fulfilled their lives are, parents frequently report much higher feelings of fulfillment/happiness on a grand scale, while non-parents often report more regret. In other words: time frame makes a huge difference.

Of course, as the Planet Money report points out, just because something is difficult to measure, or involves highly subjective concepts, doesn't mean it can't be done. For example, unemployment data. You might think that this involves a nice, simple objective question, but when you look at the details, it's actually pretty subjective as well.
In the U.S, in order to be counted as unemployed, you have to be out of a job and looking for work. But what counts as looking for work? Checking Craigslist? Sending out three resumes a week? Five?

"It's actually kind of a hard question," says Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Michigan. "It's very subjective."

Yet every month, a single unemployment number is released.
So, you could see why a "Happiness Index" might be a compelling bit of economic data -- especially if you believe (as I do) that GDP is misleading. After all, if people are happier, isn't that a pretty important thing? Well, yes and no. Even as I find the topic interesting, I also worry a lot about the embrace of "Happiness" as an economic measure beyond the reasons laid out in the Planet Money report. Yes, it's difficult to calculate, but perhaps you can get past that so long as the calculation is done the same way over time. The real problem, for me, is that when you choose to make something a key economic number like that, you are guaranteed to start optimizing for it. That's what happens when you create metrics. Whether they're important or not, whether they're accurate or not, once you have a number, you naturally try to optimize for it.

It shouldn't be difficult, then, to quickly come up with scenarios for why a National Happiness Index could create significant problems as people optimize for it. First off, you encourage the kinds of short-term rewards that lead people to say they're happier, even if that creates massive costs down the road. Want to see governments leverage the present and put the costs on the future? Start using a happiness index. Second, if the focus is on maximizing present-day happiness, then you just focus on drugging the population. Yes, that's an extreme example, but hopefully it gets the point across. In economics, you need to measure the costs and benefits to things. You can "maximize happiness" in all sorts of ways if you ignore the costs to it. Put happy drugs in the water, and let everyone be thrilled. The Happiness index fails to take into account all of the consequences of doing something like that.

So while it's encouraging to see more of an exploration into alternative metrics, and getting beyond some of the older metrics that clearly "mismeasure" important aspects of our lives, we need to be careful to not just leap to the "next great thing" without realizing that it, too, likely has downsides.


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    M. Alan Thomas II (profile), Feb 13th, 2013 @ 11:40pm

    Three points:

    (1) I'm not sure that there's any such thing as a "happiness drug"—even antidepressants don't really work that way—but I take your point.

    (2) Your objections seem to assume that such an index would measure present-day happiness; they don't seem to respond to the question of what happens if a big-picture metric is chosen.

    (3) The best argument for why we might choose a short-term metric is that we already effectively do so with snap polls, approval polls, "Do you think the country is headed in the right direction?" polls, and obvious short-term-profit-long-term-loss choices being made by government, but that simply invites the question of to what degree a designated metric would exacerbate a problem that arguably already exists in substantially similar form.

    Not that I'm arguing in favor of such an index, mind you; I just think that this argument is perhaps missing some elements of the big picture itself.

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 1:38am

      Re:

      (1) I'm not sure that there's any such thing as a "happiness drug"—even antidepressants don't really work that way—but I take your point.

      That was a simplistic way of stating that there are ways to ensure short term happiness that might ensure long term misery...

      (2) Your objections seem to assume that such an index would measure present-day happiness; they don't seem to respond to the question of what happens if a big-picture metric is chosen.

      Fair enough -- though I'd be surprised if they did choose a long term metric. Still even under a long term metric, "happiness" is such a broad term that it can raise troubling incentives. Do we want to maximize happiness in life? In work? In family? Could lead to very different issues.

      (3) The best argument for why we might choose a short-term metric is that we already effectively do so with snap polls, approval polls, "Do you think the country is headed in the right direction?" polls, and obvious short-term-profit-long-term-loss choices being made by government, but that simply invites the question of to what degree a designated metric would exacerbate a problem that arguably already exists in substantially similar form.

      Polls are one thing -- but having an official "stat" has much more weight in terms of optimizing for the stat.

       

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        Ninja (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 2:54am

        Re: Re:

        Do we want to maximize happiness in life? In work? In family?

        Some people value work over family (many of those won't ever have any children) while others prefer to have a family. For the second group earning enough money to satisfy their needs and those of their family is far enough while the 'workaholics' may find happiness in seeing a successful start up flourishing (aka: making a lot of money and growing quickly).

        It is indeed a problematic way of measuring things. In my view we should use a group of measures with a single value that could summarize them. The challenge would be to make a balanced summary where every single part would have the same weight.

        It's the sort of systemic thinking that is so damn hard to achieve. Companies are understanding more and more that productivity also depends on how happy their employees are and are investing in welfare (not sure if that's the word, I mean their employees physical and mental health, well-being and satisfaction).

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 8:26am

        Re: Re:

        I can feel accomplished at my job and content at home, while not feeling "happy".

        I am not a happy person, but I'm not depressed or anything, I am content and I am satisfied in my life, but I do not equate these things with being happy.

        Additionally, why do I even need to be happy? Is there something wrong with NOT being happy but otherwise finding contentment in what I do?

        The happyness question is heavily skewed as well... "how HAPPY are you" is basically useless, as some of the happiest countries are actually some of the poorest and worst off due to how people rate happyness based on what they currently have.

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/2011/jan/04/nigerians-top-optimism-poll

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 5:22am

      Re:

      What, I'm the only one who heard "happiness drug" and immediately thought of Brave New World's soma?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 12:29am

    The "happy drug" thing is pretty much the justification for the Olympics.

    Me: Look how much it cost.
    Person: But it made so many people happy.
    Me: For far less money they could have just loaded the water with ecstasy.

     

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    Ox, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 1:29am

    Hate to nitpick but 'winning' is misspelled.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 1:37am

    Value

    Thinking on the Craigslist example, let's take a look at an older example: email.

    Email reduces the use of postal letters ("snail-mail"). But it keeps the value the letters had (communicating with your relatives) and adds extra value for several reasons: it is (usually) much faster, and its low cost and low friction means you can use it a lot more. The total value has increased, but it looks like the opposite if you look at monetary metrics (since the cost per email is much lower, so less money exchanges hands).

    Note that this has nothing to do with happiness. Any extra happiness is a side effect.

    The question is, what would be a good metric to capture these things? How would you measure value, especially when disruptive things like email make the "money" proxy less relevant?

     

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      Corwin (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 4:18am

      Re: Value

      Abundance. How much would it have cost to send the letters? How much is a day's delay worth?

      I think there is not enough money in the world to pay for postage service to send all email as letters. As in, all of the money divided by all of the emails gives a result under letter-sending cost.

      It's like the postal services everywhere whining that the Internet is killing them, when most of their work is to move Internet-ordered merchandise.

      Happiness. To be happy, you need to see that you have the means to accomplish your goals. That is the formula, the recipe, the condition in which to put the human organism to get a result of happy. Give them what they need to do what they want to get done.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 2:23am

    How to measure standard of living for every person?
    How to see the trends on how people are living?

    Those are the only questions that really matter to me.

    Anybody saw the news in Newark recently?

    Mobs of wild teenagers rampaging through the streets attacking others, thugs forcing people to get naked and beating his victim with a belt, because of $20 lousy bucks.

    More important people don't report those things they start happening and people do nothing about it.

    How do you measure quality of life in communities?
    The GDP won't give any ideas about that, just a rough estimate, happiness would not show those things either.

    Maybe the government should start actually counting people on the streets to see what they are doing to get a clue.

    How many protests happened?
    How many crimes, reported and unreported happened?
    How many people renovated their homes on the outside?
    How many new cars appeared somewhere?
    How many people go to school? and how many of them drop out or succeeded?
    How many jobs are in some area?
    What kind of jobs are in some area?
    What is the rate of adoption of a product or service?
    What services are available?
    What is the quality of services and products in some area?
    What are the trends in services, products and production?

    The list goes on and on and on, those are just data points that would be hard or impossible to collect before, not in the internet age.

    The government can spend millions developing software to track people across different social networks but can't come up with a good picture of American society?

     

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    Old Fool (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 2:40am

    Quality of life

    It's always struck me a odd that we don't have quality of life as an economic measure. After all why would you want money other than to increase the quality of life?

    Money is merely a means to an end, and it is not only money but air quality, security, education, freedom, art etc that gives us that 'feel good factor' - and everyone wants to feel good about their lives.

     

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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 4:07am

      Re: Quality of life

      I was going to say something similar. Use a quality of life measurement, not a happiness measurement. Quality of life involves health, creativity, basic needs met, family and/or relationship time, etc. When people have money, that's what they buy: quality of life. They might use money to save time, for example. An alternative to increasing wages would be to allow people to continue to receive their current incomes, but put in fewer work hours in the process.

      One of my concerns is economic models based on growth. But growth uses up resources. A better model might be one based on sustainability, where we are no longer looking for growth, but stabilization.

      At some point we will reach a population limit. The environment can't support an ever increasing population. We either stop the growth, or something happens (e.g., wars, plagues, starvation) and people begin to die off. No matter how many technological innovations we develop, eventually we run out of the necessary resources to adequately support the population.

      Therefore, setting different goals, which don't involve economic growth, may be an alternative to what we have now.

       

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        Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 4:15am

        Re: Re: Quality of life

        We can't grow ourselves out of debt, no matter what the Federal Reserve does | Charles Eisenstein | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk: "Obviously, it isn't true that the more we buy, the happier we are. Endless growth means endlessly increasing production and endlessly increasing consumption. Social critics have for a long time pointed out the resulting hollowness carried by that thesis. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly apparent that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. Why, then, are liberals and conservatives alike so fervent in their pursuit of growth?"

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 5:59am

          Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

          Why, then, are liberals and conservatives alike so fervent in their pursuit of growth?"

          Two reasons:-
          1) To show that their policies are working.
          2) Increased GDP = more tax =- more money for politicians to spend.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 9:21am

          Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

          Because the dumb voters believe it?

           

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        Mike Masnick (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 10:31am

        Re: Re: Quality of life

        I was going to say something similar. Use a quality of life measurement, not a happiness measurement. Quality of life involves health, creativity, basic needs met, family and/or relationship time, etc.

        There have some attempts to do this but the data for measuring quality of life is pretty bad too...

        One of my concerns is economic models based on growth. But growth uses up resources.

        This is a myth. Growth may use up some resources, but the key to growth is actually in not using up resources by increasing what you can do with existing resources. This is a key insight of Paul Romer. Yes, there are some forms of growth that do use up resources, but sustainable growth is about doing more with less.

        At some point we will reach a population limit. The environment can't support an ever increasing population. We either stop the growth, or something happens (e.g., wars, plagues, starvation) and people begin to die off. No matter how many technological innovations we develop, eventually we run out of the necessary resources to adequately support the population.

        Oh my. You're a Malthusian. People have been predicting this forever and it's always been wrong. My favorite example is Stanley Jevons, who was so concerned that the world would run out of paper on which he could present his thoughts that when he died they found a room stocked top to bottom with paper.

        People always predict we run out of resources, and they never take into account the real nature of economic growth: ideas that make things more efficient and use up less resources.

        Therefore, setting different goals, which don't involve economic growth, may be an alternative to what we have now.

        That would be a disaster. Economic growth shouldn't be about using up resources but about improving what we have and what we can do.

         

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          Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 12:52pm

          Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

          Oh my. You're a Malthusian.

          I am to the extent that I believe you can't expand population until every space on the planet is full of people. There is a limit to how many people Earth can support. We may have been wrong about predicting when that limit will hit, but it will hit.

           

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            Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 1:18pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

            I believe humans are capable of finding solutions, but I'm not sure we have enough time to find solutions without some massive disruptions headed our way.

            In the past those disruptions have been in the form of wars, natural disasters, disease, and so on. Those are always looming on the horizon and the questions facing the world now are how successfully we might continue to head them off. For most people in the US, we have hit an income plateau. Improvements have been funded by increased consumer debt rather than increased income. If we reduce debt, the economy faces an extended period of slow growth or even contraction, which is probably better for the environment, but will make a lot of people unhappy about those numbers.

            It's going to be interesting to see how it all plays out. I definitely see the disruptions coming, in many industries, which is a common theme of mine in Techdirt. But I like to point out that it won't just be Hollywood that is disrupted. I think all industries will be disrupted and at an accelerating rate. But I think the new crop of disruptors don't realize that it will happen to them, too. I've seen a lot of Internet-related companies come and go and expect the current crop to be replaced by others. The notion of long-term investing makes less sense when fewer companies are likely to exist long term. Disrupting the financial system is a big change likely to happen, and not likely to happen smoothly.

            Another big issue is the interconnectedness of the world. Economic dominoes are likely to fall in one place and take down other economies, too. People are also now trying to figure out how to protect data and access when everything is stored in networked, hackable clouds.

             

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            shane (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 8:13am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

            The total biomass on this planet is immense, and human beings do not make up much of it. In raw tons, there's less humanity than there are ants.

            The issue is not our population. The issue is the wastefulness of the upper echelons of our population.

             

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              Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 9:24am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

              The issue is the wastefulness of the upper echelons of our population.

              You're saying what I am saying. Given a lifestyle we live or aspire to, there's a limit to how many people the planet can support. Yes, technology/innovation has allowed more people to survive than in previous centuries, but the number of people who can live on the planet is not infinite.

              How many more people Earth can support will depend on a lot of things. However, whether the necessary steps will happen in a timely fashion is a guess right now. HIV, for example, greatly impacted Africa. It's impact could have been more limited, but that would have required cultural changes, government and medical changes, etc.

              China has had some awful air pollution. That can be prevented, but will require significant changes there. How fast will those happen? Radiation in Japan. That could have been prevented, but wasn't.

              The global issue now appears to be climate change, but some people say it isn't happening or it's natural and people have nothing to do with it. Others can't agree on what should be done or whether they will do it even if they know they should.

              I'll toss this article into the mix for further discussion.

              Chris Hedges: The Myth of Human Progress - Chris Hedges' Columns - Truthdig

               

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                shane (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 10:15am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

                We may be looking at the same sets of things and complaining, but your presentation suggests you have an entirely different solution in mind.

                I am about at my wits end in dealing with the anti European, anti White people spin doctoring of these issues. Firstly, places like China in particular are lagging, not because their indigenous population was less corrupt, but rather because it was more so, and still is. If the Chinese would stop fighting the west, and instead replace their leadership with people who would not sell them out to the west, they would be done already, and be set to more or less take over the cultural leadership of the planet due to nothing more fancy than the fact they make up a huge portion of the total human population.

                All you have to do is watch how well Chinese people do when they leave China to see that the problem is not Europe, or America. The problem for Chinese people is China.

                Europe, and to a lesser degree America, are the places where progressive thought and action find their most avid supporters. You demonize the very people who are going to have to lead the way. There are no huge moves towards civil rights coming from China's current government....

                I personally could care less if global warning exists or not, or whether or not it is man made. The problem is obvious - too much waste of everything because too many resources are being poured into making a handful of people monstrously prosperous at other people's expense. Most people LIKE the wilderness, the lovely sorts of architecture being developed to be greener, the idea of living in ways that are still tied to the land while still allowing for progress and technology to continue helping us to solve ever more complex problems.

                The issue is that the people at the apex of our current social constructs responsible for organizing projects and doling out the products produced by such projects are mismanaging them for their own, private benefit.

                The supposedly "complex" modern issues can really be boiled down to ancient, well known and understood problems - greed, waste, fraud, apathy.

                These things were not absent in America or Africa before the arrival of the horrible white Europeans.... The solutions are not to be found exclusively there, nor in primitivism.

                If I'm misunderstanding the thrust of your argument, please set me straight, but your focus on resources at the expense of focusing on values and organization just seems to me to point people in a self defeating direction.

                 

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                  Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 12:43pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

                  The problem is obvious - too much waste of everything because too many resources are being poured into making a handful of people monstrously prosperous at other people's expense.

                  That is what I have been saying. Unless we approach world economics differently, we'll not make a lot of progress dealing with the world's issues.

                   

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                    shane (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 1:19pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

                    Then please stop saying it through the filter of, "because white Europeans suck."

                    Even if it were true (and I don't think it is), it is beside the point if the goal is to change policy.

                     

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                      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 2:05pm

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

                      Then please stop saying it through the filter of, "because white Europeans suck."

                      Even if it were true (and I don't think it is), it is beside the point if the goal is to change policy.


                      I haven't said that. But I don't think we're having a conversation. You can make your points and I'll leave it at that.

                       

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                        shane (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 5:02pm

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

                        Your link right?

                        https://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_myth_of_human_progress_20130113

                        "The human species, led by white Europeans and Euro-Americans, has been on a 500-year-long planetwide rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the Earth—as well as killing the indigenous communities that stood in the way"

                        "Modern capitalist societies, Wright argues in his book 'What Is America?: A Short History of the New World Order,' derive from European invaders’ plundering of the indigenous cultures in the Americas from the 16th to the 19th centuries, coupled with the use of African slaves as a workforce to replace the natives."

                        "If Europe had not been able to seize the gold of the Aztec and Inca civilizations, if it had not been able to occupy the land and adopt highly productive New World crops for use on European farms, the growth of industrial society in Europe would have been much slower. Karl Marx and Adam Smith...."

                        It reads like a bunch of 60's level anti-American revisionism. No one argues what was done to various societies all around the world was ideal, but give folks a break for coming to the Aztecs, seeing a society where people competed for the privilege of being sacrificed (a not entirely unheard of thing in the prehistory of Europe as well that had long since been abandoned), and failed to see these cultures as equal in the sense of other cultures they had long been in close contact with.

                        That last paragraph almost seems to imply Europeans were so backwards that, had they not come to America, they wouldn't have been able to FARM. It was precisely their capacity for large scale farming that led to the spare time to build all those ships and guns they kept threatening everyone with.

                        Their ability to organize was due to less, not more, corruption and better, not worse, understanding of the world they lived in.

                        This is important information if the real goal is to progress and not merely to support the ongoing war between "capitalism" and "communism", which are in fact just two sides of the same unbalanced approach to centralization and cooperation. Centralization and cooperation work. Capitalism AND communism (and yes, socialism) have problems. We need to move beyond these tired, rehashed "solutions", or perhaps not even so much "beyond" them as be able to recognize them as part of the same general set of things that need to be refined.

                        But I mean, if you're going to put a link up that has repeated attacks against European action around the world and then wonder why someone thinks you have a problem with Europe's history and expansion to the exclusion of what was going wrong everywhere else, I don't get why you then turn around and say you didn't mean to imply any of that.

                        Sorry for actually reading your link? I guess?

                         

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                          Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 5:46pm

                          Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

                          This was the part of the article I was referencing.
                          ____

                          “There is a pattern in the past of civilization after civilization wearing out its welcome from nature, overexploiting its environment, overexpanding, overpopulating,” Wright said when I reached him by phone at his home in British Columbia, Canada. “They tend to collapse quite soon after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity. That pattern holds good for a lot of societies, among them the Romans, the ancient Maya and the Sumerians of what is now southern Iraq. There are many other examples, including smaller-scale societies such as Easter Island. The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation, lead to disaster in the long run because of unforeseen complications. This is what I called in ‘A Short History of Progress’ the ‘progress trap.’ We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature. We have failed to control human numbers. They have tripled in my lifetime. And the problem is made much worse by the widening gap between rich and poor, the upward concentration of wealth, which ensures there can never be enough to go around. The number of people in dire poverty today—about 2 billion—is greater than the world’s entire population in the early 1900s. That’s not progress.”

                           

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                            shane (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 6:36pm

                            Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

                            Thanks,

                            I look at things much differently. Rome, for example, did not so much fall as the rest of Europe caught up to it. It ceased to be dominant. I think I have current scholarship with me on that as well. The old views of the fall of Rome are being supplanted by understanding that involves the fact that the Germanics, who had been becoming a larger and larger portion of the population of "Rome" for centuries, finally simply took over. The so called "Dark Ages" are full of progress. The idea that progress took a long nap during this period is all but dead everywhere except in the eye of mass media fueled pop history, no small part of that in turn fueled by the ghosts of anti-clericalism with roots in the Protestant revolution and, of course, the French Revolution. The Christian "Dark Ages" need to be compared unfavorably with the secular "Enlightenment". This political ideology has long outlasted its usefulness, and modern historical research has undone it in terms of actual, demonstrable, factual progress throughout those years being documented.

                            Basically, if Rome fell because the progress trap, then how did we end up with so much progress from then to now? It is the cultures that have not progressed as rapidly that have failed, not the ones who progress too rapidly.

                            Greed is one issue. Apathy is another. Greed and apathy are ancient evils, spoken of in all the great societies going back as far as you care to look, and are not at all complex either in terms of origin or how to go about "fixing" them. Further, they are never going to go completely away, and there is not going to be some technological solution for them.

                            We are not caught up in some cataclysmic last days scenario, or at least not in one that is based on too much progress. We just need to do something proactive about our greed and our apathy.

                            There are of course other moral and ethical shortcomings that come to bear, but these two seem to be the most applicable to political issues. We struggle to get the general populace involved, and barring that, for some reason, it seems to be the greedy and self serving who work most energetically to attain to power.

                             

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                shane (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 10:25am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

                "Wright said. 'It is an absurd myth. We live on this planet. We can’t leave it and go somewhere else.'"

                And this is just a bald faced lie. Barring the return of Jesus or some other equally magnificent supernatural event, the clear march of progress is towards people leaving this planet. I think folks need to get used to this idea and start working on it as part of the mainstream of economic endeavor rather than constantly talking about it as if it were some sort of waste of time and effort.

                 

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                  Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 12:41pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

                  I think folks need to get used to this idea and start working on it as part of the mainstream of economic endeavor rather than constantly talking about it as if it were some sort of waste of time and effort.

                  Considering we can hardly get our shit together to deal with easier problems, I don't think we'll be putting a lot of resources into leaving the planet anytime soon.

                   

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                    shane (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 1:21pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

                    People are already off the planet.....

                    Seriously... a lack of vision for the future is a big part of why we cannot find unity. The same technologies that will allow us to live on this planet more efficiently will allow us to leave it. Stop using panic driven scare tactics to try to convince people they need to live in the stone age to save resources.

                    There is an entire universe out there full of resources, and we have done nothing BUT get closer and closer to being able to reach them over the years.

                     

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                    shane (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 1:27pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

                    The supposed "easier problems" of social reform are in no small part due to the lack of room for population expansion. Population pressures have really only one direction to be released towards these days - up.

                    You seem to be suggesting the "easy" problem is reprogramming all of human behavior and culture.

                    It's actually easier to explore space than the ocean.... Pressure differential is less steep. We're being scared away from it in no small part because the rich are all squishy inside about the cost being something that will eat away at their ability to buy caviar and hire gardening help.

                     

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                Mike Masnick (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 6:35pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

                You're saying what I am saying. Given a lifestyle we live or aspire to, there's a limit to how many people the planet can support. Yes, technology/innovation has allowed more people to survive than in previous centuries, but the number of people who can live on the planet is not infinite.

                We are nowhere near approaching the limit. Are there serious problems that need to be dealt with? Yes. Climate change is a big one, absolutely. But I think you are massively underplaying the ability to grow an economy without associated negative consequences.

                Chris Hedges: The Myth of Human Progress - Chris Hedges' Columns - Truthdig

                Simple test: would most people rather be alive today as a middle class earner or 100 years ago in the top 1%. In test after test, close to 80% of people say today/middle class, and I'd argue the reality is higher. The 20% who say 100 years ago don't realize how difficult life was, even for the wealthy.

                Are there problems? Yes, absolutely. Very serious ones that need to be worked on. But the idea that there's been no progress or that growth is bad is simply foolishness and ignorance.

                 

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                  Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 7:02pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

                  But I think you are massively underplaying the ability to grow an economy without associated negative consequences.

                  I think it is possible, too, but not the way it is happening now. Collectively we're doing too little and not enough of what might be useful.

                  It's amazing what China has managed to do in terms of economic development. But the photos of air pollution there are literally breath taking. That economic progress has come at a huge environmental cost. I am hopeful, however, that China will lead the world in renewable energy.

                  Humanity will adapt to whatever develops, but I am not sure it is going to be a smooth transition. I think humans tend to be more reactive than proactive.

                  The upside of recession is that consumption goes down. People drive less. They live in smaller homes or move back in with families. They buy used stuff or they rent/share.

                   

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          Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 1:01pm

          Re: Re: Re: Quality of life

          That would be a disaster. Economic growth shouldn't be about using up resources but about improving what we have and what we can do.

          We know that productivity is increasing, but if the financial benefits of productivity accrue to just the top 1% of people, then society as a whole hasn't benefited. So it would be useful to reflect that in the numbers.

          And as some people have pointed out, if a company pollutes and then people are hired to clean up that pollution, that is "growth" but not in a good way.

          Therefore, whether we have a gauge of "happiness" or something else, we need to factor in negative results that produce "growth" but not improved quality of life across society.

           

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        Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 12:55pm

        Re: Re: Quality of life

        It occurred to me that health statistics might be one way to measure quality of life in a way least likely to be manipulated. If you generate numbers based on life span, accident rate, disease rate, suicides, murder, wars, and so on, you can use that as a form of life quality. If, for example, rates of obesity and starvation go down, that suggests you've reached an appropriate balance of food that extends to exercise, quality calories, and so on.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 2:41am

    http://boingboing.net/2013/02/13/economic-recovery-in-the-us-ac.html

    GDP fails to account for economic distribution, it doesn't tell you if a food riot will happen or not.

    Maybe that is why all the authoritarian governments of the Middle-East got screwed.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 3:01am

    The Value of GDP

     

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    Sinan Unur (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 4:22am

    No official interpersonal comparisons of utility, please

    I started writing and it got too long for just a comment. So, I expanded on it on my blog.

    But, basically, it is one thing to talk about the difficulties of reducing the value of all goods and services produced in the economy to a single number. I agree, GDP is an imperfect measure.

    It is a whole other thing to convert the individual states of well-being of three hundred million or a billion people to a single number and base decisions on whether that single number goes up or down.

    Such a quantification is the ultimate certification of the desire accept the destruction of the individual in service of the state.

    It is a diabolical scheme.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 4:58am

    A national happiness index would be subject to the typical pressures and would soon become just another tool of limited usefulness, although it would provide fodder for comedians.

    One present indicator which indirectly infers a level of happiness is the Congressional approval rating, which is rather low at the moment for completely understandable reasons. If there is a desire to actually do something about the present state rather than simply measure it, then a place to start might be responding to the plethora of complaints. These complaints are not hidden, nor are they a big secret. In fact there are some who endeavor to squelch these uprisings and force silence upon those who would complain, they call this their right to free speech.

     

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      Sinan Unur (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 5:43am

      Re: fodder for comedians

      A national happiness index would be subject to the typical pressures and would soon become just another tool of limited usefulness, although it would provide fodder for comedians.


      Unless making fun of Gross National Happiness decreases Gross National Happiness ...

       

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    Applesauce, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 6:19am

    An honest number

    "...once you have a number, you naturally try to optimize for it."

    - and your government will cheat when calculating it.

     

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    crade (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 7:47am

    I have yet to see a survey that doesn't try to skew the results.. Sure whether or not you are looking for work may be subjective, but in reality, being unemployed just means you aren't working and you want to be (ie: you aren't retired). There would certainly me a margin of error where some people would be counted as "looking" for work when they are not and visa versa, but unemployment is hardly wholy subjective. Even if you abandon the "looking" peice altogether, it's still a very useful number.

    A "Happiness" index, on the other hand is 100% subjective and something that any dictator could easily claim to have higher than anybody else just by manipulating people's responses and/or results, and who could argue? Who is to say that having a law in place to execute people who claim to be unhappy doesn't make people happier?

    - When you say you are 98% happy under duress, how happy are you really?
    - Is there even any way for a government to ask this question without people feeling pressured to respond in a certain way?

     

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    shane (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 8:36am

    Medicalizing Behavior

    Maybe a bit of a stretch, but this all reminds me of the ongoing medicalization of behavior - kids at school all of a sudden are all "ADD". The problem is with the kids, not the fact that school is designed in inappropriate ways to deal with six year olds...

    You can't "measure" subjective things. You can only measure objective outcomes and then poll people to see if they are happy with those objective outcomes, and perhaps also try to systematically determine why they are or are not.

    Perhaps I am just objecting to the tagline name, but even then I think it is important to be meticulous about what call things where public policy is concerned.

     

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    Richard (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 9:15am

    Hitchiker

    This post has to be a target for the old "Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy" quote:

    "This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy."

    See http://www.mindgazer.org/dontpanic/ for more

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 9:18am

    Happiness is not an ecanomic measure

    I'm not convinced that trying to correlate happiness with economics is all that useful. The two seem independent of each other.

    At a macro level, when studies have attempted to rate the happiness of different nations, some very poor nations often do very well, beating some wealthy nations.

    At a micro, subjective level, I've never seen such a correlation in real people's lives. I've know many people from all across the economic spectrum. I have not noticed any trend such as "the better off you are economically, the happier you are". I've met many very happy people living in poverty and many very unhappy people living in the lap of luxury. The two things seem completely uncorrelated to me.

     

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    Jim G., Feb 14th, 2013 @ 9:35am

    Important topic, but measurement if tricky

    This is an important topic and conversation, but measuring happiness or well-being seems really tricky and prone to interpretation. Monks living under a vow of poverty would probably tell you they have full and satisfying lives, but I’m not ready to move into 12 X 12 cubicle and start praying.

    Of course, GDP is also flawed. From one perspective GDP simply measures how quickly we take raw materials from the ground, turn them into garbage, then eject them back into the ground and air as garbage and waste. It’s like measuring how healthy you are by weighing the total amount of shit your body produces in a year.

     

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      nasch (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 11:33am

      Re: Important topic, but measurement if tricky

      From one perspective GDP simply measures how quickly we take raw materials from the ground, turn them into garbage, then eject them back into the ground and air as garbage and waste.

      GDP measures economic activity, not raw material consumption. If I buy an app from Google that adds to GDP, but has no effect on materials.

       

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    artp (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 9:49am

    One problem with measuring happiness is that there is no commonly agreed on definition.

    The worse problem is that many people think that happiness equates with pleasure. Wrong metric. Pleasure always has a downside for someone. Happiness does not affect anyone negatively - except me when I first wake up.

    We fixate on the pursuit of happiness because it was one phrase in our country's history. I would suggest that a better metric to use would be social justice - a broad spectrum social justice, not just one or two special interests, a social justice metric that affects EVERYONE.

    If you can ignore the source and take a look at the issues, I can point out a few examples. You may have your own examples that I don't know about. These are the ones that I am familiar with. I have no desire to start a flame war here. Translate as needed. End Disclaimer.

    One book that gives an overview of the whole range that I refer to is titled "Modern Catholic Social Teaching: The Popes Confront the Industrial Age 1740-1958" by Joe Holland. http://www.amazon.com/Modern-Catholic-Social-Teaching-Industrial/dp/0809142252/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&am p;ie=UTF8&qid=1360862824&sr=1-3&keywords=catholic+social+teaching+joe+holland

    Also:

    "The Seamless Garment: Writings on the Consistent Ethic of Life" http://www.amazon.com/Seamless-Garment-Writings-Consistent-Ethic/dp/157075764X/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&am p;ie=UTF8&qid=1360861306&sr=1-3&keywords=joseph+bernardin

    Part of the Catechism sets the foundation for WHY social justice is important to a properly functioning society.

    I. Respect for the Human Person

    1929 Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him:
    What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt.
    1930 Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church’s role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims.
    1931 Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that “everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as ‘another self,’ above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.” No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a “neighbor,” a brother.
    1932 The duty of making oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them becomes even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged, in whatever area this may be. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
    1933 This same duty extends to those who think or act differently from us. The teaching of Christ goes so far as to require the forgiveness of offenses. He extends the commandment of love, which is that of the New Law, to all enemies. Liberation in the spirit of the Gospel is incompatible with hatred of one’s enemy as a person, but not with hatred of the evil that he does as an enemy.


    And:

    1940 Solidarity is manifested in the first place by the distribution of goods and remuneration for work. It also presupposes the effort for a more just social order where tensions are better able to be reduced and conflicts more readily settled by negotiation.
    1941 Socio-economic problems can be resolved only with the help of all the forms of solidarity: solidarity of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of workers among themselves, between employers and employees in a business, solidarity among nations and peoples. International solidarity is a requirement of the moral order; world peace depends in part upon this.
    1942 The virtue of solidarity goes beyond material goods. In spreading the spiritual goods of the faith, the Church has promoted, and often opened new paths for, the development of temporal goods as well. And so throughout the centuries has the Lord’s saying been verified: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well”:
    For two thousand years this sentiment has lived and endured in the soul of the Church, impelling souls then and now to the heroic charity of monastic farmers, liberators of slaves, healers of the sick, and messengers of faith, civilization, and science to all generations and all peoples for the sake of creating the social conditions capable of offering to everyone possible a life worthy of man and of a Christian.

     

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      nasch (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 11:37am

      Re:

      Pleasure always has a downside for someone.

      How do you come to that conclusion?

       

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        artp (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 12:36pm

        Re: Re:

        There is a principle involved that tells me that pure pleasure always has a downside for someone. It is that pleasure is basically self-centered. It is part of the definition for me.

        If pleasure is the only goal of an activity, it is self-centered. Obviously, a couple having intercourse give each other pleasure, but they are also being other-centered and building intimacy with each other. I acknowledge that it is not always the case. But sex causes intimacy, and when intimacy is rejected, it causes harm.

        There are other forms of pleasure which are more obviously self-centered that shouldn't need explanation. But even if I am by myself having a good time, telling myself that I am not hurting anybody, I am not telling the truth. Someone is missing my company, my talents, my potential. Something is not getting done because I am sunk in pure pleasure. Some path is not being realized because I am absent.

        Pleasure is a very nice side benefit. It doesn't make a very good prime motive.

         

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          nasch (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 1:01pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          But even if I am by myself having a good time, telling myself that I am not hurting anybody, I am not telling the truth. Someone is missing my company, my talents, my potential.

          That's called opportunity cost. By that definition, everything has a downside, not just pleasure. Not that you're wrong, but if you look at it that way happiness has a downside too. If you weren't doing whatever it is that makes you happy, you could be making someone else happier instead.

           

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            shane (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 8:19am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I agree.

            Plus, frankly, emotional states are not zero sum games. Everyone can all be happy all at the same time theoretically. There is no objective pile of happiness somewhere that you are robbing whenever you are happy that is depriving someone else of being happy.

            The whole thing is nonsense, and part of the reason why I answered "no" to the question from the get go. Happiness is a political, not economic, indicator. It is tied to moral and ethical values in a way that cannot be objectively measured.

             

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        shane (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 8:11am

        Re: Re:

        I was wondering that myself, but decided I wasn't likely to get an answer that didn't depend heavily on definitions of terms.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 10:33am

    The last thing I need is some opposition party trying to drive down National Happiness right before an election to ensure a better result for their candidates.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 10:54am

    Mandatory SMBC

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2569

    The relevant point, of course, is that it's important to optimize average happiness, not overall happiness.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 2:02pm

    We already have official aggregate happiness metrics. We call them "election results".

    Polling people about how happy they are is like polling them about how much they value something. It will never be as meaningful as measuring what they will actually pay for it.

     

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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 2:13pm

      Re:

      It will never be as meaningful as measuring what they will actually pay for it.

      I'm concerned when we reach a point where lots of people can't pay for anything because they don't have the money to do so. Health care could fall into that. People want it but can't afford it.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 2:41pm

        Re: Re:

        Health care could fall into that. People want it but can't afford it.

        Fortunately health care in the US is (presently) not an all or nothing proposition. It's not a case of having it or not. It's a question of what level of health care people can afford, and how much of their limited resources they choose to spend on it. The desperately ill will spend all they have on the best care they can afford. The young and healthy will spend much less. Sadly, litigation is driving the cost up exponentially.

         

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          Suzanne Lainson (profile), Feb 14th, 2013 @ 2:49pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Fortunately health care in the US is (presently) not an all or nothing proposition.

          I was thinking about the global situation, not just in the US. There are people in the world who don't have access to safe drinking water, basic hygiene, etc. Money is fine as an indication of what people want, but they must have money for that to happen.

           

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          shane (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 8:43am

          Re: Re: Re:

          This is almost completely nonsense. Even basic health care is exceedingly expensive, and the expense is because health care services combine all the worst parts of our economic system into a perfect storm of negative consequences.

          The central monetary system creates a limited amount of fiat money. This money has no intrinsic value. It finds its value in bringing things of lasting value into the hands of investors. Health care IP has a high intrinsic value because of IP abuse and the fact people will pay any amount of money to save themselves pain or risk death.

          Finally, limited liability means that despite the high stakes of the health care game, the people BEHIND the corporations that provide health care never are at risk. The lawsuits pile up, but the people driving the poor decisions never pay, therefore despite the legal cost contribution to health care, nothing is ever achieved that changes the behavior of the providers because the people in control are not affected.

          What is the health care crisis? It is centrally controlled money, IP laws, and limited liability all working together to destroy your life. =)

          Have a nice day.

           

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        shane (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 8:36am

        Re: Re:

        This is the direct result of having a legally mandated privately controlled money supply.

        If we used commodities of various sorts as money, people could physically increase the amount of given commodities through work. If we had a publicly controlled fiat currency, a sufficiently transparent and democratic method for controlling how much new currency is created and how it is injected into the economy would mitigate this issue.

        As it is, worldwide, a handful of very privileged people control the money supplies of various nations, and they don't tend to be very forward looking and community oriented in the way the use this power.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 2:17pm

    The Craiglist example is wrong. The activity generated by Craiglist contributes to the formation of the GDP which therefore reflects it, though in an indirect way.
    GDP does generally measure what it is supposed to measure, that is, the global product.
    It is not supposed to measure happiness, and that is a good thing. You don't measure happiness. It is not a quantity, it is a state of mind.
    It is suicidal to let the government devise ways to measure happiness. If the government measures something, they will not only try to manage it, they will tax it too.
    Finally, Sarkozy wanted to replace the GDP with something else not because he found the GDP intellectually insufficient, but because the French GDP is not going up fast enough. That's all there is to it.

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 6:29pm

      Re:

      The Craiglist example is wrong. The activity generated by Craiglist contributes to the formation of the GDP which therefore reflects it, though in an indirect way.

      I don't think so. So much activity on Craigslist has no transactional value. You could argue that it leads to transactions elsewhere, and thus GDP, but I don't think that counts as being generated by Craigslist.

      It is not supposed to measure happiness

      Nor did anyone suggest otherwise.

      It is suicidal to let the government devise ways to measure happiness.

      While I agree it's not a good idea, that seems hyperbolic.

      Finally, Sarkozy wanted to replace the GDP with something else not because he found the GDP intellectually insufficient, but because the French GDP is not going up fast enough. That's all there is to it.

      Agreed, but that's not what we were discussing, really. That was just to give some history.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2013 @ 7:32am

    Of course not.

     

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    Curt Welch, Apr 16th, 2013 @ 8:50pm

    Happiness is what we already are trying to measure.

    Happiness is the only thing that counts for humans. It's the foundation of everything we do. It's why we chose to trade one item for another - because the trade makes us happier - we are "better off" after the trade, than before. The entire notion of "better off" comes from how humans "feel".

    Our economy is a measure of happiness. But it only measures the happiness we create by economic activity - by trading. Many of the most important things in life can't be bought. They can't be obtained by trading objects with someone.

    Love is the obvious one. But if you understand this better, what we mean when we say we can't buy love, is that what makes us happy, is both how we feel about others, and often even more important, how we believe they feel about us - our social status, our friendships, or loves, or social circle, how safe we feel in public, how we feel about strangers in general.

    All these and more, are what humans place the highest values on, but yet, most of it, we can't buy by trading. Which means it fails to show up in economic data.

    Mike hits the nail squarely on the head, when he says we must be careful about what metrics we create, because the instant we label it as a leading indicator, we optimize our society around it.

    But the fact is, in the US, we already do that in a big way - we optimize our public policy around GDP and GDP growth. And when we do that, we already ARE optimizing our society to a measure of happiness - just one that happens to be VERY BAD. You can't get much worse, than using GDP as your measure of happiness, but yet, it's what we are already doing.

    Mike is also very right, that if we make a change, we must be careful what we ask for. But, to be honest, any attempt at measuring happiness, I believe will be a huge improvement over using GDP as we do now.

    If we want to stick to fairly hard economic numbers, there is one that correlates very well to happiness and quality of life in a country, and that's wealth and income inequality. That is, the more economic inequality there is, the more social problems we find in the society - at both ends of the scale. That is, the rich suffer as well as the poor, when inequality rises. With higher inequality, nearly every measure of human satisfaction with their lives declines. Life spans get shorter. Violence goes up. More people are locked away in jail. Health problems increase all across the board - money doesn't save the rich from the dangers of stress related health problems that exist in high inequality countries. Teen pregnancies rates go up. Mental health problems increase. More people are depressed. The list goes on and on. There's hardly a single measure of human happiness that doesn't decline, as inequality rises.

    So without even trying to measure human happiness directly, we know from 100's of studies, that to maximize happiness, we need to reduce inequality.

    There are measures that attempt to account for this, such as this one:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_inequality-adjusted_HDI

    With these sorts of hard metrics, we get a much better sense of how happy a society is, without having to get into the harder to quantify issues of poll data about current or future feelings.

    The US is 23rd when measured this way, behind almost every other developed nation. If the US optimized for this metric, instead of GDP growth, we would have without a doubt, a far happier society.

     

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