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Edited by Luigino Bruni and Pier Luigi Porta
Chapter 17: Why are People so Unhappy? Why do They Strive so Hard for Money? Competing Explanations of the Broken Promises of Economic Growth
Stefano Bartolini 1. Introduction For millennia, human history has been dominated by the substantial stability of per capita income, the reason being that any rare and slow increase in output generated – à la Malthus – population growth. Approximately two centuries ago, the onset of economic growth triggered by the Industrial Revolution heralded the advent of a new era, replete with promises of improvements in the human condition. From the outset, however, it was evident to many that matters were not simple: the new road forward was paved with dramatic social and environmental costs. Nevertheless, during the subsequent two centuries it generally seemed that the game was worth the candle. After all, the prospect of a progressive increase in purchasing power held out at least two seductive promises: ﬁrst, the reduction of the conditioning that the need to have money imposes on individual choices; and second, the increase in the degree of satisfaction that people feel in their own lives. The two promises were obviously connected. It seemed reasonable to expect, after all, that human beings freed from mass poverty would feel better. The ample availability of data regarding the relevant variables allows one to try to give an answer to the question: has growth lived up to its promises? Section 2 very brieﬂy surveys the evidence, which shows that economic growth has largely betrayed its promises. Rich countries seem peopled by a dissatisﬁed humanity, largely absorbed in a feverish hunt for money. This evidence, removed over a long period, gives...
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