Edited by Luigino Bruni and Pier Luigi Porta
Chapter 7: If Happiness is so Important, Why Do We Know So Little About It?
Marina Bianchi 1. Introduction The title of this chapter: ‘If happiness is so important, why do we know so little about it?’ requires some clariﬁcation. First of all, does it really indicate a paradox? In the economic theory of choice it is the maximization of own satisfaction, utility, or pleasure, that individuals pursue in their actions. Even in its modern axiomatic form and stripped of any characteristic that is not formal, subjects are still assumed to maximize a ‘utility’ function. But does this imply that we, as economists, should know much if anything about it? The answer that economists give is clear: ‘No’. One reason is simple, and is based on the principle of consumer sovereignty. Individuals are the only real ‘experts’ as to their own actions and desires. What they decide to choose is what they know is best for them. Preferences can simply be inferred from choices with no plunge necessary into their possible nature, genesis or conﬁguration. The assumption, then, that choices are preferences eliminates any element of paradox from the fact that such a fundamental dimension of economic choice as individual desires and motivations is so little studied and understood. Yet this assumption is conditional on a second, more hidden one: that there is no tension or mismatch between choice and the maximization of preferences. Should conﬂict in any form exist, then choices would cease systematically to reveal individual preferences. In this case an analysis of preferences, how they form, what triggers...
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