Towards a Multi-Disciplinary Approach
Edited by Amitava Krishna Dutt and Benjamin Radcliff
14. Should national happiness be maximized? Bruno S. Frey and Alois Stutzer1 INTRODUCTION 14.1 Cross-disciplinary ‘happiness research’ has attracted great attention within the social sciences as well as in the general public. This is reflected in a massive increase of scholarly work on people’s subjective well-being and frequent featuring of happiness research in blogs, in the media, as well as in publications of think tanks.2 A case in point is the empirical study of happiness in economics. Within ten years many insights about the determinants of individual well-being were attained (for surveys, see Di Tella and MacCulloch, 2006; Frey, 2008; Frey and Stutzer, 2002a, b; Layard, 2005; van Praag and Ferrer-iCarbonell, 2004). Moreover, the separation of traditional decision utility from experienced utility as reflected in subjective well-being challenges the orthodoxy of the revealed preference approach in economics (Kahneman et al., 1997; Stutzer and Frey, 2007). Individuals’ ex post evaluation of their experiences now allows us to directly study problems of self-control and utility misprediction (Frey and Stutzer, 2008; Kahneman and Thaler, 2006; Stutzer, this volume). We plead guilty for being euphoric about the advances in happiness research. In addition to seeking to explain the determinants and consequences of happiness, a big effort has been made to derive implications for policy. We argue that it is tempting to apply happiness research in a technocratic way. This is best visible in the idea of maximizing aggregate happiness as a social welfare function. This is, however, a mistaken direction to go in. It...
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