Happiness, Economics and Politics
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Happiness, Economics and Politics

Towards a Multi-Disciplinary Approach

Edited by Amitava Krishna Dutt and Benjamin Radcliff

This timely and important book presents a unique study of happiness from both economic and political perspectives. It offers an overview of contemporary research on the emergent field of happiness studies and contains contributions by some of the leading figures in the field.
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Chapter 14: Should National Happiness be Maximized?

Bruno S. Frey and Alois Stutzer

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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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