When we’re all finished laughing at Ross Douthat’s lame attempt to make an anti-feminist case out of trends in self-reported happiness, let’s celebrate the fact that even the right wing has started to accept the happiness measurement as valid. That’s good news.
Not that the measure is especially valid — it leaves out lots of things that Aristotle would have counted as part of eudaimonia such as the development of each individual’s capacities — but it beats the crap out of GDP per capita. Moreover, both cross-sectional and trend studies show that GDP per capita isn’t an especially powerful source of people’s happiness with their own lives once a country is above the economic level of, say, Turkey or Mexico.
Those of us who believe that further growth in the average level of material consumption is not a sensible central policy objective for a society as rich as ours already is, that we need to design an economic system less dependent on constant growth to prevent economic displacement, that Veblenesque competitive-consumption effects constitute an important class of external-cost market failures, and that a trend toward fewer work-hours in the typical week and fewer work-weeks in the typical year ought to be encouraged, should rejoice.