Conservatives discover happiness

Forget the dumb use Ross Douthat wants to make of the happiness-research literature. The fact that he acknowledges it reflects a substantial political breakthrough.

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 &#8212 it leaves out lots of things that Aristotle would have counted as part of eudaimonia such as the development of each individual’s capacities &#8212 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.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: