Jul 21, 2022Liked by Rohit Krishnan

"For most of human history, inequality of wealth meant inequality of happiness. Status, and its related activities, envy and emulation, drove consumption"

How do they know? For all the (tremendous) inadequacies of current happiness measures, they're vastly superior to *anything* from 1CE or 1000CE, and I'm unaware of any metric from say, 1800, that's worth taking seriously as a total societal measure.

Likewise, for that matter, even the claim regarding the earlier Gilded Age. Yes, some in the chattering and writing classes were angry – there are always some people angry, everywhere, about something. But what's the evidence that *most* people were in some way dramatically unhappy (and if so, that the unhappiness was related to income disparities)? After all, plenty of people were trying to immigrate to the US during that period. Were they all extraordinarily deluded about the better lives they hoped for in the US?

Sounds like an ideological stance, not a statement of fact, as revealed by the subsequent fury that "[making poor cool] makes income inequality less emotionally salient"...

I used to think the graphs showing income vs happiness had some relevance to this argument; now I suspect they're being drastically misinterpreted. Let me give another viewpoint:

- people are happier when they feel they have substantial control over their lives, especially in matters like choice of and change in career, or in where they live


- countries that provide this choice (to some extent effect, perhaps to a larger extent cause) tend to be wealthier; people are working harder in jobs they are better at.

The graph of life satisfaction against income, IMHO, mostly proves the point. At the higher income levels. the countries with lowest life satisfaction mostly seem to be those where one's stereotypes suggest not much control over one's life and career, like Japan, or income from commodities (so again, not from an especially productive and self-chosen workforce) like Russia or South Africa.

I don't know the details of every country (why are Portugal or Italy so low?) but maybe, like Japan, social and family pressures to be educated and take a particular type of job are higher than we might imagine, those countries (in certain social aspects) are still living in the late 1800s even though we project onto them the expectation that they are just like America in the 2020s?

In other words the expectation is that simply making a country richer (by winning some magic lottery) will not make it happier, and other things we know about the natural resource curse (even in countries that haven't had fighting, like South Africa or Russia) seem to suggest this. Saudi Arabia or UAE are generally considered "impressive" in certain ways, but no-one's wishing they could move there because their populations all seem so happy.

And pushing a political program that's supposed to increase (or at least spread out) the wealth, if necessary at the cost of reducing this flexibility to choose one's life, seems like a bad idea if the goal is actually to increase national happiness.

"You need to feel like life's pretty good right now and also that it will continue to get better." True - but that doesn't mean that either of those measurements are actually based on raw economics, as opposed to things like the range of choices realistically open to one...

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I think it's an expectation issue, i.e. the "self-reported" part of "self-reported life satisfaction."

I adjust my expectations about what I should be striving for, what's realistic, based on the conditions I see out there in the world.

To someone born a thousand years ago we all live in unimaginable wealth and splendor, beyond the reach of kings. Those born a thousand years hence would seem the same to us. But I do not measure my happiness by either of them.

I expect to have food available near me all the time. Famine is not part of my life, and the freedom from it does not bring me joy in my day, even though experiencing it would immiserate me.

Similarly, I do not expect to live forever. That I lack access to uploading, biological immortality drugs, or angelnet protections does not make me sad or depressed. There's a narrow exception if, perhaps, I have been spending a lot of time reading very engaging sci fi; but even that is just an echo of the dissatisfaction I felt just a few years ago when I was unable to afford my own residence or health insurance.

The culture shock going across those time spans would move me sharply out of "happy" or "depressed" and into "hellish" or "heavenly."

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