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The Price Of Glee In China

[Epistemic status: Overly simplistic treatment of a horrifyingly complex topic; I can only hope I haven’t missed enough to completely embarrass myself]

I.

Noah Smith reviews recent economic research suggesting that globalization was a net harm to working class people in rich countries like the US; he tentatively suggests this could justify a weak form of protectionism. But Scott Sumner argues that’s the wrong way to look at things. Globalization fueled China’s transition from a poor agrarian economy to an industrialized modern nation. A billion people were lifted out of poverty, an accomplishment Sumner calls “the best thing that ever happened”. This is far more important than the less dramatic costs imposed on the US. Therefore, even if we agree globalization hurts the working class of rich nations, it’s still a morally defensible policy since it benefits the needier working classes of much poorer nations.

On the one hand, this makes sense. On the other, here’s happiness in China over the past fifteen years:

Measuring happiness is really hard, but the Chinese result seems as robust as any. You get the same thing if you ask about satisfaction versus dissatisfaction. Brookings analyzes five different series of happiness data and concludes that “the Chinese became less happy during their growth boom”. The New York Times agrees and says that “Chinese people’s feelings of well-being have declined in [this] period of momentous improvement in their economic lives”. And this seems to be worst among the poorest Chinese:

Nor does this seem to be an effect from our happiness research just not being good enough to capture changes in happiness even if they occur. There’s good evidence that increased income within a country increases happiness, and various other things have been found to be effective too. I would even argue we can find happiness changes in nations – recent surveys have found Iraq and Syria to be the least happy nations in the world, and I doubt this was true before those countries’ respective wars. It seems to just be national GDP per capita that doesn’t do anything.

This is Easterlin’s Paradox, the observation that a country in general does not get happier as it becomes richer. This is very controversial, with statisticians analyzing and reanalyzing data and crunching it a bunch of different ways. In the latest volley in this eternal war, Easterlin’s side came out with data from 37 countries over 30 years, including many countries that underwent spectacular growth during that time, and confirmed their original conclusion.

There are certainly graphs like this one that propose a nice clear log relationship between income and happiness:

But I find the exact breakdown much more interesting:

Here we see a lot of cultural variation in this apparent happiness-income relationship. For example, Latin American countries are consistently poor but happy; Eastern European countries are usually richer but sadder than African countries, et cetera. Looking at the original graph above, you’d expect Chinese growth to make them much happier; looking at this graph, you notice that China’s three rich neighbors – Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea – are all about as happy as China. South Korea, despite making five times more money, is less happy than China is. If China’s income quintuples, why would you expect it to look like France or Ireland rather than South Korea?

Just to rub this in a little:

A UN report theorizes that although richer countries tend to be happier, this is more likely due to factors other than income, like freedom, social trust, and stable families. These may be stable on scales much longer than income is, and may be related to culture.

II.

Let’s assume for a second that all this is true. National income does not matter for national happiness, and if China’s growth continues to skyrocket then in twenty years it will be as rich as Japan but not an iota happier than it is today. What do we do with this kind of knowledge?

Or let me ask a more specific question. Suppose that some free trade pact will increase US unemployment by 1%, but also accelerate the development of some undeveloped foreign country like India into hyper-speed. In twenty years, India’s GDP per capita will go from $1,500/year to $10,000/year. The only cost will be a million or so extra unemployed Americans, plus all that coal that the newly vibrant India is burning probably won’t be very good for the fight against global warming.

Part of me wants to argue that obviously we should sign the trade pact; as utilitarians we should agree with Sumner that lifting 1.4 billion Chinese out of poverty was “the best thing that ever happened” and so lifting 1.2 billion Indians out of poverty would be the second-best thing that ever happened, far more important than any possible risks. But if Easterlin is right, those Indians won’t be any happier, the utility gain will be nil, and all we will have done is worsened global warming and kicked a million Americans out of work for no reason (and they will definitely be unhappy).

Or since most of us don’t get the option to sign trade pacts, here’s a more relevant question. Suppose we are effective altruists. We have the opportunity to cure disease (at relatively high costs) or boost national development (at relatively low costs). Assume the numbers work out such that if we took a simple ‘development = good’ perspective, then donating to the development charity would be a no-brainer. Should we donate to the disease-cure charity anyway?

A couple of years ago, I learned that people who were paralyzed in car accidents took a few months to adjust to their new situation, but after that were no less happy than people who were still healthy and abled. Then last December I learned that this was an urban legend, that people who were paralyzed in car accidents were mostly as miserable as you would expect. But for those few years while I still believed that particular factoid, I was a little creeped out. Was a doctor who helps car accident victims recover their function wasting her life? If people got genuine enjoyment from driving drunk at 95 mph while shouting “WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”, was there any reason to make them stop, since they weren’t really hurting anybody?

(I admit I’m skipping over factors like how paralyzed people can’t earn any income to pay into the tax system and stuff, but I’m just saying I would be pretty creeped out if that were the only reason we should avoid car accidents.)

Again assuming I haven’t made some simple calculation mistake, I can think of three ways to go from here. First, abandon consequentialism entirely (I understand that having children will likely decrease my happiness, but I still want to have children because I value them for non-utilitarian reasons). Second, switch to a consequentialism based on non-subjective things like maximizing development and industrialization as a terminal goal (Really? Even if everyone hates it? Does it matter what the factories are building? How about paper clips?). Third, switch to preference utilitarianism.

Preference utilitarianism is tempting and I was kind of in favor of it already, but I don’t find it completely satisfying. Suppose I myself am an Indian peasant. Should I have a preference for my society industrializing? If I’m not going to be any happier after it does, and supposing there’s no inherent moral value in industrialization, why bother? And if Indian peasants want their country to industrialize anyway, aren’t we as Americans allowed to say we don’t take their preference that seriously? If some hippie said they wanted to go on some Spiritual Yoga Nature Retreat that would turn their life around and bring them constant bliss, but we knew it was a complete fraud that wouldn’t help them at all, would we still feel a moral obligation to help fund that hippie’s retreat? How are the two situations different?

There’s a risk of being patronizing here – telling the Indians “Oh, you don’t need to industrialize, it’s not so great anyway,” even while we ourselves enjoy our nice food and flat-screen TVs. If we were to actively try to keep the Indians from industrializing, that would be pretty awful. But that’s not the argument at hand here. The argument at hand is “are we morally required to sacrifice our own economy in order to help the Indians industrialize?”, and I feel like that’s a hard sell if industrialization doesn’t really help the Indians.

And there’s also a risk that I might be misdefining happiness. Maybe every way economists have hitherto measured happiness is hopelessly deficient, and there’s some ineffable essence of happiness which, if we could get at it, would increase during national development. I admit that all of these subjective well-being indices are kind of sketchy and change a lot with the wording that you use or don’t use.

A final option for rescuing common sense might be acknowledging that economic progress doesn’t change happiness yet. That is, there are ways to convert economic (and closely linked technological) progress into happiness, but most countries are not making use of them – either for political reasons, or because they don’t know about them, or because we haven’t gotten enough technological and economic progress to reach them yet. This seems probably true to me – if nothing else, a technological singularity ought to help – but this situation looks a lot different from the situation where incremental progress increases happiness. In particular, it would make us want to concentrate our resources on increasing technological progress, perhaps in the richest economies, rather than trying to help poor countries in particular.

None of these possibilities really appeal to me, and I am forced to acknowledge that happiness research remains a very strange field whose conclusions make no sense to me and which tempt me to crazy beliefs and actions if I take them seriously.


I guess we’re done fighting racism. Good job, guys.

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782 Responses to The Price Of Glee In China

  1. Krishna says:

    Is development possible only through industrialization?

    What about if you are bringing people out of grinding poverty (no certainty if you will be able to eat enough to survive tomorrow, Not having access to clean drinking water). What if you can do it by giving them skills and minimal capital to start a small business, home based handicraft that can earn them enough to improve their life expectancy.

  2. wolfpeter says:

    Regarding the “urban legend” studies on happiness (after winning the lottery and after a car accident), can someone point to a good source for the “true” interpretation of the results? Maybe even the studies themselves. I have the impression I was under the same misconception since I had read it in some somewhat trustable source. It would be nice to read the actual interpretation for this.

  3. Hedjuk says:

    Eyeballing the happiness by country plot, I’m curious if there’s something with Catholicism there. Latin America is happier at lower income than other regions; individual high-Catholic-practice countries like Ireland, Poland, and the Philippines are happier at lower incomes than their regional peers (which doesn’t seem to hold for largely post-Catholic countries like in Southern Europe).

  4. Richard Kennaway says:

    What is being measured, when people say they are measuring happiness?

    From the links in the article, and their links, what is measured is the answer to a question such as “how generally happy are you?” or “how satisfied are you with life?” chosen from a Likert scale: a set of 3 to 7 points typically named something like “not at all”, “neither one nor the other”, through to “very much”. They are converted to numbers.

    Has anyone studied how people answer such questions? Not in the sense of looking at their answers, but asking what those answers mean?

    For example, if people answer the question by rating their subjective state relative to the range they generally experience, or the range they generally see around them, then the supposed “hedonic treadmill” dissolves into a tautology. Most things are generally average, and remain so however the average changes. This would also imply that no such measure has any value for comparing different populations, for comparing different individuals, or for comparing the same individual at different points in time. That is, no such measure would have any use at all.

    Another possibility is that people are reporting recent changes in their fortunes. That is, not an absolute level, nor a level relative to some general range, but a level relative to their recent past. This would also void the entire research field.

    There are more detailed “happiness inventories”, but 29 Likert scales (the Oxford Happiness Inventory) do not make sense by the magic of statistics if each of them is nonsense. Statistical tests of reliability and validity do not speak to the question of what is being measured. As far as I can judge from Wikipedia, construct validity is assessed by measuring not merely “happiness” but near synonyms such as “satisfaction”, “contentment”, etc. and observing that they correlate. If the Likert scales are systematically flawed, nothing follows from that.

    These possibilities seem so obvious, and so fundamental to the very idea of measuring a subjective state on a Likert scale, that there should be a standard answer to the possibility that the entire enterprise is worthless. I have looked, but I have not found such an answer. But I am just a layman.

    Another, independent flaw in the research follows from the set-point hypothesis itself. Suppose that “happiness” is indeed being measured, and that it is in fact maintained at some set-point. It follows that measuring variations in happiness is a worthless activity. It is like measuring temperature variations in a climate-controlled room to determine the effect of external weather. With vast enough data and sufficient statistical analysis you may get “statistically significant” results, but they will be too small to matter, have no predictive value, and reveal nothing about how anything works.

    There are ways of observing and experimenting on control systems (for that is what is present when there is a set point for something). For example, if you give the system a sudden disturbance, you can observe the transient response while it restores the controlled variable to its reference point. You might perhaps discover that in the short term, when people fall into bad situations they become unhappier, and when they escape them they become happier. How would we ever have guessed such a thing?

    Finally, what is happiness? Never mind the Likert scales, what are we talking about, when we talk about happiness? Do other languages even have a word for it? Here is Anna Wierzbicka’s expression of the English concept in her theory of semantic primes (“Semantics: Primes and Universals”, p.215):

    X feels happy =
    X feels something
    sometimes a person thinks something like this:
    something good happened to me
    I wanted this
    I don’t want anything more now
    because of this, this person feels something good
    X feels like this

    There is no notion of a general level of happiness there, only short-term good fortune. She gives a slightly different transcription for heureux, glücklich, and szczesliwy, because while glossed as “happy” in English, there are definite differences. There are plenty of papers assessing “validity” of happiness inventories translated into other languages, but how would you determine whether they are measuring the same thing, or measuring the thing that you think you mean when you talk about happiness?

  5. scav says:

    First thing that occurs to me is that lifting 1.4 billion people out of poverty will likely increase the duration of individual happiness even if it doesn’t affect the level of it much. Another 10 years of being mostly OK and seeing your grandchildren grow up–rather than dying of malnutrition, overwork and inadequate health care–isn’t nothing. You wouldn’t necessarily think of it as being happier, even if in the counterfactual world without economic growth you’d actually be dead.

  6. I think the solution to your dilemma lies somewhere in the saying reportedly popular among young Chinese women (I heard it on the Sinica podcast): “I’d rather cry in the back of a Mercedes than laugh on the back of a bicycle.” This expresses the preference for financial and long-term life security over personal emotional fulfillment. Since, the latter is what contributed disproportionately to what is measured by happiness surveys, it is easy to see where the disconnect comes from. Happiness and quality of life are not the same. Daniel Everett describes the Pirahã people as so happy that the notion of suicide does not even make sense to them. But they also asked him if white people are immortal because they tend to die in their forties. Then there are capabilities. Overall fulfillment of human purposefulness is facilitated by wealth (up to a certain point) and that level of fulfillment may also not be reflected in the surveys.

    Another possible measure is precariousness. I may be about as happy as your average millionaire but a 90% reduction in my income would plunge me into homeless poverty and massive unhappiness. A 90% reduction of a millionaire’s income (assuming a million annually) would still make someone extremely wealthy only moderately wealthy. It would sting but not as much. The same goes for the Pirahã. 90% reduction of their resources means individual and collective death.

  7. Linch says:

    Seriously, this post should have a trigger warning or informational hazard warning or something.

  8. Agronomous says:

    Maybe every way economists have hitherto measured happiness is hopelessly deficient….

    Is it just me, or does that sound like, “Maybe every way sociologists have hitherto measured the cosmological constant,” or “Maybe every way particle physicists have hitherto measured pair-bonding in wolves”?

    I’ll grant that economists know a lot about preferences, but if you ask them to measure “happiness,” they’re just going to go measure something superficially similar that they actually do know something about.

  9. Tibor says:

    A few points – per capita GDP per capita purchasing power (what you can actually buy for the money in your country). Compare these two lists:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28PPP%29_per_capita

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28nominal%29_per_capita

    For instance, Australia is 19th in terms of actual purchasing power, but 5th in terms of nominal GPD per capita. Similarly for a few other countries.

    However, this actually seems to make the disparity between wealth and “happiness” even larger. Most countries in the former eastern block are actually better off in terms of purchasing power parity than nominally.

    I come from the Czech republic, a place where it is considered impolite to say that you are happy. Obviously, this is not exaggeration, but the fact is that people would probably look strange at you if you showed the typical American enthusiasm. “How are you today?” “Great! How are you?” changes into “How’s it going?” “Yeah, it’s ok”. In terms of what people say as opposed to do, the Czechs are extremely unhappy. There is a tendency to see pretty much all the rest of the world as better off and apparently a lot of people have no idea about how well off the rest of the world actually is. I’ve heard people proclaim that the country is dragging behind Poland (while in fact the country is about 25% richer than Poland) or that there is no way the country is ever going to get economically to the level of Germany again (while in fact, Germany was about twice as rich in terms of PPP in 1993 and now is about 50%). Especially the people on the left tend to claim that the differences between poor and rich are very high in the country, while in fact it has one of the lowest Gini indices in the world. And even though people obviously believe or appear to believe a lot of these things, nobody is actually moving to Poland, or even the neighbouring Slovakia where one is understood when speaking Czech which makes it easy for anyone, even those with no foreign language skills.

    I wish one could get the statistics over all of the 20th century. Czechoslovakia was one of the 10 richest countries in the world before WW2 and then gradually got poorer (possibly even in absolute terms) during communism, but I would be inclined to bet that save for the WW2 years and the communist purges in the 1950s, the measured “happiness” would be more or less stable over the whole century.

    So there is a big difference in what people say and how they actually behave. For reasons I don’t quite understand, it is a part of the culture to keep complaining about everything all the time. If you then ask the Czechs about how happy they are, they will remember all this stuff they want to complain about and tell you that they are not very happy. At the same time, despite the fact that the country in in Schengen and it is easy to move for work around the EU. Most Czechs stay at home and if they go work anywhere, it is to Bavaria, which is not so much better off in terms of measured happiness (unless the happy Bavaria is dragged down by a majority of unhappy western German states), instead of moving to the “happy” Ireland or even the relatively close and even “happier” Denmark.

    One explanation/wild speculation which comes to mind – during communism, saying that everything was fine could possibly have a negative effect on your welfare. If you’re so well off, then the money can be redistributed elsewhere for those who are more “in need”, much like government bureaus pretty much everywhere are always “understaffed”. In communism, basically everyone becomes a lobbyist and a rent-seeker. So maybe it is an acquired attribute and in fact Czechs of the 1920s or 1930s would show very different “happiness” levels, not so much because of their higher wealth relative to other countries of the time, but because complaining about everything does not help you in a capitalist system. This might even be testable without the 1930s data. If younger Czechs today show higher levels of happiness than the older generation which grew up during communism (adjusted for the difference between the measured happiness of young and old people in general), then that would be an evidence for this explanation. Obviously, the same holds for other post-communist countries which are capitalist today. China might actually still partly have this “complaining” economy, a lot of the country is still centrally planned, so maybe again you don’t want to show too much satisfaction.

    I am not an economist, but to me the idea of measuring happiness by asking people how happy they are seems to me like a really bad way to do economics, especially if the observed behaviour is in such a strong contrast with what people say. Latin Americans may say they’re very happy, but a lot of them still immigrate to the US, even illegally. At the same time, US citizens do not seem to be very keen on immigrating to the extremely happy Colombia. Germans do not seem to move to Denmark en masse (actually, from observing the internet discussion on news sites in Germany, Germans seem to complain about things almost as much and almost as unreasonably as Czechs, although maybe all of those people are from Eastern Germany), although it is true that quite a few move to Switzerland which is also supposed to be very happy. However, Switzerland is also much richer than Denmark or Germany, so that seem to be the actual motivation and an indication that people actually are happier when they are richer. Otherwise the Germans would emigrate to Denmark at the same or even a higher rate than to Switzerland.

  10. Buck says:

    Again assuming I haven’t made some simple calculation mistake, I can think of three ways to go from here. First, abandon consequentialism entirely (I understand that having children will likely decrease my happiness, but I still want to have children because I value them for non-utilitarian reasons). Second, switch to a consequentialism based on non-subjective things like maximizing development and industrialization as a terminal goal (Really? Even if everyone hates it? Does it matter what the factories are building? How about paper clips?). Third, switch to preference utilitarianism.

    I don’t get why you aren’t going for the obvious conclusion, which is that despite your priors, you are wrong about whether economic development is particularly good for people.

    It’s not like this is an astonishing claim that everyone agrees is false, and about which you should be tremendously skeptical. Lots of people believe that increasing consumption is a lousy route to happiness, and the evidence is in and it sure looks like they’re right. Why not just believe the evidence?

    (It’s slightly more complicated than this–I can believe that there are some ways in which rich people have better lives in ways not picked up by happiness surveys. But I don’t strongly trust my intuitions on this kind of super complicated question, and I’m not sure why you want to trust yours so much.)

    • Bugmaster says:

      I think that either “happiness” is not a great metric, or possibly our intuitions about happiness are wrong. For example, imagine that one day we manage to simply wirehead everyone. Once that happens, we won’t need much in the way of economic development at all — just enough to keep the juice flowing. Everyone will become maximally happy. Is such a world world preferable to our current one ?

      If the answer is “no”, then “happiness” is a poor metric and if we should switch to something else. If the answer is “yes”, then your conclusion is 100% correct, but now you need to explain why so many people would answer “no”.

      • Buck says:

        If by “wireheading” you mean “everyone being much happier and more satisfied than they currently are”, then yes, that’s probably a better world and I’d prefer to live in it. It’s possible that humans are more satisfied and happier when doing things that are challenging and varied; if that’s so, then I would expect humans who are doing challenging and varied things would be more happy and satisfied; if I looked into it and challenge and variety don’t make you much happier, then I’d be tempted to say that challenge and variety are things that people claim to like and don’t actually like, and I wouldn’t just continue to blindly assert that they’re essential for happiness and satisfaction.

        I think that lots of people answer “no” to this because they aren’t picturing the same thing as me when you say “wireheading”–they hear “do the thing which maximizes happiness and satisfaction” and think “heroin addiction”, despite the fact that heroin addiction doesn’t seem to do that great a job of actually making people what they’d call “happy” or “satisfied”.

        • Bugmaster says:

          By “wireheading” I mean “implanting an electrode in the pleasure center of the brain, then stimulating the electrode to produce maximal possible happiness”. Hypothetically speaking, let’s assume that such wireheading does not lead to a buildup of tolerance, and thus can be sustained without interruptions (unlike the heroin high).

      • Buck says:

        I think my initial response to this comment wasn’t the strongest argument I could make: here’s my improved one.

        I think that it’s silly to go to questions of how happiness really works, or what utility function we should be really using, because no-one bothers to bring up those concerns when other kinds of effort to improve the world are proposed. I’m reminded of the debate tactic where you start out listing evidence for God’s existence, and then when people start attacking your evidence you reply with “but can we really know anything from evidence for sure anyway?”.

        I don’t think that we need to have a theory of whether wireheading is maximum happiness in order to make decisions based on a best guess of what actually makes the world a better place. We’re talking about human experiences which are within the normal range, and we’re curious about what factors affect the quality of the human experience. Our best measurements say that this factor X does not affect the quality of the human experience very much. I feel that when the question is “should we make all of the world smell slightly more like shit all of the time” or “would things be better if everyone’s arms ached more”, people are very happy to use a moral theory where more suffering is bad and more happiness is good, as they should. I’m just saying this is another case where I agree with the result of using common sense for valuing world states.

        ETA:

        I think I’ve been phrasing my point wrong.

        I’m not saying that when you’re deciding on values, you should look at a metric like human happiness, choose a way of measuring it, then blindly optimize.

        I’m just saying that in cases like this where it seems that we’d be able to measure a difference in happiness caused by your income rising from China levels to USA levels if it existed, we should be willing to follow the evidence where it takes us, which is that economic development probably isn’t a very valuable thing to work on if your goal is making people’s lives better.

      • piercedmind says:

        “If the answer is “yes”, then your conclusion is 100% correct, but now you need to explain why so many people would answer “no”.”

        Because they want to avoid cognitive dissonance. Our society values hard work, honesty, achievement and to some extent also material success, which are all diametrically opposed to wireheading. Agreing that happiness is the ultimate goal in conjunction with realising that the above values do not lead to said goal means admitting that you are living your life wrong. Therefore the values have to become good in themselves.

        Unless you think for some reason that Western society in the 21st century has ultimately figured stuff out in a way nobody else ever has, our current values are just a subset of a much larger value space. People in the past or in differenct countries have very difrent values, but they would have reacted the same way many people do now: Declaring that their values are more important than happiness. I have used that example before here, but instead of “hard work is more important than happiness”, you get “serving your country”, “not being gay” or “acting according to propriety” is more important than happiness.

      • I don’t mean to single you out, but I don’t think the jump to wireheading instructs anything at all.

        Happiness and pleasure are most likely complicated emotions rooted in our biological meat brains. We do not understand how to turn the key. It is quite possible that we often choose the path of least resistance, which leads to temporary comfort, but prevents a true feeing of happiness.

        It is quite possible we also run on the hedonic treadmill. We adapt to our current environment and demand more.

        These are important discussions for any society, especially America’s, since we have a growing heroin epidemic concurrent with a recovering economy.

        Jumping to a hypothetical wireheading conversation and whether it is morally good or bad not only isn’t useful, it side-steps the entire issue we as humans face: how do we arrive at happiness, biologically? The wireheading conversation in fact simply assumes we already know how to do that.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I am not seriously advancing the Modest Proposal of “let’s wirehead everyone”; but rather, using it to illustrate my claim that “happiness” may not be a coherent metric. Thus, basing your policy decisions on “happiness” may be equivalent to basing them on a roll of the die.

          That said, as I admitted somewhere upthread, I do not understand wireheading all that well. Specifically, I am not sure why so many people are so viscerally opposed to it. I assume that they make the same distinction between “temporary comfort” and “true happiness” that you do, but I’m not sure what the difference is; more specifically, I don’t see the difference between “permanent comfort” and “true happiness” (obviously, short-lived comfort is not as good as long-term comfort). I’m not saying that there isn’t a difference; I’m just saying that I don’t fully understand the issue.

    • The conclusion economic growth from rural poverty in China to moderate income in China results in zero well-being improvement boggles the mind.

      I think most people can agree that the .5% GDP growth over next year will not substantially improve American lives. But China is successive double-digit growth for a generation, from an extremely low level.

  11. windmill tilter says:

    > Second, switch to a consequentialism based on non-subjective things like maximizing development and industrialization as a terminal goal (Really? Even if everyone hates it? Does it matter what the factories are building? How about paper clips?)

    If everyone hates it, then that is a problem, but if everyone literally hates it then probably they’re in too much pain to function well and the system could never have happened. Right?

  12. TD says:

    Moral nihilism is always waiting for you, in the end.

  13. Urstoff says:

    Would it be easier to focus on minimizing suffering rather than maximizing happiness? Suffering tends to be more emotionally / experientially salient anyway, right?

    • Anon says:

      Sure. Problem is, people don’t like ideologies that imply we should kill everyone and sterilize the planet.

      • Aegeus says:

        Are there any issues beyond one degenerate case that nobody but a mad AI is going to attempt? I’m willing to write in a few exceptions if it works in most cases.

        Or in other words, what do you get if your goal is “Minimize suffering without euthanizing people?”

        • windmill tilter says:

          Is there some reasons for these exceptions or are they just arbitrary?

          • Aegeus says:

            Arbitrary. Like I said, if you want a general moral guideline that a human can use, rather than an exacting specification that you could program an AI with, you can tolerate some weird edge cases.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Or in other words, what do you get if your goal is “Minimize suffering without euthanizing people?”

          You get wireheading. Or rather anesthesia.

          I also think that you’re being entirely too optimistic.

  14. HeWhoMustNotBe says:

    I’ve always been slightly confused about this. Are utilitarians often interested directly in the amount of raw happiness in the world or is happiness just being used as a general placeholder and thing-connected-to-other-things (like the absence of pain, loneliness, and other bad stuff) that generally matches up as a decent replacement heuristic for a good life?

    Also related to the thread: I don’t entirely trust people’s ability to remember their levels of happiness in the past. That’s a quality that can get distorted in people with depression and likely varies in efficiency in human beings.

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s kind of vague. Some versions of utilitarianism don’t try to optimize for happiness at all, instead trying to maximize preference satisfaction. The alternative is hedonic utilitarianism, but discussions of that don’t tend to focus on the exact optimization objective — they treat happiness, satisfaction, eudaemonia, etc. as basically interchangeable.

      Which is pretty harmless if all you’re trying to do is talk about the nature of good — happiness and life satisfaction are not the same thing, but what you can say about one in the abstract, you can generally say about the other. It becomes very very important if you’re trying to build a machine to maximize good, though — lesson one of machine learning is that subtle differences in optimization objectives have outsized consequences in outcomes, especially if you’re using the more powerful techniques.

    • smocc says:

      > I don’t entirely trust people’s ability to remember their levels of happiness in the past. That’s a quality that can get distorted in people with depression and likely varies in efficiency in human beings.

      I kept a fairly thorough journal for two years. It surprised me recently to read through the parts about what I remembered as the happiest 6 months and find that the entries were some of the least happy. Though I can now remember the things that made me unhappy, I still think of it is a mostly happy time. I suspect that my journal was biased towards recording unhappy thoughts.

      If measuring my own happiness depends so much on method, I guess I don’t find it at all surprising that general happiness measurements are confusing.

      • onyomi says:

        This is a good point. I think it may actually be adaptive to forget how unpleasant some things are. My mother told me that the experience of giving birth always felt like a blur to her (she did it three times) and she can’t remember it very clearly (I don’t think they medicated her beyond the usual); it might be reproductively maladaptive to clearly remember what giving birth feels like.

        Related, whenever I have had a disease which involves vomiting I always remember thinking at the time “this is the worst thing ever!” But it is hard for me, once I’m feeling better, to really recall that in a clear or visceral way.

  15. madrocketsci says:

    And there’s also a risk that I might be misdefining happiness. Maybe every way economists have hitherto measured happiness is hopelessly deficient, and there’s some ineffable essence of happiness which, if we could get at it, would increase during national development. I admit that all of these subjective well-being indices are kind of sketchy and change a lot with the wording that you use or don’t use.

    I think it’s reasonable to assume that happiness is so constituted that it increases when you meet your local immediate goals, and fades over time. It has far more to do with the gradient in your local “utility space”, than the “absolute value” (assuming such a thing, like “absolute energy” in classical mechanics can be defined). That would make sense as an emotion that a problem solving (optimizing) being would have. It also means that your “neutral happiness set-point” might have more to do with brain chemistry and culture than absolute wealth.

    That does *not* mean that wealth is unimportant! (Or, rather, the ability to better your situation at any given state is all important!) If you were prevented from solving your problems (from improving your situation) it would only make sense that your happiness would be frustrated. If you are consistently able to solve your problems, your absolute wealth (utility) is naturally going to consistently increase, and you’ll eventually end up rich (as a consequence of the integral). You’ll also be happier for more of the time (as a consequence of the gradient).

    The US founding fathers got it pretty much right with “the pursuit of happiness” being a succint summary of what people *do* when they are free.

    • madrocketsci says:

      That also means that *control* over your changing situation is important. If it is you solving your problems by means that you control, that would tend to make you happier, I would think, than your problems randomly disappearing (when they might randomly appear again at any time). The first is something you can keep doing to keep bettering your state. The latter is a capricious and uncertain thing. If your emotions are supposed to motivate behavior, then it makes sense that they’d react more strongly to situations where your behavior has some influence.

  16. Z says:

    “A UN report theorizes that although richer countries tend to be happier, this is more likely due to factors other than income, like freedom, social trust, and stable families. These may be stable on scales much longer than income is, and may be related to culture.”

    Off the cuff, I think suicide rates by nation may lend this credence, both on social acceptability of suicide and factors that feed happiness or lack thereof.

    http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-most-suicides-in-the-world.html

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

  17. Sevii says:

    Is there any actual reason for or evidence of absolute happiness changing with wealth? There would be fluctuations based on relative status, but is there any evidence we are tens of times happier than slaves in ancient rome? My guess would be that happiness is strictly bounded with a maximum happiness relatively close to the average among the sane.

    • JayT says:

      I would guess that individual people don’t really feel any happier, but at the same time, if you were transported back to be a Roman slave that you would be much less happy than you currently are. I think that’s one problem with self reported happiness. If you don’t know how much happier you can be, then you can’t give an accurate measure how how happy you could possibly be.

  18. Cr says:

    In my personal experience there are two very different kinds of poor people, namely the poor people who are very very lucky and live mostly outside of Moloch for some reason, and the unfortunate poor people who are already being digested by It. Mixing up the two is bound to cause suffering, especially if you decide to uplift a whole culture that was miles ahead of Moloch’s, but appeared to be below on accout of their material progress.

    The real problem I think is how bad we are at objectively evaluating cultures without taking material progress in consideration. It very well could be that material progress is incredibly good for you, but the dark gods it carries are so bad that they mask the whole thing. Infant mortality might be at its lowest in the history of mankind, but I bet the ability of a young mother and her social circle to effectively deal with the death of her baby is at its lowest too.

    There is way too much emphasis from some people on things like “Amount of cars” “Number of lives saved” “Infant Mortality” etc. They are ignoring the elephant in the room imho. Are they truly this ignorant about basic human nature, or is it more of a “Focus on what you can actually see and fix” thing?

    I used to argue about this with a friend. He could never see it, I have no idea why, he is quite intelligent but immature somehow, he never could understand how say being a fisherman and braving the sea on a small wood boat could actually make for a great and worthy life. He always considered “those people” to be in a bad situation, althought he never bothered to befriend them and join their social circles to see for himself. One day I discovered he disliked sand so much that he couldn’t understand how it was pleasurable for other people. If it were up to him, he would pave the beach to help everybody else and save us the inconvenience of dealing with sand. That attitude scares me, a lot, and I see it all the time on rationalist circles when progress is discussed.

    I think its best to play it safe and focus on helping people from our own cultures, and the cultures we can clearly judge as worse without taking material progress into consideration. Its not like there’s a shortage of miserable people.

    Beautiful on-topic scene:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWrFrEeUEng

    • Michael Vassar says:

      Thanks!

    • Deiseach says:

      That attitude scares me, a lot, and I see it all the time on rationalist circles when progress is discussed.

      Not just rationalist circles. “This is such a self-evidently good thing that it can only be socially mandated repression keeping you from liking it, so we will make it compulsory and then you will see how great it is and then you will wonder why you ever objected”.

      This applies to every brand of political or sociological thought, not merely conservatives or right-wing; I’m thinking of the Great Gay Marriage experiment. “We’ll make it legal and to make sure it sticks we’ll let people who aren’t whole-heartedly jumping up and down in joy about it get sued, like bakers and photographers and florists, and then everyone will see all the happy gay couples and they’ll wonder why they were ever against love!”

      That attitude is blind to any objections being on anything more than “Gays! Icky!” (cue high-minded tut-tutting about the disgust reaction) or that people who object, or are simply not convinced it’s the most wonderfullest thing ever, are not “against love”.

      • Sam says:

        Nice try. Being compelled to bake cakes for gay weddings may be repressive, but of course so is banning gay marriage. Or contraceptives. Or euthanasia. Or any of the other liberties the Catholics repress whenever they get away with it.

        Not that repression is always a bad thing; humanity might in fact be better off with a global surveillance state who bans almost all computers and religions and enacts population control. Just saying, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

        • John Schilling says:

          Nice try. Being compelled to bake cakes for gay weddings may be repressive, but of course so is banning gay marriage.

          Which suggests that decent people might want to look for a middle ground that minimizes repression on both ends. And in the earliest days, that’s what the LGBT community and its supporters did. But as soon as they got the chance, they blew right past any possible happy medium to try and load as much repression onto their enemies as they could get away with.

          Just saying, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander

          And you know full well this was never good for the goose, so “just saying” you’re OK with forcing it on the gander, puts you solidly under the banner of the villains in this tale.

          • Sam says:

            Except I actually do believe in some forms of repression. I believe China is right in banning religion and controlling population growth. I also believe we should have a global surveillance state that bans almost all private computing and uses public computing only for very specific, narrow purposes. This would prevent the much greater harm of a negative singularity or slow machine intelligence takeover, although it is not realistic (politics-wise).

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Sam:
            Why not go one step further, and ban all forms of technology ? If people are allowed to make gunpowder, then at some point they might blow up something or someone important with it. Better safe than sorry…

          • Sam says:

            Gunpowder is not a runaway process like AI can be. But presumably you’d also want to restrict synthetic biology and some other fields.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Sam:
            How do you determine what is a “runaway process” and what isn’t ? Historically, the adoption of gunpowder as a weapon had led directly to escalating conflict, unchecked conquest, and, arguably, at least one World War. The discoveries of nuclear/quantum physics led to the invention of atomic bomb, and the race toward mutually assured destruction that still exists today (in some form). Antibiotics keep producing stronger and stronger strains of disease… and so on.

          • Sam says:

            I think if you have a serious expectation that most important decisions will be made by machines rather than people in the next century or so, you have an unprecedented kind of runaway process.

            We survived nuclear weapons so far (e.g. they didn’t incinerate the atmosphere), but if you had the knowledge of 1930 and you could establish a global surveillance state then, force world peace and prevent nuclear research, it would have been worth it from that perspective.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I don’t think that “making it legal for people to do X” automatically translates into “making X compulsory”. For example, it is perfectly legal to eat yogurt, yet I personally choose not to do it, and I’m not in jail yet.

  19. Michael Vassar says:

    I mean, implicitly, if you’re judging development on average self reported happiness, that suggests average utilitarianism, which tends to tell you to minimise the population of less happy organisms (depressed people? Pre-Singularity people? 17 year cicadas?) and to maximise that of more happy organisms (zooplankton genetically engineered for hedonic ally optimal neurotransmitter balance?), but which definitely regards contemporary human populations as a rounding error and almost definitely recommends genocide of some or possibly all groups on the margin.

    Development probably lowers population growth rates in the short term, and for an average utilitarian, that probably outweighs changes to happiness, but whether it’s good or bad depends on the size and happiness level of the probable future population. In the long term, development increases resources hat could be used for population growth, or to genetically engineer eudaimonia, or for a Singularity, and it changes the relative influence of cultures which may bias the long term trajectory one way or another (almost certainly India is culturally disinclined towards utilitarianism relative to the Anglosphere, Unsure about China) an effect that probably dominates, but which probably makes average utilitarians look a lot like old-school nationalist imperialists.

    Preference utilitarianism doesn’t compile as a single theory. It tends to reduce In practice to the theory ‘maximise intensity of easily satisfied preferences’, since making utility monsters is probably cheap, then satisfy somewhat, or to Buddhism, e.g. Eliminate preferences except for some minimal and trivially and fully satisfiable preference.

    You could endorse preference utilitarianism with preferences fixed by the present distribution, but that curtails lots of growth potential, and many or most current preferences are incoherent in the face of strong optimisation. This quandary basically points towards CEV.

    In reality, consequentialism is trivial but vacuous, and thinking that it’s even a form of ethics is bad philosophy. SSC should be the place to work that out clearly for the benefit of the EA community, as it’s probably the only place where they will actually read what’s written rather than applauding but either not reading or ignoring like they do with Parfit, Mill, and even Bentham.

  20. Decius says:

    You discuss a lot how the Chinese don’t seem to score higher on the happiness test as a result of industrialization.

    Are Americans scoring poorer on that test as a result of globalization?

  21. Michael Vassar says:

    If you aren’t doing population ethics, you really aren’t doing consequentialism at all in the first place.

  22. JayT says:

    I have not read all the comments yet, so maybe this was already brought up, but I think one thing to keep in mind is that since trade relations between the US and China have been resumed, Chinese life expectancy has skyrocketed. From that, even if the average level of happiness at any given moment hasn’t changed, the total amount of happiness obviously has gone up quite a bit.

    Another issue I have is that they are only measuring the Chinese happiness starting in 1999. It’s possible that from the early ’70s through the late ’90s all of the “heavy lifting” was done, and perhaps happiness went up significantly in that time.
    In the US there are diminishing happiness returns once you get to upper middle class. It’s possible that taking the Chinese people from basically nothing to the start of an industrialized nation was the equivalent of taking a billion US citizens from $25,000 to $75,000.

  23. Chrysophylax says:

    Roll to disbelieve: 17.

    Firstly, there’s the whole point about self-reports being horribly unreliable in various ways. Other people have already covered this.

    Secondly, you don’t seem to have taken any account of the effects of transition, as opposed to the steady states. Working for FoxConn is not fun! If Chinese people are getting richer but working in horrible factories hundreds of miles from their children in order to do it, of course they aren’t happy. That doesn’t mean that they *won’t* be happy when the Chinese economy has caught up. You’re also not taking account of the changes in inequality.

    Thirdly, the claim “lottery winners aren’t any happier” is false, as is “people disabled in car crashes aren’t any sadder”. The accurate claims are that large changes don’t make people as happy or sad as they expect. I wish you’d stop unqualifiedly calling this an urban legend when the weak form is (AFAIK) true.

    On the other hand, the chart with countries put in bubbles like “Ex-Soviet” is very interesting and I would like to know more about it. If it’s based on self-reports, there might be a large element of bias from different cultures areporting the same result differently, but there might be some interesting stuff to learn about what makes the cultures differently happy (or even why they differ in survey responses).

  24. stillnotking says:

    I have a mundane and an esoteric argument here. The mundane argument is that self-reporting seems like a terrible recourse if anything else is available, on the well-known principle that actions speak louder than words. Look at suicide rates, rates of interpersonal violence, rates of political unrest, warfare, etc. All of these are culturally mediated to some degree, but so is self-reporting. Try defining happiness as a behavior or set of behaviors and see how various correlations look. (e.g. I’m betting homicide is negatively correlated with per capita GDP.) Or, as another poster suggested, look at migration if you want to do atemporal cross-cultural comparisons.

    The esoteric argument is that happiness and joy are two different things. In Zen Buddhism, for instance, happiness is seen as… not suspect, exactly, but transitory and misleading, decidedly not the opposite of suffering. Joy is the opposite of suffering, and can be described as a state of radical acceptance or equanimity. A famous Zen master was on his deathbed, in great pain, and one of his students asked him how he was feeling. He replied “Sun-faced Buddha and moon-faced Buddha,” meaning roughly “I feel like shit, but it’s all good,” in modern parlance. Which is a long-winded way of saying there’s a lot of neurology/psychology around this topic that we simply do not understand, and that, I suspect, would greatly alter our self-perception if we did understand it.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      People around me sometimes ask me whether I’m “happy”, and I usually complain that it’s a vague word and there’s different types. Joyful, content, comfortable, eager, excited, pleased, satisfied, etc are all different shades of “happy”. They complain I’m being pedantic, and I respond that my answer really does depend on which specific shade they intended. As a pretty even-keel guy, I’m often content but rarely joyful. I have friends who seem excited 24/7.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ stillnotking
      A famous Zen master was on his deathbed

      An obscure Jaina monk, healthily levitating, told me that ‘bliss/peace/whatever’ is the natural state of the body-mind complex — whenever it is not disturbed by worry or itching-for. (Aka wanting or fearing, desire or fear, craving or fear, ambition or fear, fire or ice, etc etc.)

      Ime, the more things to realistically worry about (such as paying the rent), the more moments the pool is likely to be disturbed. So more income may allow more undisturbed moments — necessary but not sufficient and all that.

  25. houseboatonstyx says:

    No one ever polls me on such questions, lucky for them, because I’d sealion them for hours trying to find out what they mean. Like, on what time scale? Maybe at the moment I just found a candy in my pocket so I’m happy, or my feet are cold so I’m unhappy. Do they mean overall, frequency and duration of such ‘in the moment’ moments over the past X months/years? If so, then the disruption of moving to a city and a new kind of job etc is going to keep me too busy and worried to enjoy many such moments, regardless of the numbers.

    Do they mean “happy with” my current partner/job/home, no big desire to make a big change? That can get a lot of ‘Yes’ answers, especially if the partner or boss is looking over your shoulder.

    Silly questions.

  26. The Voracious Observer says:

    I think the strange finding that GDP growth does not seem to raise happiness suggests that we are asking questions about the wrong things. I suspect happiness is a flawed index to measure against. People don’t make decisions based on what outcomes make them the happiest. Having children, Keeping up with the Joneses, Consumerism, Celebrity Culture, Identity Politics, etc don’t make people happier, yet nearly all Westerners choose to follow these ideals. Loss aversion, Signalling, and perhaps, tradition result in most people choosing life outcomes that are far less happier than they could be. Everyone seems to play life on ‘hard mode’, for no particular reason. In essence, people say they want to be happy, but people don’t choose happiness.

    It might be more revealing to compare GDP growth with unhappiness or discontent. Unhappiness is not the opposite of happiness (boredom is the opposite of happiness). Unhappy people are the people that riot in the streets, vote Trump, and liberate heads from Monarchs. Happy people aren’t the counter to unhappy people. Release 10 unhappy and 10 very happy people in the same room, and you won’t get an base neutral happiness. Likely the 10 unhappy people will harass the others and you’ll have 20 unhappy people. Anyway, I digress. I would predict GDP growth is correlated with a decrease in unhappiness.

  27. Krisztian Kovacs says:

    Claim 1: you should, almost always, choose preference utilitarianism over “happiness research.” If Zhang Wei’s happiness is 5 on a 10 point scale today and was 5 on a 10 point scale 40 years ago, but he insists that he would rather sell his kidney and poke out his eye than go back in time to the cultural revolution, you know very well that there is a difference in “utility.”

    Claim 2: whatever you believe about (any kind of) utilitarianism on a theoretical side, for the purposes of public policy, it is close to useless. Either you stick consistently with one brand and follow it to its most nonsensical conclusions, or you switch between the brands at your leisure; endorsing immediate pleasure at some point, life satisfaction at another, preferences when they are “right, ” and none of the above if we’re talking about Nazis who prefer/get happy by beating Jews.

    And it that case, we might as well just be honest and say that we’re using a moral theory in the same way a drunk uses a streetlight: for support, not illumination.

    • Anonymous says:

      If happiness is the product of deltas from your baseline, Zhang Wei can feel the same happiness as 40 years ago while still refusing to experience the shock of miserable that he will get if he were actually moved to that time. This isn’t necessarily equivocating between pleasure and happiness, since happiness can depend on deltas of a different/more abstract type (like changes in quality of life bring happiness/misery while their concrete consequences like pain/orgasms bring pleasure).

      Plus the point of view that happiness and suffering are not the same scale, meaning you can be ambiently happy while still feeling suffering from your gout. Zhang Wei may feel his happiness will stay the same but his suffering will increase if he goes back. Personally I use a broader view of happiness that sums both things together into one, so that might also be just a definitional disagreement.

  28. Jiro says:

    Summary of most responses: Happiness is a really bad measurement of how good something is.

    And it is, too.

    • Swami says:

      Exactly!

      Happiness greatly measures short time relative gains against the past, against expectations or against peers. As we progress in life we update our expectations and peers, thus even if we continue to move forward we just run faster and change our goals.

      It is called the hedonic treadmill.

      It is a bad measurement stick because it constantly changes and habituates to environmental conditions. It is also a terrible justification to negate economic growth. There may be valid reasons to question economic growth or better health care, longer lives, more freedom, more education, more opportunity and so on, but “that won’t make us any happier” isn’t one of them. It assumes the measuring stick was worth a damn to start with.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        If those things don’t make us happier, what is the point of any of them?

        Reported happiness may be a bad measuring stick. But if we’re not taking actual happiness into account, we might as well make paperclips or build bridges to nowhere.

        • moridinamael says:

          There’s no such thing as “actual happiness,” is the point, I think.

        • Swami says:

          But Vox, aren’t you kinda just assuming the paradigm that actual happiness is a valid long term measure?

          I am not dissing actual happiness. I think it is a great short term part of our experience, and I agree that unhappiness is a serious concern too. But they are both short term perceptions and part of a feedback process. Let me illustrate it via a journey metaphor.

          Let us say we decide we want to travel north. The going is hard, but we make two miles per day and are happy.

          Then we notice our siblings only travel at one mile a day. We are unhappy for them, but even happier for ourselves.

          Then we see a new group pass us by at three miles per. We are unhappy at first, but then we step up our technique and we too start moving at three miles per. We are ecstatic!

          But the ecstasy wears off over time. Soon we see nobody around us but similarly fast people, we baseline to three miles a day. When we exceed it and hit four we feel great, when we miss it and go just 2.9 we feel like losers and are very unhappy.

          Then we see some consistent four milers pass us. Now we are absolutely miserable, even though we manage to scrape by at 3.5, though with much personal pain.

          Then we have an epiphany. What is so special about going North so fast? And what about East? So we correct our course a bit, and decide to slow our pace and enjoy the journey. We become happy with our current situation but have regrets about how we wasted so much time going so fast in our youth.

          But then we notice that most prospective mates want the four milers going North. We feel like losers. We start to doubt everything….

          But then we decide that no mate worthy of us is so shallow, so we instead seek others who go our way and smell the flowers along the way.

          Perhaps we find one, perhaps not. Perhaps we get to the end of our journey and question what it was all about. Should we have gone even faster? Smelled more roses? Settled for a different mate?

          Then we die.

          Sorry for the long story, but my point is simply that what in the heck does median happiness measure? Looking back, were the unhappy moments really even less meaningful than the happy ones?

          Happiness and unhappiness are very important. But they are parts of a larger feedback mechanism, and the assumption that greater short term average happiness is better than lesser is a huge assumption.

  29. eponymous says:

    I’m pretty sure that, whatever those surveys are measuring, it’s not fully capturing “happiness”.

    Let’s think in terms of revealed preference. Hypothetically, if I could choose to live here in the US today, or in the US in 1800, I would choose here and now.

    Oh I’m sure that if I were a farmer in 1800 chopping wood or whatever, and you asked me whether or not I was happy with my life, I might be just as likely to say “yes” as I am now. Probably. But that doesn’t change the fact that doing hard manual labor all day just to eat seems pretty crappy compared to my current practices of doing math, writing code, and surfing the net.

    Perhaps this is just my culturally determined preference. But — and here I’m *really* stretching the power of hypotheticals — I’m guessing that 1800 me, if he had as much knowledge of what 2016 was like, would prefer that to his current reality.

    We’ve also got evidence from peoples’ actual revealed preference. Simply put, there is much more migration from less to more developed areas, both within and between countries. Even while China was developing, tons of people made the choice to move to urban centers to participate in that development, rather than staying in their villages where they could experience approximately pre-development life.

    So it seems that how many people in a place say they are “happy” with their life does not correspond to which place I would prefer to live, or which place most people would choose to live. And, at least for me, I would say that I think I am “happier” here and now than I would be in that other place or time.

  30. Arthur says:

    Given the immigration flows I think we can be pretty sure people actually prefer to live in developed countries and are willing to pay a high cost to do it

    • ThrustVectoring says:

      That works at an individual level but not a social one. If the only advantage to living in a developed country is having positional goods compared to an undeveloped one, then people will prefer to live in developed countries but not be better off as a group.

      There’s similar stuff going on with education – getting a prestigious college degree helps you get a job compared to other job seekers without it, but giving everyone a prestigious college degree helps no-one.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        That works at an individual level but not a social one. If the only advantage to living in a developed country is having positional goods compared to an undeveloped one, then people will prefer to live in developed countries but not be better off as a group.

        Good thing it isn’t the only advantage, then.

        • ThrustVectoring says:

          I’m well aware that there’s other advantages to living in a developed country. I’m making a more general point that the individually-optimal choices don’t always add up to the best group outcome. So when we want to best improve the results for a group, “give individuals more of what they want” doesn’t necessarily get you there.

  31. Brendan Dolan-Gavitt says:

    I wonder if any of the messiness involved in rating happiness is captured by Kahneman’s distinction between the remembering self vs the experiencing self [1]? I.e., if you ask people on a minute-by-minute basis how they’re feeling, you get very different answers than if you ask them to remember how happy they were in the past. The latter seems to be much more strongly influenced by things like your social status relative to your peers. I suspect that it’s this latter value that’s being measured by the survey questions, so it would make sense that it doesn’t change much (since your peers’ lives are improving, on average, at the same rate as the country, so your status relative to them doesn’t change).

    [1] http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/uncategorized/memory-vs-experience-happiness-is-relative.html

  32. AnthonyC says:

    I have no idea what factors consistently lead to increased happiness, but I bet that whatever they are, securing them for everyone is going to take a lot of… maybe not money, but wealth/resources/technology that requires a lot of economic progress to build up.

  33. Of course you cure the disease. Have you ever had the flu? You feel like shit when you have the flu. Now imagine you have malaria, or hookworms. Or Ebola. Now we’re talking about people so far from happiness, they can barely even imagine this concept of “happiness.” They just want to get to a state of “not made of 100% pain.”

    The idea that people crippled in accidents recover emotionally in a few months is obviously bullshit. I am honestly surprised you’d believe that. Have you ever talked to anyone severely crippled in a car accident? A few months later, they are often still in pain (sometimes still in comas.) They are still healing and unable to do virtually anything they used to do. It’s horrible. Even years down the line, people stuck in wheelchairs have to deal with the fact that the entire world is not designed for wheelchairs, which puts a serious damper on anything you want to do.

    People like to focus on bright and cheerful disabled people because our culture is relentlessly “SMILE! FOR THE CAMERA!” all the time, but the truth is that having your ribs crushed and your femurs shattered and then spending the rest of your life dependent on others because you can’t drive or even get up a curb is really shitty.

    Get into these tropical diseases and parasites, and we’re talking about things like lifelong anemia, which again, will make you feel shitty all the time even if you’re the kind of person who would normally be really cheerful.

    Ultimately, would I rather have electricity and malaria, or no electricity and no malaria? I’ll take the no malaria option, thank you very much.

    As for development in a place like China, honestly, I’m not all that surprised. Look at the kind of work people are doing, how many hours a day they spend on it, and how terrified people are of losing their jobs.
    Where does all that coal for India’s development come from? Coal miners, working down in coal mines. Back-breaking, dangerous, exhausting, labor that gives everyone in the neighborhood cancer and the workers get lung diseases (if the mines don’t collapse.) Coal mining counties in West Virginia have much higher cancer rates than non-coal mining counties, and that’s an area with relatively first-world levels of worker protections and pollution control. Now just imagine being a coal miner in India or China.

    Not fun.

    Is working 10+ hours a day at a factory assembling cell phones or rugs or whatever much fun? No. Is harassing your kid to study more and more so they can take entrance exams and hopefully make it into college and get a good job where they don’t have to work in a factory or a coal mine fun? No.

    South Koreans make a decent amount of money, but they work more hours for each dollar than do Americans or Europeans. That is less fun.

    If a farmer can raise enough food to provide for his family, the farmer is secure and confident and self-sufficient. He gets up when he gets up, doesn’t worry about the factory bell, doesn’t have to be obsequious to some asshole boss, etc. He is his own man and his destiny, for better or worse, is under his own control. The factory man is subservient at all times to others.

    Some people are okay with subservience. Most will put up with it if it means running water and lightbulbs and no malaria. But most people don’t really like it.

    The wealth gains from development go disproportionately to the rich. Look at your graph for china, comparing the rich to the middle to the lower class. The rich get a bunch of money and they don’t work in factories, so sure, they’e happy. The poor people might be doing better, but they have to work in coal mines and factories and worry about getting fired if they show up to work ten minutes late because their kid threw up this morning. They have to live in shitty neighborhoods that look like they were just industrialized and drink polluted water, and they know the rich despise them. No, they’re not happy.

    • Swami says:

      I would strongly argue for the opposite, EvolutionistX

      The greatest gains go overwhelmingly to the least well off. Increasing income from $3 day to $6-10 is life changing. It means junior doesn’t die of starvation or disease. The wealthy are the ones experiencing an improvement from a two thousand square foot house to three thousand feet and a pool.

      Your point about the poor still having to labor isn’t exactly right either. Truth is they had to labor on the farm too (for one third the return), and with economic growth more and more are going to better opportunities, and service and white collar jobs. I would argue that life experience and overall wellbeing has improved more, faster for the poor in china than anywhere else in history. I have already explained below why this won’t show up much in happiness measures, and if happiness is properly, understood, it wouldn’t be expected to.

  34. Paul says:

    I think two things are happening here. First, happiness is a highly imperfect measure. If you bring 100 million Indians out of poverty, you will find that they less disease, lower child mortality, lower stress, etc.. If your happiness measure detects that they are equally happy, then it’s clearly stupid to base decisions on measured happiness utilitarianism — these changes are self-evidently good.

    Second, Chinese industrialization, like the industrialization of the west, features a lot of new problems, like pollution, crime and inequality of opportunity, that historical nations have been able to improve with more time and income. Factory workers in 1820 London probably weren’t much happier than their rural predecessors, but by 1920 they were.

  35. ThrustVectoring says:

    The dominant nations aren’t industrialized because it makes their citizens happier as a whole; the dominant nations are industrialized because taking steps to industrialize is in the best interest of those who can take those actions. Someone who opens a textile factory in industrializing Britain would make themselves gigantic piles of money, even as they replace the more satisfying artisanal work with dangerous and boring mechanical jobs.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      A history professor of mine once remarked that Oliver Twist and Mary Poppins both depict London during the Industrial Revolution. It still gives me cognitive dissonance when I think about it.

      • Jeffrey Soreff says:

        A history professor of mine once remarked that Oliver Twist and Mary Poppins both depict London during the Industrial Revolution. It still gives me cognitive dissonance when I think about it.

        Does the dissonance go down if you visualize the chimney sweeps in Mary Poppins with scrotal cancer?

  36. Demosthenes says:

    Two things:

    1. A weak relationship between happiness and income cuts both ways. If an income loss doesn’t lead to lower happiness, then why do we care about the American working-class either?

    2. This entire post is about the extensive margin, or, conditional on given population size and lifespan. Even if income doesn’t raise someone’s happiness, if development extends lifespans, their lifetime happiness has increased.

  37. Muga Sofer says:

    >Part of me wants to argue that obviously we should sign the trade pact; as utilitarians we should agree with Sumner that lifting 1.4 billion Chinese out of poverty was “the best thing that ever happened” and so lifting 1.2 billion Indians out of poverty would be the second-best thing that ever happened, far more important than any possible risks. But if Easterlin is right, those Indians won’t be any happier, the utility gain will be nil, and all we will have done is worsened global warming and kicked a million Americans out of work for no reason (and they will definitely be unhappy).

    >Or since most of us don’t get the option to sign trade pacts, here’s a more relevant question. Suppose we are effective altruists. We have the opportunity to cure disease (at relatively high costs) or boost national development (at relatively low costs). Assume the numbers work out such that if we took a simple ‘development = good’ perspective, then donating to the development charity would be a no-brainer. Should we donate to the disease-cure charity anyway?

    There’s more to life than happiness.

    Developed countries tend to have much better healthcare. They have less wars, and better nutrition, and safer jobs. They have more education, and more wealth to spend on other things that look a lot like self-actualization.

    It’s quite plausible that this hypothetical guaranteed “development” would be a great intervention on life-saving grounds alone, let alone other things humans value.

    I’m not into QALYs, but you are, and a life of the same happiness lived longer is still more QALYs. That alone speaks in favour of development.

  38. Swami says:

    The central dilemma to this topic is that happiness — as a measure — suffers from the problem of habituation.

    To address the issue, I strongly suggest reading

    Evolutionary Efficiency and Happiness by
    Luis Rayo & Gary S. Becker

    http://www.econ.nyu.edu/user/debraj/Courses/NewRes08/Papers/rayo_becker_07.pdf

    Here are a collection of snippets of the key points they make for those wishing to skip the 35 page paper….
    
Begin assorted quotes:

    “We are interested, specifically, in the following patterns.1 First, the hedonic impact of sustained changes in economic conditions has a tendency to diminish over time, such as becoming accustomed to an expensive lifestyle (i.e., habit formation). Second, the level of happiness that an individual derives from his economic success is usually affected by the success of his peers (i.e., peer comparisons). Third, happiness is influenced by the individual’s prior expectations concerning his own success. And fourth, while happiness is volatile, it tends to revert over time to a relatively stable long-term mean. Taken together, these features mean that the individual is mainly concerned not with his absolute level of success, but rather with the difference between his success and a benchmark that changes over time. Moreover, since these features cross cultural boundaries and age groups, it is reasonable to assume that, at a general level, they are innate.

    In this paper, using economic tools, we argue that the above features can be evolutionarily advantageous in the sense of improving the individual’s ability to propagate his genes. Our goal, in other words, is to provide a biological foundation for these traits.
    
We view happiness as a decision-making device that allows the individual to rank alternative courses of action (Damasio [1994] presents neurological evidence consistent with this approach). In particular, we study an abstract choice setting in which, in every period of his life, an individual compares alternative input choices x toward the production of a random output y. Consider, for example, a hunter-gatherer searching for fruit: x describes his foraging strategy and y his level of success. A higher y increases the individual’s prospects for survival and repro- duction and therefore his ability to propagate his genes. We refer to the expected value of y as the individual’s fitness.
    
Our plan is to show that, given our set of physical constraints, a happiness function V that is based on the individual’s relative success— and exhibits the traits previously described—can lead to a more accurate ranking of choices and, therefore, better decisions from a fitness perspective.
    
The theoretical problem of finding the fitness-maximizing happiness functions can be conveniently stated as a metaphorical principal-agent problem. As is customary in the literature, the principal represents the process of natural selection, and the agent represents an individual carrying a set of genes. In the present context, the principal designs the innate happiness function of the agent, with the goal of maximizing the propagation of the agent’s genes. Importantly, the happiness function is only a means to this end: the principal does not directly care about the agent’s happiness level. The agent, on the other hand, is born with the happiness function designed by the principal and, via his actions, seeks only to maximize his level of happiness. In the process, however, he inadvertently serves the principal’s goal.

    Crucially, this theoretical exercise refers to the ancestral environment in which humans evolved, not the modern world. In particular, when talking about fitness-maximizing happiness functions, we refer to functions that optimized genetic multiplication during hunter-gatherer times (before agriculture and animal domestication were developed). In mod- ern times, on the other hand, we presumably share most of the innate characteristics of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. But since the techno- logical landscape has changed so rapidly since the rise of agriculture, our happiness functions need no longer optimally promote the present multiplication of our genes.

    We illustrate this dynamic process in an environment in which the optimal reference point is updated every period to equal the conditional expectation of output for that period. Whenever possible, this condi- tional expectation will exploit information contained in past levels of output, together with any additional information contained in the out- put of peers.

    Concluding Remarks
    We have modeled happiness as a biological measurement instrument that guides the agent’s decisions. Analogous to an eye that specializes in measuring differences between neighboring objects, a happiness function that evaluates economic success in relative terms serves as a more accurate decision guide. In our model, in particular, the agent’s success is evaluated against a reference point that constantly changes over time in tandem with his opportunities. This reference point inte- grates information that can best predict the agent’s performance, in- cluding information contained in his past levels of output as well as the output of his peers. As a result, the agent is concerned not with his absolute level of success, but rather with his success relative to a bench- mark that reflects his own history and social environment.

    Throughout, we have suggested a statistical parallel between happiness and an optimal incentive scheme that seeks to promote effort. This parallel allows us to rationalize multiple aspects of happiness using well- known concepts from incentive theory. Indeed, when viewed from an economic perspective, happiness appears to have multiple signs of statistical inference. For example, in addition to accounting for habits and peer comparisons, this incentive approach rationalizes why luck has an impact over happiness and why this impact is short-lived.

    Our discussion of habits and peer comparisons is far from exhaustive. Possible extensions could address the issue of habituation patterns that differ according to the type of good involved, as well as the fact that some goods are more prone to social comparisons than others. In both cases, statistical principles may prove to play a role.”

    End assorted quotes.

    In my words, I think they are highlighting that happiness works a lot like a carrot in front of a donkey. From an evolutionary standpoint, complete bliss was a dead end. The characteristics which flourished were those of people who compared themselves to their peers (evolutionary competition) and their expectations (which are steadily rising as we accomplish earlier ones). As such, absolute gains don’t do much for happiness. Widescale success (progress) does not lead to substantial gains in happiness (other than gains over absolute unhappiness). This includes such gains as doubling lifespan, less pain, more freedom, education, equality of outcomes, improvements in entertainment and opportunity and so on. We are wired to always go one step further than peers or desires, and as we achieve, we shift both our goals and our peers.

    Said another way, happiness is a terrible stand-alone absolute measure. It is like measuring relative acceleration (vs peers or goals), rather than speed. This isn’t to say it is useless, just that you cannot measure progress very well with this as the barometer. The conclusion isn’t that economic prosperity, health, lifespan or opportunity don’t matter, just that happiness is as ineffective at revealing their value as an acceleration chart is at revealing how well we have done at completing our journey.

    See also Hanson’s comments on the inadequacy of happiness to measure MEANING, and how the two are often (perversely) inversely related.

    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2013/07/happiness-vs-meaning.html

    Happiness is something that we should be concerned with. But it is a dangerous, self-habituating measure which is a terrible broad social goal. I am not suggesting this is a knock down argument against Utilitarianism, but it certainly points out inadequacies with overly-elevating the importance of happiness as a substitute for utility

    • piercedmind says:

      I did not read everything you quoted, but it appeared to only talk about the effect of “getting stuff” on happiness, and it seems quite reasonable, as the authors argued, that it would decline over time.

      However, this does not mean that any change to your happiness will only be temporary. For example, having meaningful work and a functioning relationship is not subject to the adaptation principle and increases happiness in the long term.

      • Swami says:

        I broadly agree, Pierced.

        I am not suggesting unhappiness is unimportant, or that happiness is unimportant. Just that they are bad as standalone measures of human wellbeing, because they are subject in part to habituation, to changes in expectations, and to relative as opposed to absolute gains.

        Happiness is not great at measuring the score of broad scale human progress because it is tending to really measure “did you score as much as you wanted to today in comparison to your peers” where as we score more we upgrade both our expectations and our peers.

        • piercedmind says:

          Broad scale human progress defined by what? What good is progress if it does not really lead to happiness, or only moderately? I guess a religious person would say that serving god is more important than happiness, but to them serving god is good in itself. (This is not meant as polemic, rather to illustrate my thesis that most people will continue to follow their prior value (be it progress, serving your country or god) to prevent cognitive incongruence.)

          • Swami says:

            You need to actually read my full initial comment. It answers the dilemma posed in the post.

            Happiness is a short term measure of relative change, thus it is wholly inadequate as a measure of absolute gains. The error is to ever expect a measure of short term relative change to be a good long term measure of either success or progress. It doesn’t do the trick. It can’t, and thinking it can reveals a complete misunderstanding of the biology of happiness.

            By progress, I simply mean broad scale success or cumulative problem solving… As defined by a population to achieve its goals.

          • piercedmind says:

            I meant to address that part, but I should have probably quoted the relevant studies. Happiness is *not* just a measure of change, because there are circumstances that increase happiness in the long term even if those circumstances do not change. (quoted from above)

            (Listed from Jonathan Haidt’s “Happiness Hypthesis”):

            Control over circumstances: Giving people some form of efficacy when managing their life leads to improvement in health and reported happiness.

            Noise: People do not adapt to noise, in fact you only grow more annoyed with time.

            Relationships: “the prevailing opinion of researchers,” reported Mastekaasa (1995), is that the marriage-happiness correlation is “mainly due” to the beneficial effects of marriage.

            If some things can actually affect your reported happines in the long term it follows that economic growth not only doesnt increase reported happiness but also actual happiness.

            I am no expert though, as with all psych research there is some possibility that you will find studies debunking all of those.

            Sources:
            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1011073 (for control)
            http://pages.ucsd.edu/~nchristenfeld/Happiness_Readings_files/Class%209%20-%20Fredrick%201999.pdf (page 13) (for effects of noice)
            http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/amp/55/1/56/(page 8) (for effects of relationships, though the data is only correlational obviously)

          • Swami says:

            Thanks for bearing with me Pierced. I appreciate your perspective.

            Let me clarify. I agree that happiness is important, and that we don’t habituate completely to everything (such as noise or back pain). To the extent we can measure the absence of these kind of chronic problems, then I am all for it. But happiness measures a lot more, and many of the things it measures are relative and what it is relative to is extremely prone to revision.

            My comment below at 11:04 on 3/25 illustrates the issue in the metaphor of a journey and how our happiness bobs up and down based upon a complex mix of our goals that day, our short term accomplishments, whether we compare to our goals or others, who the others are that we choose to benchmark, where we are in life, whether we are looking at the big picture or the small.

            I am not arguing that happiness measures aren’t measuring actual happiness, I am arguing that actual honest to god happiness is a horrible aggregate broad scale measure of anything. I think it is very easy to imagine scenarios where the group which was happiest on average for the longest period, will, at the end of the journey be least happy with the what they did.

  39. John Schilling says:

    There’s an object-level problem in using China as the test case here, in that China has a rather large income-inequality problem overshadowing everything else. Or, OK, some people don’t consider income inequality a “problem”, but it still affects the statistics.

    If you believe the Communist Party of China’s National Bureau of Statistics, China’s Gini coefficient is 0.474. Independent estimates put it in the range of 0.55 to 0.6 or higher, a realm otherwise occupied only by the worst sort of African kleptocracies. From what I’ve seen, I am inclined to believe the higher estimates. Even discounting the possibility that income inequality makes people unhappy, the apparently logarithmic relationship between wealth and happiness means adding lots of wealth in the upper tail of the economic distribution can push the average wealth up substantially while the average happiness doesn’t much change. And if there is even a small negative relationship between happiness and (real or perceived) inequality, then increasing average wealth the way China did it could well lead to zero or negative change in happiness.

    This would not discredit the general argument that, all else being equal, it’s at least a modest utilitarian good to increase wealth. Does mean you have to be alert for exceptional cases where this may not hold.

    • piercedmind says:

      This seems to be correct:

      “One of the most puzzling social science findings in the past half century is the Easterlin paradox: Economic growth within a country does not always translate into an increase in happiness. We provide evidence that this paradox can be partly explained by income inequality. In two different data sets covering 34 countries, economic growth was not associated with increases in happiness when it was accompanied by growing income inequality. Earlier instances of the Easterlin paradox (i.e., economic growth not being associated with increasing happiness) can thus be explained by the frequent concurrence of economic growth and growing income inequality. These findings suggest that a more even distribution of growth in national wealth may be a precondition for raising nationwide happiness. ”

      http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/09/03/0956797615596713.abstract

      • It occurs to me that one way of interpreting the “inequality reduces happiness” result is as fitting the idea that how people report their happiness is in relative, not absolute, terms.

        Imagine that my absolute happiness was ten, my rich neighbors was fifteen. We both get richer. My happiness is now fifteen, his is thirty.

        What I report is not my absolute happiness but my happiness relative to his, which I think of as the natural basis of comparison. So I report a lower happiness than before.

        Of course, I could be comparing myself to my poor neighbor instead. But assume that the rich are more visible so a more natural basis of comparison, or that I spend more time thinking about what I want to be than what I don’t want to be, or that for some other reason I overweight them in setting my baseline.

  40. metamatic says:

    “Happiness” is a pretty extreme abstraction. So is “life satisfaction.” No one feels consistently satisfied with their life, on all occasions; other than maybe people who are extremely depressed, few people feel consistently dissatisfied. What people mean by “satisfied” varies, not only culturally but within a culture. Maybe the average joe feels satisfied as long as he’s got a reasonably-decent job and a partner. But an artist only feels satisfied if he’s reinvented his medium. Or on the other hand, this entrepreneur here feels that she’ll be satisfied as long as she can “innovate,” but her definition of innovation is constantly shifting–more than she consciously realizes.

    You could switch to asking people more specific things, but it won’t help. People lie to themselves about happiness and substitute one kind of happiness for another–blame their home life for problems in their careers, blame petty setbacks for emotional reactions conditioned by much larger things. (In college I knew a lot of philosophy-inclined undergraduates who built up complicated pessimisms to justify the negative affect they felt from emotional problems they wouldn’t or couldn’t deal with. Hell, at times I *was* one of those undergraduates.)

    I guess what I’m saying is, surveys of subjective happiness seem pretty close to worthless. There are too many gigantic confounders. People’s notion of satisfaction isn’t something inherent, it’s something they’re told, which means dramatic changes to social norms (as in the shift towards a more capitalistic state) are going to mix everything up. It’s not just, society gets richer, people want new things. It’s, some of the old things they had their identity wrapped up in disappear. E.g. someone who decided her life’s work would be to do exciting work in academic literary studies is probably not going to be having a fun time these days. If society gets more secular, aspiring clergymen are in for a bad time. Meanwhile, we invent new prerequisites for satisfaction.

    And this varies person-to-person. Certain people with high openness to experience are going to accept a more generally unpleasant life in exchange for higher highs, and other people might lack the psychological maturity to accept that they have to make some kind of tradeoff at all. Some weirdos might not even see “satisfaction” as a terminal value. Some people deliberately make themselves uncomfortable, because they think certain discomforts are valuable in their own right. (I get the impression this is basically the only reason people watch Michael Haneke’s films, for instance.)

    tl;dr if life satisfaction surveys give strange, counterintuitive results, it might be because they don’t measure life satisfaction. Or it might be because life satisfaction isn’t really a reasonable metric.

    • piercedmind says:

      “life satisfaction surveys give strange, counterintuitive results, it might be because they don’t measure life satisfaction. Or it might be because life satisfaction isn’t really a reasonable metric.”

      Obviosly only a deeply depressed horse could say that.

  41. moridinamael says:

    I don’t think “suffering” and “happiness” go on the same scale. They don’t sum together to reach some total value which we then re-label “happiness.” It’s not how it works psychologically and it’s not how it should work in a utilitarian calculus.

    When you introduce antibiotics into a population, or any time you reduce child mortality, you’re enormously reducing the net suffering in that population. But you’re not necessarily increasing the happiness.

    There is no Utility function that takes in both “happiness” and “suffering” and yields consistent answers. We should try to minimize suffering. We should try to minimize happiness. How these two trade off against each other is a big question mark.

    This is why I have no problem with funding stuff like space exploration. Space exploration increases happiness – increases “net awesome.” And it’s good to increase net awesome. There’s more to existence than reducing suffering. But also, suffering is pretty bad.

    Again, there are no consistent answers to these questions, value is complex, value is fragile.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      “When you introduce antibiotics into a population, or any time you reduce child mortality, you’re enormously reducing the net suffering in that population. But you’re not necessarily increasing the happiness.”

      I should imagine you are substantially increasing both.

      • Deiseach says:

        I should imagine you are substantially increasing both.

        It depends on the circumstances. You provide antibiotics to a poor village in the Third World and change nothing else. Now more people are surviving childhood to live lives of grinding poverty. Is someone who would have died at age four but is now able to live to (at least) age forty, but living in an Argentinian slum having a substantial increase in happiness?

        Extra years of life does not necessarily mean extra years of happiness, unless we’re assuming that most people are on average about 4-5 on the happiness scale and will continue to be at that level regardless if they live ten, twenty or thirty years longer. On the other hand, organisations such as Dignitas are dealing with people who absolutely do not want to continue living, even if they’re relatively much better off and “happier” than your pre-industrialised Chinese peasant.

        • Sastan says:

          Now factor in that due to human psychology, losses are weighed much more heavily than foregone gains, and vice versa.

          So you can eliminate illness, but no one wakes up in the morning and says “fuck yeah! Didn’t get diphtheria today!” Happiness is unaffected, but quality of life is much higher.

          People should take another look at Daniel Kahneman, not from an economic perspective, but from a political and social perspective. For instance, if it is experienced as worse to lose something than to never have had it, what does this imply for social programs?

      • moridinamael says:

        The graphs in the OP suggest that you’re not really increasing happiness even when you add a bunch of hospitals to a country. Or, at least, you’re not increasing whatever psychological object it is that people are reflecting on when they try to rate their own happiness.

        A lot of what we call “happiness” relies on your implicit sense of how you’re doing relative to other people. If your kid died three years ago, but you know people who just lost all five of their kids two months ago, you’ll feel like you don’t have it so bad. There’s no objective metric for happiness.

  42. ButYouDisagree says:

    Second, switch to a consequentialism based on non-subjective things like maximizing development and industrialization as a terminal goal (Really? Even if everyone hates it? Does it matter what the factories are building? How about paper clips?).

    For a more charitable take on this idea, see Moller, Wealth Disability, and Happiness. Being richer buys you many things besides happiness/satisfaction that are plausibly valuable: life expectancy, health, welfare of loved ones, perfectionist goods (e.g. education, knowledge, art), and realized potential.

    A final option for rescuing common sense might be acknowledging that economic progress doesn’t change happiness yet. That is, there are ways to convert economic (and closely linked technological) progress into happiness, but most countries are not making use of them

    Here’s one way this might be true. Everyone agrees that increasing relative income within a country increases reported happiness. If this is not due to the higher level of consumption itself, it’s probably due to status. But status is not zero sum. There are many different status scales, and different people value them differently. Bill Gates and Magnus Carlsen are probably both at the top of the scales they value most. Higher incomes allow more communities/interests to exist, and also allow people to spend more time in those communities.

  43. inexorable_end says:

    The solution is an objective utilitarianism where “the good” is maximizing the rate increase of the production of entropy, in case anyone was wondering. In other words, increasing productive capacity/freedom of action as much as we can.

    Like, of course paperclip factories are a bad idea because paperclips don’t help us build more factories in the future. But I guess factories that build better factory-building factories are “good” in that they provide a stable entropy-maximizing path, where paperclip factories just eat up all our resources to produce garbage and die.

    Sure, subjective happiness is nice in a parochial moral sense, but the universe doesn’t give a shit and in fact won’t optimize for our happiness, so whatever.

    Standard disclaimer: everything I’ve written and everything I believe is literally false in some important and non-trivial way I don’t yet understand, add your own salt, &c.

    • Peter says:

      I was about to say “so setting fire to things then” but I realised that I was being parochial, and being an imitation of the strawman hedonist that critics of utilitarianism like to criticise. Your classic paperclip maximiser is very patient, and prepares properly for its task – it takes over the world, exterminates all humanity and uses your atoms for something else long before it makes its first paperclip – by which time they’re not our resources it’s eating up. I mean, maybe it makes a few paperclips on its way to world domination but they’re motivated almost entirely by their use in taking over the world, the direct contribution of those early paperclips to the final score is neglibible.

      So, what we need is to carefully grow our technological capabilities, until such a time as we have deep space travel and the ability to turn big stars into black holes, and then go around turning the universe dark, then?

      Maximising energy utilisation, on the other hand – making sure that the maximum amount of ordered work is done per unit of entropy generated – sounds more like what you’re driving at, although I think some work is needed before we get something well-defined. The sort of goal that gets people thinking about how to build big Dyson spheres and things like that.

      In other words, picking as your terminal value something that also works not only as an instrumental value, but in some sense the instrumental value. Except I don’t think there’s some nice thing you can pin down as the instrumental value, I think the world’s more complicated than that.

  44. Meta_Cognition says:

    “But if Easterlin is right, those Indians won’t be any happier, the utility gain will be nil, and all we will have done is worsened global warming and kicked a million Americans out of work for no reason (and they will definitely be unhappy).”

    I take issue with this sentiment. Given the time-frames economic growth usually operates over (decades, as opposed to months or years) before it’s effects are appreciable, we have to question the degree to which life satisfaction actually reflects quality of life. It could, of course, be the case that people simply don’t know how much better off they are compared to generations who came before them. I’m fairly certain most Chinese people, if given the opportunity to experience life in pre-Deng Xiaoping China, would ultimately opt for modern China.

    Somebody has also probably mentioned this, but declining life satisfaction among the poorest Chinese–not forgetting agriculture is around ~9pc of total output–could be indicative of widening inequality, as opposed to an actual fall in ‘objective’/material standards of living. If this is the case, which seems more plausible, the policy response is utterly different.

  45. Peter says:

    A lot of this discussion frustrates me; there’s a thing about how much philosophical inquiry into ethical first principles can translate into actual practical recommendations (I think: not much) and also something about instrumental and terminal values.

    I don’t like thought experiments of the form: “let us imagine this hypothetical situation, stipulate away everything of instrumental value or harm, and see how we feel about the residuum”. Like the thing in the main text about car accidents. I think, in moment-to-moment psychological terms, we have a great many intrinsic/terminal values, what Parfit might call a List (possibly an Objective List, or maybe a Subjective List), with interesting conflicts and variation from person to person and moment to moment and part-of-self to part-of self – also, different standards for deciding on what we want to happen, and in evaluation what has already happened. These big messy lists are philosophically unsatisfying (firstly, Occam’s Razor-like principles, and also big messy things seem arbitrary and therefore pointless), at least to me, and finding some way to compact them down to a nice small kernel would be good.

    My thesis is that if there is a nice small kernel (I hope there is), it is “offstage” whenever any ethical decisions about a particular situation is being made. Values which are “instrumental” according to the kernel don’t “feel” instrumental and the link to terminal values may explain how the “instrumental” values got there but now how they work in the moment, such that we end up calling them “terminal” or “intrinsic” values.

    Some speculations about detail. How do I get values? Learning and evolution. “Learning” is a complex thing and includes picking up values from “society”, but let’s just take one aspect, and say that the whole truth is at least as complicated as that. Re-inforcement learning. It’s an interesting area because it’s somewhere that the machine learning people and psychologists can have good conversations with each other, and I’ve even implemented some simple machine learning systems myself. The famous case-study is backgammon, but recently it’s been making headlines as part of AlphaGo too. With backgammon – the idea is to come up with a function (or more precisely, appropriate parameters for a function) that lets the system have an opinion about a move or a position. At the very start of the learning process, you can only ask “did this move lead to a win or a loss?” – so using the “terminal” value of winning/losing to train the “instrumental” value of good/bad positions. But very soon, you can ask “did this move lead to a good or bad position (or win or loss)?” – the connection to the “terminal” value has become indirect, even during learning. And certainly when the trained system is playing “for real”, it’s playing with reference to its learned “instrumental” values and not really thinking very much about the “terminal” values at all – the experiences which provide the connection to the “instrumental” values have been long forgotten.

    Of course this doesn’t apply if you think that people’s minds act as a sort of “antenna” to recieve Ideas Of The Good directly from the Plantonic Realm or whatever; I don’t believe that but some people here seem to.

    One effect of the discussion above: I’m sort-of-vaguely utilitarian-leaning, the discussion above is one of the qualifiers – it makes me worry about it specifically as a first principle, as opposed to a merely deep principle. Happiness is an odd thing and seems to have a variety of causes, and a lot of the causes seem to be pointing towards something. Physical pain, for example, a lot of it acts as a “damage sensor”, helping to preserve your body’s physical capabilities – suggesting that your body’s capabilities are a deeper value than the pain. Traditional utilitarianism has it the other way around – you need your capabilities to prevent pain and pursue pleasure.

    Side note about the hypothetical: I’ve never been paralyzed, but I did break my elbow a few years back and I think it’s net impact on my happiness for the months that there were symptoms was positive; yet I still think people should do something about the cause of my broken elbow lest someone else have their elbow broken. Why? With my elbow, people were very sympathetic and supportive, people really know how to help someone cope with that sort of thing[1], being able to feel the love for a bit and also offload some of my usual duties was pretty nice, it more than made up for the pain and inconvenience – that is, my inconvenience. The elbow was incovenience and expense to a lot of other people, and thus a net loss to society as a whole. I suspect that if I were – if we in general were – utterly blasé about the possibility of such injuries, then people wouldn’t be so sympathetic or supportive, and I’d have been a lot unhappier about it as a result – and would thus have no reason to be blasé.

    [1] People are really good with short-term outside-the-skull injuries, especially if you get a sling or a plaster cast or something obvious like that. Long-term injuries and illnesses, disabilities, mental illnesses, conditions like Asperger’s where there’s a debate over whether to call it a disability or not… not so much. There seems to be an implicit bargain – “you try to get better, we cut you as much slack as you need” which works for short-term injuries but so well for the other stuff.

    • Michael Vassar says:

      Horrah! Serious engagement. I’d love to hear more if you want to send me an email.

    • Ryan Beren says:

      Fantastic comment – thanks! Continuing the speculation with these points in mind:

      > … nice small kernel … “offstage”
      > … using the “terminal” value of winning/losing to train the “instrumental” value of good/bad positions …
      > … when the trained system is playing “for real”, it’s playing with reference to its learned “instrumental” values and not really thinking very much about the “terminal” values at all …
      > … sort-of-vaguely utilitarian-leaning …
      > Physical pain, for example, a lot of it acts as a “damage sensor”, helping to preserve your body’s physical capabilities – suggesting that your body’s capabilities are a deeper value than the pain …

      Phantom pain and aspirin decouple pain from damage. In light of those, it’s clear we care about both pain and damage. That’s two values not reducible to each other; does aspirin disprove the unity of value?

      OTOH, depending on how far back we want to trace the nice small kernel, it may be that the nicest smallest kernel is reproductive-fitness-in-an-environment. Every other value could be considered as instrumental to the terminal* value of natural selection. (*In both senses of the word. 😛 )

      Back on the first hand, fitness may be natural selection’s value, but it’s not mine. If we don’t believe in agent-transcending values, then the moment there’s a process instantiated that can pursue the values terminal-to-it, it will do just that. Thus we’re happy to tell natural selection to eff off as we eff on birth control. When tribal warfare or a cutthroat marketplace becomes the hot new fad, cultural evolution selects for societies and institutions that similarly end up following the values of their own internal logic with disregard for the values of the entities that generated them. Draw your own doomy conclusions about governments building Skynet AIs.

      Back on my hand, the values of artificial institutions and other AIs aren’t and won’t be my values. But since getting involved in the “rationalist” subculture, I’ve discovered one weird trick its affinity for arguing utilitarianism played on me: I don’t much value my own kernel of values. Sure, I get pleasure from satisfying my basic biological and psychological needs, and I feel driven to satisfy them. But if I could do away with, e.g., my need for food, then I would. I would not do away with my desires for independent discovery and invention, hard-won understanding of reality, competitive play, vigorous outdoor sports, silly joking with friends, and so on.

      Apparently my values grow out of my body’s values and depart from them analogously to the cases two paragraphs up. I’ll take that as evidence for theories of personhood that say “I” am something like a network of stories, adapted from my culture, embedded in my brain. And hey, that division of self would be awfully convenient for restoring unity of value, aspirin-be-damned, while still causally linking my personal values to the values of my body and my society.

      Contrariwise, my understanding is that AlphaGo at no point instantiates processes that take its instrumental values as their own terminal values and go on to develop their own instrumental values. IIUC, it has a goal of maximizing probability of winning, and it uses that to learn how much to value types of board positions, and then it stops. It doesn’t use the second-tier values to train third-tier values. So maybe we’re safe from AlphaGo undergoing runaway value diversification and ending up wanting to enclose Chinese farmland.

  46. What about life expectancy? You might not be increasing the happiness of those billion Indians, but if the development means they all live ten years longer, is that worth it?

    • onyomi says:

      Additionally, while adding TV to peoples’ lives may bring about a questionable cost-benefit, removing malaria from their lives seems to be an unalloyed good. Therefore medical care may > other technology in terms of priorities if the goal is happiness maximization.

  47. fb says:

    Is it possible that being a peasant, working hard outdoors, using practical skills and traditions passed down thru generations, is a healthier life for a human being than living inside boxes, being a cog in a machine, and being constantly scared and disoriented by a sea of personally-irrelevant information pumped into your brain via mass media.

    I’m not trying to glamorize the life of a peasant, but industrialization is observably dehumanizing to most people caught up in it.

    • Murphy says:

      Downside: less natural light.

      Upside: your children not dying from preventable infections because you can afford medicine.

      I know I was a lot more cheerful mowing lawns than in any of my desk jobs but mowing lawns doesn’t provide enough income for all the other things I want in life.

  48. piercedmind says:

    Many people here seem to object by claiming that either happiness or reported happiness is positional/static in the long term:
    Neither of those claims are true, there are things which are not subject to the hedonistic treadmill, i.e they will change our happiness in the long term(!), and do not depend on whether our neighbors have more of those things than we do.
    (Listed from Jonathan Haidt’s “Happiness Hypthesis”):

    Control over circumstances: Giving people some form of efficacy when managing their life leads to improvement in health and reported happiness.

    Noise: People do not adapt to noise, in fact you only grow more annoyed with time.

    Relationships: “the prevailing opinion of researchers,” reported Mastekaasa (1995), is that the marriage-happiness correlation is “mainly due” to the beneficial effects of marriage.

    If some things can actually affect your reported happines in the long term it follows that economic growth not only doesnt increase reported happiness but also actual happiness.

    Also we should not fall prey to the streetlight fallacy: Just because something is more difficult to measure than economic growth does not mean it’s less important.

    Sources:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1011073 (for control)
    http://pages.ucsd.edu/~nchristenfeld/Happiness_Readings_files/Class%209%20-%20Fredrick%201999.pdf (page 13) (for effects of noice)
    http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/amp/55/1/56/(page 8) (for effects of relationships, though the data is only correlational obviously)

  49. Brandon Berg says:

    The main problem here is that nobody really knows what self-reported life satisfaction data mean. For one, self-reporting is notoriously unreliable even for objective data.

    And there’s a huge calibration problem, namely that the only life you ever experience is your own. How does a thirty-year old middle-class Chinese person know what living as a peasant under Mao felt like? Actual experience aside, he might not even be trying to include that in the scale at a theoretical level. Maybe his conception of 1 is not “My wife and two of our kids starved to death, and now I’m eating dirt and bark,” but “My girlfriend dumped me because I lost my job.”

    Which is to say, the scale for self-reporting may shift according to expectations, but that doesn’t mean the actual subjective experience isn’t improving. And I don’t see how we figure out whether it does without being able to objectively measure happiness with brain scans or something.

  50. Hopefully my history of unfortunate agreement with most stuff you say will offset this a little, but I have to say I have big big problems with major parts of this article.

    In the first part of the article you make a good argument about how economic development and happiness have a complex relationship that means it’s really unclear whether supporting economic development is a direct path to increasing overall happiness, as utilitarianism suggests. Next you go from that to basically suggesting that standard utilitarianism must be really hard to implement. Followed by:

    “Again assuming I haven’t made some simple calculation mistake, I can think of three ways to go from here. First, abandon consequentialism entirely (I understand that having children will likely decrease my happiness, but I still want to have children because I value them for non-utilitarian reasons). Second, switch to a consequentialism based on non-subjective things like maximizing development and industrialization as a terminal goal (Really? Even if everyone hates it? Does it matter what the factories are building? How about paper clips?). Third, switch to preference utilitarianism. … Preference utilitarianism is tempting and I was kind of in favor of it already, but I don’t find it completely satisfying.”

    I think you may be premature to rule out discovering more nuanced niches of economic development that are highly beneficial, but my first really big problem with this is that you seem to rule out all other ways of pursuing happiness that aren’t about supporting economic development. Couldn’t there be other cost-effective ways to pursue happiness. Bed nets and not getting malaria have obvious economic benefits, but I’d have to say there’s a massive benefit in not having malaria that’s more to do with not suffering in agony etc.

    Secondly, I have a really big problem with abandoning a moral reasoning because it looks like implementing it could be really hard or confusing. I think in a way that’s exactly what you’re suggesting here. Sure we should anchor ourselves in common sense in deciding the moral path, but sometimes (or maybe even always) pursuing that path is absolutely going to be hard and confusing. If we’re selecting our morality based on what is easy then we’re really dealing in moral facades, or social justifications for arbitrary personal preference. If we’re just after justifications, then surely ploughing through tomes of moral philosophy is a massively inefficient waste of time? It’s only worth it if your goal is an honest exploration of what is right or wrong, which seems unlikely to line up with the most convenient options in life. In other words, not yet knowing the best strategy for pursuing a consequence isn’t an argument against the morality of a consequence.

    If we’re talking about approaching consequentialism from a way that deviates less from our common sense morality, I totally agree that subjective utility is problematic in a tile-the-universe or eliminate-people-to-eliminate-suffering kind of way. I think happiness is a subjective high order proxy (an incredibly valuable one). Life, on the other hand, is objective, and conservation, rather than maximisation of utility, is a justifiable starting point for consequence that can be pursued with far less bizarre implications.

    “The argument at hand is “are we morally required to sacrifice our own economy in order to help the Indians industrialize?”, and I feel like that’s a hard sell if industrialization doesn’t really help the Indians.”

    I would like to reword the argument to “are we morally required to sacrifice some of the money we normally waste on fancy hats in order to help the Indians improve health and education outcomes?”. I hope for at least some of the us that answer will absolutely be yes (whether through modest charity, entrepreneurial philanthropy, or foreign aid).

    This seems probably true to me – if nothing else, a technological singularity ought to help
    This seems hopelessly optimistic and a show-effort at rational pursuit of utility to me. You’re giving up on specifics for a solve-all. We’re not close to even a basic conceptual goal (let alone model) for FAI yet, and as discussed on this site quite a bit, it’s kind of hard to say whether or not takeoff is really a thing, or know anything at all about what’s beyond its event horizon (so to speak). Precluding investigating other practical ways to pursue human wellbeing in order to invest solely in this seems extremely unwise. Instead, shouldn’t we invest in a society that will be humane, rational and free, because not only will it provide tangible benefits in the meantime, it seems like it would be far more likely to give birth to a freedom-orientated singularity and a humane AGI?

    • piercedmind says:

      “…but my first really big problem with this is that you seem to rule out all other ways of pursuing happiness that aren’t about supporting economic development. Couldn’t there be other cost-effective ways to pursue happiness. Bed nets and not getting malaria have obvious economic benefits, but I’d have to say there’s a massive benefit in not having malaria that’s more to do with not suffering in agony etc.”

      Very much agreed, especially since there is some evidence for health promoting happiness (not the other way around)

      http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/10/health/happiness-health-study.html

      • “Couldn’t there be other cost-effective ways to pursue happiness.”

        Write a book other people will enjoy reading, compose a poem or song other people will enjoy hearing, reciting, singing.

  51. Elissa says:

    Note the return of “Ireland is the Latin America of Europe”

    • Deiseach says:

      “A banana republic without the bananas” is how I’ve seen my green little island described in former times.

  52. Murphy says:

    Might people be engaging in happiness compensation?

    If smiling a lot was all I cared about I’d probably get a much easier job somewhere far sunnier with a beach.
    …. but I don’t and I don’t think this is an irrational choice.

    I have left jobs which have pushed my happiness too low but many of my actions make far more sense if it’s assumed that there’s a few different types of happiness and that I’ve got a level of happiness that I’m unwilling to go bellow.

    If all the stressors from other parts of my life were removed I’m pretty sure I’d be very likely to take up some more goal-achievement activities rather than happiness-optimizing activities.

    Could it be that people have a minimum happiness level that they work to maintain and get miserable if they cannot achieve it but once they’re at that level might they start working for other things rather than maximizing happiness?

  53. Alsadius says:

    My general rule of thumb is that happiness research is hopelessly flawed by asking people to self-report happiness. How on earth do you benchmark that?

    • piercedmind says:

      I am also interested in that question, and hope Scott has something to say about this. In the meantime, I found this article, precisely examining your question, finding that are a few studies showing correlation between self reported psychological well-being (PBW) and both other people’s perception and biological markers:

      “The few studies that go beyond self and peer report of PWB have primarily investigated neural correlates and biological markers (Urry et al., 2004; Ryff et al., 2006). In one study, seven biomarkers (e.g., HDL cholesterol, systolic blood pressure) were related to higher levels of self-rated PWB whereas weight and glycosylated hemoglobin were associated with lower levels of PWB.”

      “Another rare exception to the paucity of research on eudaimonic well-being and reputation was a study that compared self-reports of PWB and the Big Five items of personality with spousal ratings of PWB one year later (Schmutte, & Ryff, 1997). Participants and their spouses tended to agree with respect to the participant’s levels of PWB across all six dimensions (range for r’s = .35–.55). ”

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2504322/

  54. Deiseach says:

    (1) Yeah, well, when I see these economists and pundits being replaced by Chinese economists who do twice the work at half the cost, and these guys are “Yippee, yes, this is how things should go, all these nice Chinese graduates getting catapulted into proper academic and government advisory roles, while I look for a job sweeping the streets since even the universities are outsourcing”, then I’ll take the “globalisation is fantastic, no strings attached” argument seriously. “It’s easy to sleep on another man’s wound”, and these guys are very good at accepting the hard cases and the sacrifices made by other people. They’re not the ones in their mid-fifties who are out of a job and functionally unemployable, without the cushion of savings or a good pension to live on while they dabble in that second career they always wanted to try as a gentleman farmer of fainting goats.

    (2) I think it makes sense that getting richer doesn’t necessarily make you happier. If everyone is approximately the same level of poor and starving, then you can be as happy as the circumstances allow, because nobody is that much better off than you (maybe the oligarchs looting the country in the name of ‘governing’ it are, but they are so far above you they don’t even cross your radar). If your country industrialises and a rising tide lifts all boats, and now you have a better standard of living, then your happiness increases. But if the country gets very rich, then income inequality kicks in. Now some people are very rich, and some people are very poor, and while you may be better off than you used to be, you’ve been taught to aspire to even more material gain (via advertising and the evocation of envy) and now everyone is not approximately the same. That guy from the old neighbourhood is now rolling in dough which he didn’t earn but because he is a cousin of the Minister of Stapler and Photocopier Paper Procurement, he got a nice fat government contract and paid off his cousin with a good kickback. So you are dissatisifed because you have enough to want more and you can’t get it, and you see people getting more that is unrelated to their actual talents or work.

    Like the proverb says, “Much wants more”.

    • anonymous says:

      Academic economics is already quite heavily east Asian. Look at the names of graduate student classes at top schools.

      • Deiseach says:

        So when the non-East Asian graduates can’t even get a job as photocopier guy in the departmental offices, they’ll naturally be thrilled about how the free market is working unfettered, since there is no difference between New York trading with Delhi or New York trading with New Jersey. Maybe they’ll try emigrating to India for a job, if the visa restrictions aren’t horribly restricted – or maybe they’ll be treated as economic migrants and particularly kept out.

        I do anticipate that with interest and a certain degree of pleasure 🙂

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      “It’s easy to sleep on another man’s wound”, and these guys are very good at accepting the hard cases and the sacrifices made by other people.

      The same way that low-skill Americans are happy to accept the hard cases and sacrifices made by foreigners under protectionism? People are getting sacrificed either way.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yes, people are getting sacrificed. But the guys writing thinkpieces are telling Joe Citizen that he should accept not being able to afford to go to the hospital for surgery on his slipped disc (because he can’t afford the insurance coverage now he’s lost his job) because Mohinder or Wei are now doing better.

        Meanwhile the person writing the “suck it up, Joe” advice is not (yet) facing the prospect of Indian or Chinese unpaid interns churning out columns (or better yet, listicles for online media, which is the new growth area we are constantly assured) and replacing them. I wonder how happy they’d be if they were let go because “We can get a job lot of fifty columns for a quarter what you’re asking”? Would they be rejoicing over the new middle class opportunities somebody in China now has, while their old job is gone?

        Think positive: in the new buoyant future global economy, the USA could be the place providing cheap labour for the multinational Indian and Chinese firms! “Yeah, we used to have our customer service in Bombay but you can get graduates with Masters’ degrees dirt cheap in Boston. We just teach them to talk about the cricket sixes in Hong Kong and introduce themselves as Gupta for that sense of familiarity our customers need.”

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Yeah, well, when I see these economists and pundits being replaced by Chinese economists who do twice the work at half the cost, and these guys are “Yippee, yes, this is how things should go, all these nice Chinese graduates getting catapulted into proper academic and government advisory roles, while I look for a job sweeping the streets since even the universities are outsourcing”, then I’ll take the “globalisation is fantastic, no strings attached” argument seriously. “It’s easy to sleep on another man’s wound”, and these guys are very good at accepting the hard cases and the sacrifices made by other people. They’re not the ones in their mid-fifties who are out of a job and functionally unemployable, without the cushion of savings or a good pension to live on while they dabble in that second career they always wanted to try as a gentleman farmer of fainting goats.

      This applies to Scott as well. It’s really easy for him to say that we should obviously sacrifice our futures to make Indians happier when he is the one with a high-status, high-paying job that is protected by the medical cartel, and the only thing that gives him pause is that maybe the Indians won’t be happier after all.

      • “This applies to Scott as well. It’s really easy for him to say that we should obviously sacrifice our futures to make Indians happier when he is the one with a high-status, high-paying job that is protected by the medical cartel, and the only thing that gives him pause is that maybe the Indians won’t be happier after all.”

        Medical tourism lets Indian doctors compete with American doctors despite a government enforced cartel for the latter via medical licensing. My granddaughter was born in India to a host mother, my grandson having been born much sooner than he should have been, which led to serious problems—eventually solved, thanks to modern medicine.

        • Jiro says:

          Remember bewaring trivial inconveniences? For an American to fly to India for medical treatment is a more than trivial inconvenience, and the number of Americans who do so are probably a rounding error compared to how many would do so (and therefore how much Scott’s job would be affected) if there was no such thing as medical licensing.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Plus, I don’t think Indian doctors can write drug prescriptions, which is a huge part of Scott’s job.

  55. LosLorenzo says:

    I hope someone has pointed out the super-obvious here. Ok, maybe happiness stays at 4.5 happy-units even as China industrialized. But what happens to life expectancy? it increases, and so does net happiness utility along with it.

    • piercedmind says:

      Yeah, many people have pointed that out, but I think somebody mentioned that most of the improvement in life expectancy in China was achieved prior to 1990, the year China joined the WTO.

  56. Kyrus says:

    It seems a bit fishy to me to just compare some individual countries over a short period of time and then try to conclude something about the general nature of the problem. Maybe there were other determinants of happiness that happened to move in the opposite direction as the wealth accumulation.

    We could sidestep this by looking at other things that you ought to want/not want like literacy, child mortality, people with access to clean water, violence rates, homelessness, …

    My working hypothesis is still that wealth does increase happiness if you are from a poor country but doesn’t so much when you are from a wealthy country. In those things like equality matter more.

  57. Jack V says:

    I think people have touched on this already, but in _one_ country, we don’t do this kind of calculus much. We say, “infant mortality is bad”, and try to stop it, even if the babies who die can’t fill in happiness surveys. We try to prevent malnutrition, starvation, loss of mobility, and death, whether or not people’s reported happiness reverts to a baseline afterwards.

    I think there are important questions to ask about what exactly does relate with happiness (see follow-up post), but while we’re figuring that out, I think preventing infant mortality and all those other things (aka increasing wealth for the poorest parts of the globe) is a better guess than not.

    • Jack V says:

      I feel like the happiness survey type thing is something I need to understand better. In my own life, I have an intuitive sense of what I want to maximize, and it’s partly “my subjective happiness right now”, which tends to depend on making steady upward progress without too much stress, but I’m not sure that’s *exactly* it, and I’m not sure how that generalises to whole populations of people.

    • j r says:

      Yes, this is the other thing. We don’t use these sorts of rationales to restrict trade between California and Utah or to stop a white American from going to a Chinese American dry cleaner.

      What’s the basis for using the nation state as an intrinsically valid moral or ethical unit?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        “stop a white American from going to a Chinese American dry cleaner.”

        We don’t do that right now. Historically there have been many examples of this in the past. In the US, this has been easiest to see as tensions between one ethnically dense migration wave and a successive one. As an example, the feelings of German communities against Irish immigrants is well documented, but there are others.

        The feelings of some black community members against Indian immigrants who now dominate the corner-store market is perhaps a more recent example.

  58. j r says:

    There is a fundamental problem with posing this as a choice between international trade or no international trade or even more international trade or less international trade. The level of international trade is generally a function of disparate economic and technological forces. If Americans want to buy Indian goods, it’s because the India has achieved a level of economic and technological development that allows them to offer Americans some good or service at a price that Americans want to pay. Think of trade as an electric discharge flowing from some positively charged point to some other negatively charged point, from a place with excess goods to a place with excess capital.

    There’s basically three ways to stop this. You can bomb India’s productive assets or perform some other act of sabotage to India’s economy (there’s an obvious moral problem here). You can convince Americans not to buy those Indian goods and services (an obvious coordination problem). Or you can impose some legal barrier; this is akin to refusing to sign a trade deal. But like placing some insulator between the positive and negative points, you haven’t destroyed the field, you’ve just put something in its way. And the forces on either side are still building. Eventually, they are going to discharge.

    This is just a long-winded way of saying that we cannot act directly on trade, we can only erect barriers to put in its way. And barriers have associated costs. So the question isn’t trade or no trade, the present or the past. The future is coming and the only question is whether or not we will be prepared for it. Protecting American industries from competition is a pretty good way to make sure that we are not prepared.

    • windmill tilter says:

      > The level of international trade is generally a function of disparate economic and technological forces.

      WWI happened, so you should include political forces also

      > Eventually, they are going to discharge.

      I’m not seeing why

  59. Ally says:

    “If we were to actively try to keep the Indians from industrializing, that would be pretty awful. But that’s not the argument at hand here. The argument at hand is “are we morally required to sacrifice our own economy in order to help the Indians industrialize?””

    I think many (most?) people would answer ‘no’ to the above question. However I think this question is a red herring. Even more than that, I think the quotation above perfectly highlights what is so confused about many people’s thinking on international trade, globalization and protectionism.

    What do you mean when you use the phrase “our own economy”? It seems from the context and from common parlance that you mean “the US economy”. However, it needs to be emphasized there is nothing economically or morally relevant about political boundaries. Trade between someone in New York and someone in New Delhi is no different, in any economically or morally relevant way, than trade between someone in New York and someone in New Jersey.

    It seems to me that the argument at hand really does revolve around actively trying to keep less developed countries from industrializing. Consider the question: what is protectionism? Protectionism is the active effort of government to prevent, limit or restrict trade across political boundaries. No active efforts are required on the part of government to allow mutually beneficial free trade. All this requires is that government doesn’t stop it from happening by erecting artificial barriers to trade.

    Contrary to the implication of the question: “are we morally required to sacrifice our own economy in order to help the Indians industrialize?”, free trade does not involve any sacrifice. It is what would naturally happen if governments and others were to refrain from butting into other people’s business. Protectionism is an active attempt to retard the economies of the countries which it is directed against (not to mention the adverse unintended consequences on the economy of the country imposing the protectionist measures).

    I would rephrase the question as: “can we morally justify sacrificing the Indian economy in order to help a minority of domestic producers?”

    I think many (most?) people would answer ‘no’ to the above question. However, our political system often produces outcomes that would appear to suggest an affirmative answer to this question. I think this is largely a result of the confused thinking about these issues. Many people’s intuition causes them to get this issue precisely backwards.

    • Psmith says:

      However, it needs to be emphasized there is nothing economically or morally relevant about political boundaries.

      Most people in favor of protectionism regard this as a conclusion that needs to be proved, not an axiom that can be assumed.

      • Randy M says:

        Heck, it’s absurd on the face of it, because politics, aka laws, have an effect on economics, therefore political boundaries are quite relevant to economics.
        Whether they are morally relevant is debated elsewhere in the the thread.

        • Ally says:

          Apologies Randy, I phrased that point poorly. Of course I accept your point that politics has effects on economics.

          What I mean is that political boundaries are irrelevant to the fundamental underlying economic principles. Just like they are irrelevant to the laws of physics.

          So, for example, the presence of an international border does not change the underlying laws of supply and demand. If a particular trade between two individuals is mutually beneficial, this is not changed by the presence of a political boundary between these two people.

          Whilst it is true that the political rules may differ between different jurisdictions, and this may affect the desirability of the trade for one or both of the parties, these are artificial human-imposed barriers and limits on trade and do not affect the underlying economic principles. In other words, in the absence of artificial human-imposed rules and limits, the trade would be mutually beneficial, but with this additional layer of rules, the trade may no longer be mutually beneficial.

          An analogy: I cannot drive my car faster than the speed of light as this contravenes the known laws of physics. I could easily drive my car at 100 mph, the car is mechanically capable of reaching such speeds and contravenes no known laws of physics. Driving at 100 mph, does however contravene political legislation that has been enacted in this country, if caught I would most likely be subject to a hefty fine and lose my driving licence.

          What I’m getting at here is in drawing a distinction between underlying fundamental laws and principles that we cannot change (such as the law of gravity or the laws of supply and demand) and somewhat artificial, man-made “laws” that we have superimposed on top (such as speed limits and trade restrictions) that can be changed. Politics and legislation lies firmly in the latter category.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            Whilst it is true that the political rules may differ between different jurisdictions, and this may affect the desirability of the trade for one or both of the parties, these are artificial human-imposed barriers and limits on trade and do not affect the underlying economic principles. In other words, in the absence of artificial human-imposed rules and limits, the trade would be mutually beneficial, but with this additional layer of rules, the trade may no longer be mutually beneficial.

            Trade and politics are both human activities. (ok, some animals engage in some simpler versions of them). Economics is an approximation to a subset of human activities. Economics can even get the sign of effects wrong – there have been cases where people have increased a price and seen demand increase. “underlying economic principles” are not remotely like laws of physics

          • Ally says:

            @Jeffrey Soreff:

            What is it about international borders that alters the essential nature of trade?

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @Ally

            What is it about international borders that alters the essential nature of trade?

            What makes you think that trade has an essential nature?

            Different trades have different patterns, different requirements, different actors, different hazards, different time scales. Shipping a kiloton of steel across the Pacific, with translators and currency conversions involved and no face to face interaction between buyer and seller is a very different human interaction than buying an ice cream cone face-to-face. Lumping these very different human actions together as “trade” is not cutting nature at the joints.

            One of many many factors that distinguishes one trade from another is whether it crosses an international border (and it matters _which_ border it is: e.g. the U.S./Canadian border is very different from e.g. trans-Pacific boundaries). Some of these trades are more different from each other than, for instance, some “trades” are from some taxes or some gifts.

          • Ally says:

            @Jeffrey Soreff:

            I completely agree with you that there are many different patterns of trade and that trades can differ enormously in terms of their human interactions. I think you’ve missed the point of my question. Let me attempt to clarify:

            Trade is merely the voluntary exchange of some goods and/or services for other goods and/or services between two parties. It occurs when both parties agree to it because both parties believe it makes them better off.

            First, do you agree with these statements? (If not, then we need to take a step back and examine whether we’re even talking about the same thing when we use the term “trade”.)

            Second, is there anything about the presence of an international border between the two parties in question which changes the validity of the above statements? If so, what? And how would you suggest we modify those statements so as to be more accurate in this situation?

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @Ally

            I completely agree with you that there are many different patterns of trade and that trades can differ enormously in terms of their human interactions. I think you’ve missed the point of my question. Let me attempt to clarify:

            Many Thanks!

            Trade is merely the voluntary exchange of some goods and/or services for other goods and/or services between two parties. It occurs when both parties agree to it because both parties believe it makes them better off.

            First, do you agree with these statements? (If not, then we need to take a step back and examine whether we’re even talking about the same thing when we use the term “trade”.)

            I would partially disagree. I think that there are many cases where an exchange (which is usually classified as under trade) is nominally voluntary, but in reality considerably less so. Many exchanges (employer/employee, landlord/tenant, utility/rate-payer) include a large enough imbalance in bargaining power that I don’t think that they are really voluntary, and that they start to shade over into something not very different from taxes. I consider such trade to be quite different from something like a person buying an ice cream cone, where neither party has much power over the other.

            Second, is there anything about the presence of an international border between the two parties in question which changes the validity of the above statements? If so, what? And how would you suggest we modify those statements so as to be more accurate in this situation?

            Mostly, I consider an international border to be a fairly weak addition to the differences amongst various types of trades. It has some effects: Some of the value of many goods is partly due to local public infrastructure – but the taxpayers paying for that infrastructure generally have no say in consenting to a trade, and in an international trade the sets of taxpayers on the two sides are generally disjoint.

            Another difference that I’d expect is that I’d expect protections against fraud to be more difficult to enforce across international borders than within one nation.

          • Ally says:

            @Jeffrey Soreff:

            Would you be able to give an example of a situation which you consider to be, as you put it, a nominally voluntary exchange, but where there is a large enough imbalance in bargaining power that it is not really voluntary? I don’t doubt that such situations can and do exist; my suspicion is that that they are far rarer than you think.

            “Some of the value of many goods is partly due to local public infrastructure”

            Could you give an example? Also, isn’t ‘value’ subjective?

            “Another difference that I’d expect is that I’d expect protections against fraud to be more difficult to enforce across international borders than within one nation.”

            I would agree with this, but I don’t see it as an argument for restricting trade across international borders, rather as an argument for strict enforcement of anti-fraud measures and mutual cooperation between governments and law enforcement agencies to this end.

            To hark back to Scott’s drunk driving analogy, outlawing trade across international borders because it’s difficult to combat fraud would be like outlawing driving completely because some people drive drunk and recklessly endanger others. We don’t outlaw all driving because some tiny minority of people do so irresponsibly; likewise we shouldn’t restrict the freedom of the vast majority of people to peacefully and voluntarily exchange just because a tiny minority are fraudsters.

            If I want to buy a widget from someone in India and they want to sell that widget to me, why shouldn’t we be free to make that exchange?

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @Ally

            Would you be able to give an example of a situation which you consider to be, as you put it, a nominally voluntary exchange, but where there is a large enough imbalance in bargaining power that it is not really voluntary? I don’t doubt that such situations can and do exist; my suspicion is that that they are far rarer than you think.

            Sure! As in the comments upthread, the ones that immediately come to mind are: employer/employee, landlord/tenant, and utility/rate-payer. The most obvious indication of the imbalance in power is that many (most?) employers and landlords unilaterally edict many rules for their employees and tenants to comply with. My experience has been that the employers also change the rules unilaterally, perhaps biannually or so. One might argue that the employee or tenant has the freedom to leave – but this is not too dissimilar to arguing that a resident of a nation has (for most nations) freedom to emigrate.

            Re local public infrastructure

            Could you give an example? Also, isn’t ‘value’ subjective?

            What I have in mind are infrastructures like highway systems
            without which a manufacturer would have a much harder time
            getting their products to buyers or obtaining raw materials.
            By value, I just mean roughly the cost/benefit ratio of their
            products from their customers’ points of view.

            I would agree with this, but I don’t see it as an argument for restricting trade across international borders, rather as an argument for strict enforcement of anti-fraud measures and mutual cooperation between governments and law enforcement agencies to this end.

            Many thanks! See how this brings us back to the entanglement of
            government and trade. Mutual cooperation between different
            governments is precisely where politics comes in: Some pairs are
            friendly, some hostile. The former cooperate more closely. Both
            international trade and international politics are human activities,
            and your point illuminates one of the links between them.

          • Ally says:

            @Jeffrey Soreff:
            Again, I’m not convinced that such situations – where there is a nominally voluntary exchange, but where there are large enough imbalances in bargaining power that they are not really voluntary – are as common as you think they are.

            Take the employer/employee relationship which you cite as an example. As you correctly point out, one could argue that the employee has the freedom to leave if they are dissatisfied with the terms offered by the employer. You say that this is not too dissimilar to arguing that a resident of a nation has (for most nations) freedom to emigrate. I’m not sure I buy that. It is a whole lot easier for most people to change employers than it is for them to emigrate. Considerations such as distance from friends and family, language barriers and differences in laws and customs for the most part will weigh a great deal more heavily on those emigrating to new lands than on those merely changing employers. Moreover, in many instances, people who are emigrating will, by necessity, be forced to change employers at the same time. And that’s before we get to the severe restrictions that many governments put on immigration. At least in my own country, I am pretty much free to work for whomever will hire me. I don’t have anything like the same freedom to emigrate to whichever country takes my fancy.

            In short, the employer/employee relationship is a lot less one sided than the government/governed relationship.

            I understand your point regarding infrastructure, but I do not see how it provides a justification for trade restrictions.

            Similarly on your point regarding fraud. I do not see how the fact that some governments are more uncooperative or even hostile to others provides a justification for restrictions on trade. My government telling me I can’t trade with anyone in country X because their government will not cooperate with them on combatting fraud in that country only hurts me and my fellow countrymen, and all of the legitimate traders in country X, even more. I find it difficult to believe that such a policy would even come close to passing a cost-benefit analysis. Better to warn people: “If you get defrauded by a resident of country X, there’s probably not much recourse you can take.” than to prevent all of the legitimate trades and all of the benefits they bring.

            I repeat my final question from my last post, in the hope that you are willing to engage with it:
            If I want to buy a widget from someone in India and they want to sell that widget to me, why shouldn’t we be free to make that exchange?

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @Ally

            Take the employer/employee relationship which you cite as an example. As you correctly point out, one could argue that the employee has the freedom to leave if they are dissatisfied with the terms offered by the employer. You say that this is not too dissimilar to arguing that a resident of a nation has (for most nations) freedom to emigrate. I’m not sure I buy that. It is a whole lot easier for most people to change employers than it is for them to emigrate.

            I agree that most of the time, for most employees and most residents of most nations, it substantially harder to emigrate than to find a new job.

            That said, I still think that the typical employer has enough power that an employee’s actions under their employer’s constraints are not what I would call voluntary. You may draw the line differently, and that’s fine – words have ambiguity. To put it another way, coercion has degrees. An employer’s threat to fire or an landlord’s threat to evict are lesser threats than a government’s threat to execute, but greater threats than, say, the threat of the loss of an hour’s wages. I’d generally put the threat to fire or to evict as sufficient to count as coercion, but that’s just my opinion, not the measurement of a physical constant.

            If I want to buy a widget from someone in India and they want to sell that widget to me, why shouldn’t we be free to make that exchange?

            If it is one time exchange for a harmless (not a weapon) item for personal use, and not for resale, and legal in both regions, I would not advocate any restriction on the exchange.

            There are a whole raft of potential consequences which would warrant special scrutiny in broader circumstances. To pick one example – if the exchange were for an item for resale, and the eventual consumers were likely to be less well informed than the people directly making the trade, extra scrutiny could be warranted. Let’s say requiring testing pet food imported from the PRC for melamine, for instance…

          • Ally says:

            @Jeffrey Soreff:

            Apologies for the delayed response.

            I take your point about coercion having degrees. What makes an employer’s threat to fire an employee more coercive than the employee’s threat to quit?

            I’d also like to note that, at least in my experience (which, I am open to the idea, may be atypical), most employer-employee relationships are not incessantly hampered by the employer threatening to fire the employee if he doesn’t work harder and the employee threatening to quit if the boss continues to be such a hardass. I don’t think I am particularly atypical in having a cordial relationship with my employers.

      • Ally says:

        Shouldn’t the burden of proof be on protectionists to prove that political boundaries are economically or morally relevant? After all, they are the ones arguing in favour of active intervention.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Well they’re obviously economically relevant, as they effect things like tax codes, hiring practices/regulations, and other opportunity costs.

          Whether they are morally relevant is a separate issue.

          • Ally says:

            hlynkacg,

            See my response to Randy M’s comment above. Apologies that I wasn’t very clear on this point in my original post.

            Of course, things like tax codes, employment regulations and the like differ between political jurisdictions. But, these are artificial man-made rules, not underlying fundamental economic principles. The laws of supply and demand are universal, the principle of comparative advantage is universal, etc.

            Politics inevitably affects economics, but there are some fundamental principles which cannot be changed.

          • Ally says:

            To use the example from my original post, a question advocates of protectionism have to be able to answer is:

            What justifies restricting trade between someone who resides in New York and someone who resides in New Delhi, but does not justify the same restrictions between someone who resides in New York and someone who resides in New Jersey?

          • John Schilling says:

            New York and New Jersey are part of a negotiated agreement designed to, among other things, ensure that all of the conditions necessary for citizens of both to fully enjoy the benefits of free trade. Common infrastructure and services necessary for that trade are paid for from the joint taxes of both; there are no slaves in New Jersey being worked to death to provide cheap consumer goods to New York; if such trade results in New York becoming a hellhole and New Jersey an Edenic garden or vice versa, everyone is free to move to the more pleasant state. And New Jersey isn’t going to use the proceeds from selling slave-labor-produced consumer goods to buy New York’s finest rocket parts with which to build nuclear missiles aimed at New York.

            I generally favor free trade, and I think the world is at a place and moving in a direction where increasingly free trade is a good idea. But there’s still the need for occasional fences, even if the gatekeepers are generally permissive.

          • Ally says:

            @ John Schilling:

            “if such trade results in New York becoming a hellhole and New Jersey an Edenic garden or vice versa, everyone is free to move to the more pleasant state.”

            This would appear to be an argument in favour of open borders, or at least more liberal immigration policy. Would you agree?

          • Jiro says:

            This would appear to be an argument in favour of open borders, or at least more liberal immigration policy.

            No, because it depends on all the other items mentioned. It’s okay to allow people to move between New York and New Jersey based on trade imbalances because there are things that limit how New York and New Jersey or their inhabitants can exploit the situation in other ways.

            Also, remember when Scott implied that people in New Hampshire would be justified in being upset at libertarians moving to New Hampshire for political reasons?

          • John Schilling says:

            This would appear to be an argument in favour of open borders, or at least more liberal immigration policy. Would you agree?

            It’s certainly an argument in favor of liberal open borders, but only a weak one unless A: the borders are open both ways and B: none of the other abusive conditions I alluded to apply. The Schengen area, as applied to Western Europe, is an ideal test case for that sort of thing. The places where immigration policy is seriously controversial, there’s usually good reason for the controversy.

          • Ally says:

            @ Jiro:

            Did Scott imply that people in New Hampshire would be justified in being upset at libertarians moving to New Hampshire for political reasons?

            Or did he merely imply that some people in New Hampshire would be upset at libertarians moving to New Hampshire for political reasons?

        • Psmith says:

          “Burden of proof” is a red herring. If you want to convince people who don’t already agree with you, you meet them where they’re at.

          Anyway, ask a Coloradoan what they think about Californians buying property in Colorado sometime. Or a Rust Belt denizen about auto factories moving to South Carolina. Or (within a single state!) an Owens Valley farmer about the sale of water rights to Los Angeles. (There aren’t any Owens Valley farmers to speak of any more.).

          • Ally says:

            I’m not convinced that ‘burden of proof’ is a red herring. If some people wish for and petition the government to impose some policy ‘X’ that restricts my and my fellow citizens freedom, surely it is incumbent on supporters of policy ‘X’ to prove that it is necessary?

            Anyway, in this context, what would be considered ‘proof’ that political boundaries are or are not economically or morally relevant? I ask because I’m really struggling to understand the objection. It ‘seems’ so self-evident to me that it doesn’t require further proof – of course, I could be totally mistaken. This is why is asked the following question:

            “What justifies restricting trade between someone who resides in New York and someone who resides in New Delhi, but does not justify the same restrictions between someone who resides in New York and someone who resides in New Jersey?”

            I’m genuinely interested in hearing responses to this question, because this will potentially give me real insight into where those who have a different opinion than me are coming from.

            Are you arguing in favour of erecting trade barriers between Colorado and California? If so, why stop at the state level? Why not prevent people from buying property in neighbouring counties? Or neighbouring towns? Or neighbouring streets? Why is the appropriate boundary that which exists between countries or states? What is special about those particular demarcations?

          • windmill tilter says:

            > I’m genuinely interested in hearing responses to this question

            I say we can trust Californians to reciprocate our friendship. They don’t think of themselves as having separate interests, not in any cohesive way. Chinese folks do think of themselves as separate, and so later might betray us.

          • Ally says:

            I’m inclined to believe that most advocates of protectionism see some relevant distinction between international borders, state borders, county borders, etc. in terms of how we should treat trade by people on opposite sides of them.

            Since I don’t see any relevant distinction I am asking those who do to explain to me what they believe it is.

          • Ally says:

            @ windmill tilter:

            Doesn’t everyone have separate interests?

            Who is “us”? In what way might they be betrayed by Chinese people that they wouldn’t be by Californians?

          • Psmith says:

            surely it is incumbent on supporters of policy ‘X’ to prove that it is necessary?

            They’ve already passed several different policies “X”, apparently without providing what you take to be adequate proof of their necessity, so no, it isn’t. More generally, I think appeals to burden of proof (outside of forensic contexts where there are explicit rules about these things) are pretty much head counts. “More people in this conversation agree with my presuppositions than with yours, therefore you have the burden of proof.”

            It ‘seems’ so self-evident to me that it doesn’t require further proof

            Well, yeah, obviously, that’s why you hold the views you hold. And it seems utterly obvious and so self-evident as to not require further proof to many of Steve Sailer’s commenters, for instance, that there is such a thing as a national interest and not merely the various individual interests of the people who happen to be in a particular geographic area, that there’s such a thing as a national character, that one ought to be substantially more loyal to one’s countrymen than to foreigners, that it’s legitimate to enforce this with the law, and so on. (See also your post about “who is us?” Not everybody thinks like that.).

            Are you arguing in favour of erecting trade barriers between Colorado and California?

            Not necessarily. But I object to trying to make difficult questions seem easy. I think the state example tries to pretend that there are no important externalities to interstate trade and migration that can’t be easily internalized, and therefore the same thing should be true on an international level. In fact, though, there are important externalities to interstate trade and migration (even to intrastate trade and migration), and pace Schilling I think there are at least colorable arguments that existing institutions don’t handle them very well. windmill tilter’s point is well taken, but see JayMan’s American Nations posts and David Hackett Fisher’s Albion’s Seed for some evidence to the contrary.

            If so, why stop at the state level?

            This strikes me as an interesting question, although I’ve mostly been thinking about it in the context of migration and restricted entry. For example, it strikes me as perfectly OK for two neighboring landowners to agree that neither one will sell to anyone who intends to build a subdivision on their property, land goes into an unbreakable trust after death of owners, there’s a punishment mechanism for defection written into the original agreement, and so on. At the other end of the spectrum, North Korea’s border control strikes me as probably illegitimate. Ultimately, I’d like to see how things shake out when left to themselves rather than promulgate some One True Doctrine Of Exactly This Much Trade And Migration Restriction. But, of course, there’s a compelling sense in which things have already shaken out and given us today’s status quo. I’m not sure whether this should make me approve of the status quo more, or of letting things shake themselves out less. Or exactly what the boundaries between leaving things to themselves and promulgating One True Doctrine are. There are also questions about unanimity (maybe majority rule and oligarchy are illegitimate, but North Korean border controls would be OK if all the North Koreans unanimously supported them), exit vs. entry (I’m much more confident that stopping people from leaving is bad than I am that stopping people from entering is bad), and validity of agreements across time (cf Lysander Spooner on the Constitution.). And maybe there are important differences between trade and migration in this context, too. Ultimately, hell if I know. ~pan-secessionism will win~

          • Publius Varinius says:

            @Ally: It does not stop at the state level. Have you seriously missed the whole “Westminster Isn’t Working for Scotland’s Economy” thing?!

            Deferred gratification applies at absolutely every level of economic activity, from planets to families to individuals. If your significant other has already murdered the kids, but you’re safely locked in your room, it’s probably unwise to sell him/her an axe, even if you don’t need an axe right now, and her offer beats the market price.

          • Ally says:

            “They’ve already passed several different policies “X”, apparently without providing what you take to be adequate proof of their necessity, so no, it isn’t. More generally, I think appeals to burden of proof (outside of forensic contexts where there are explicit rules about these things) are pretty much head counts. “More people in this conversation agree with my presuppositions than with yours, therefore you have the burden of proof.”

            Maybe I phrased my point badly. Let me try to rearticulate: It is my opinion that if someone advocates a certain policy, call it ‘X’, that person should be able to provide some sort of justification for their belief that policy ‘X’ is either necessary or desirable. This is especially the case if policy ‘X’ restricts the freedom of others against their consent. That this does not always happen in the real world does not mean that it isn’t a desirable state of affairs that we should be striving for.

            Example: Murder is illegal. Why is it illegal? What’s the moral justification for outlawing murder? I think it has something to do with there being a general consensus that the benefits that society gets from not having lots of murderers going around killing lots of people outweighs the costs to murderers of not being able to kill whomever they like, whenever they like, with impunity.

            I would expect someone advocating for protectionism to be able to make a similar sort of argument for why I shouldn’t be free to buy a widget from someone in another country if I want to and they want to sell it to me. Presumably they believe the benefits to society of me not being allowed to buy that widget outweigh the costs to me and to the person from whom I would have bought the widget?

            I don’t much care for headcounts and I’m also pretty certain that in most political discussions my position would be on the losing side were we to take one. I don’t think, at least not in this case, an appeal to burden of proof boils down to a simplistic headcount. Here’s how I see it:

            Smith wants to do something, to take a particular course of action that does not involve the use of force against any other person.
            Jones doesn’t approve of Smith’s chosen course of action and wants to use force to compel Smith not to take it.

            I think the burden of proof here properly lies on Jones’s shoulders, that he should be compelled to justify his use of force against Smith. Smith isn’t using force to compel Jones to take, or not take, any particular course of action, he’s leaving Jones alone to live his life as he wishes. There’s nothing for Smith to justify to Jones.

            “Well, yeah, obviously, that’s why you hold the views you hold…”

            I’m well aware that not everyone thinks like I do and things that one person sees as self-evident may not be apparent to others and vice-versa. That’s fine and it’s part of the reason for having discussions like this one – to try to understand how others think about these issues and figure out what I may be missing.

            “Not necessarily. But I object to trying to make difficult questions seem easy. I think the state example tries to pretend that there are no important externalities to interstate trade and migration that can’t be easily internalized, and therefore the same thing should be true on an international level…”

            I am not trying to make difficult questions seem easy. I’m trying to understand the ways in which people see this issue differently from me. The state example is intended to serve this purpose. If people argue for trade restrictions across national borders, but not across state borders, they must see some distinction between the two. All I am asking is for anyone who holds this position to articulate as best they can what distinction they see here.

            I’m asking why is the national border the logical stopping point as far as trade restrictions go? Why not the state border? Why not the county border? Why not the city limit?

            “… I’ve mostly been thinking about it in the context of migration and restricted entry… There are also questions about unanimity (maybe majority rule and oligarchy are illegitimate, but North Korean border controls would be OK if all the North Koreans unanimously supported them), exit vs. entry (I’m much more confident that stopping people from leaving is bad than I am that stopping people from entering is bad), and validity of agreements across time (cf Lysander Spooner on the Constitution.). And maybe there are important differences between trade and migration in this context, too. Ultimately, hell if I know. ~pan-secessionism will win~”

            You raise some interesting points regarding migration. I don’t want to get too sidetracked with a migration discussion – there are many similarities and parallels between arguments for and against migration restrictions and those for and against trade restrictions, but I think migration is an even more complex issue for a variety of reasons. The only question I have for you right now is: What makes you much more confident that stopping people from leaving is bad than that stopping people from entering is bad? (I’m inclined to agree with you, but interested to hear your thoughts.)

          • Psmith says:

            It is my opinion that if someone advocates a certain policy, call it ‘X’, that person should be able to provide some sort of justification for their belief that policy ‘X’ is either necessary or desirable. This is especially the case if policy ‘X’ restricts the freedom of others against their consent.

            I understand your point. I just don’t agree. Is meeting the burden of proof required to make and enact policy? Obviously not. Is it required to convince people who don’t agree with you? Sure, but that’s symmetric. If the restrictionist or prohibitionist or whatever wants to convince you, he has to show thus-and-such according to your standards. If you want to convince him, you have to show thus-and-such according to his. Outside of certain forensic and forensic-adjacent contexts in which burden of proof is explicitly defined and assigned, that’s all there is to it.

            I am not trying to make difficult questions seem easy.

            Fair enough. In retrospect, that charge is more applicable to the interstate trade/migration example as typically deployed by, e.g., Bryan Caplan.

            What makes you much more confident that stopping people from leaving is bad than that stopping people from entering is bad?

            Hard to say in a way that isn’t just repeating myself. Stopping people from entering seems something like a decision about commonly held property. Stopping people from leaving seems something like a decision about someone else’s property, that is, their person. But this obviously isn’t very well grounded.

          • Ally says:

            “I understand your point. I just don’t agree. Is meeting the burden of proof required to make and enact policy? Obviously not. Is it required to convince people who don’t agree with you? Sure, but that’s symmetric. If the restrictionist or prohibitionist or whatever wants to convince you, he has to show thus-and-such according to your standards. If you want to convince him, you have to show thus-and-such according to his. Outside of certain forensic and forensic-adjacent contexts in which burden of proof is explicitly defined and assigned, that’s all there is to it.”

            Psmith, I want to thank you for taking the time to have this discussion with a random stranger on the internet. I’ve just had one of those ‘aha!’ moments where I finally got your point about burden of proof being a potential red herring. It’s not really a burden of proof issue, I just don’t think I’m articulating myself very well.

            I guess what I’m trying to say is it seems crazy to me that anyone would advocate for any particular policy without also holding the belief that said policy is necessary or desirable. And if they do indeed believe that said policy is necessary or desirable, presumably they have reasons for holding that belief. And if I ask them “what are your reasons for holding that particular belief?” And they respond with “well, what are your reasons for NOT holding this particular belief?” that’s not very helpful. My reason for not holding that particular belief may be because no-one has ever been able to articulate their reasons to me.

  60. If you’re a preference utilitarian, then I think you should discount the results of the survey and look at migration flows. People vote with their feet for higher income societies.

    • Sam says:

      If you’re a preference utilitarian, you should find another hobby.

    • piercedmind says:

      If you are a preference utilitarian, you should discourage dieting, since only like 5% actually stick with their diets.

      Admittedly a flawed analogy, because first generation immigrants *are* happier than their former countrymen, and do not move back once they got to know their destination country, but then again immigrants moving from a poorer to a wealthier country are also a flawed rerefernce point for economic development, since the change is much more rapid and profound.

    • Alex Trouble says:

      That’s true. The concept of “revealed preferences” is considered important for a reason.

  61. Shion Arita says:

    You can think of the kind of regional differences in development and economic level as a kind of enthalpy gradient, with the wealthier countries occupying higher points on the surface and the poorer countries occupying the lower points.

    but with human progress, the total energy of the system is increasing, but how it’s going now is like filling an empty lake with water: the lower parts will fill first. This was not the case in the past, because the world was not globalized and different regions were much more isolated from each other, so there while there were some local minima the entire system was not in equilibrium.

    So basically, if people in the wealthier countries want to improve their situation, or in the analogy have the water level rise where they’re standing, the best way to do that is to burn through that enthalpy gradient as fast as they possibly can, fill in those holes so that things can start taking off everywhere. Sure things will be weird and maybe somewhat stagnated temporaily, but until we do that, if we just dam off those lower basins, the mere fact such low-lying states exist at all will always be a latent problem. Better to deal with it sooner rather than later. Plus, the other people are better off too (I think what this really says is that the self-reported emotion of hapiness isn’t really a good judge of how well a society is doing. I’m sure plenty of stone age people were pretty happy, even though many of them died as children and didn’t really understand much about the world)

  62. Sam says:

    “Life satisfaction” and “happiness” are incoherent constructs not worthy of scientific study. Neither are they philosophically relevant.

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      How so? Happiness is a measurable emotional state. Life satisfaction can be measured by asking people what there goals are in life and measuring the completion of said goals.

      Life satisfaction and happiness are both software states in people’s brains, and brains are part of the natural world. And the natural world is what science studies. They’re super-worthy of scientific study.

      • piercedmind says:

        But why, surely a serious person would not engange in the study of such trivial matter? What’s next? Measuring whether a heavier object actually does fall to the ground faster? O Tempora, O mores.

      • Sam says:

        Happiness is a measurable emotional state.

        No, it really isn’t. Perhaps you mean mood or something.

        Life satisfaction can be measured by asking people what there goals are in life and measuring the completion of said goals.

        That’s not at all how it works.

  63. Anonymous says:

    Do we know the results for asking about pain instead of happiness? My guess would be that pain will have gone down with income even if happiness has not gone up. Pain seems more objective and less positional than happiness.

    On the other hand if introducing anesthetics and painkillers into a society (etc) *doesn’t* result in a drop in reported pain, that would indeed suggest that people are measuring their feelings on a relative rather than absolute scale. There’s also a strong urge in some cultures to play down pain, but it ought to be objectively measurable through brain scans. (Probably happiness is too but it might be harder to locate).

  64. Ghatanathoah says:

    Going along with the hypothetical, I think that there are two explanations for what is going on. One is that people value other things than happiness, and industrialization is good because it usually helps us obtain those values.

    An obvious example is greater access to knowledge about the world. I don’t know that knowing how the solar system works makes me happier than thinking the sun goes round the Earth, but I’m glad I know it all the same.

    On the other hand, industrialization does tempt people to join the rat race and reduces community bonds, and that can make them genuinely unhappy. I’m pretty sure one reason I am so happy is because I realized I should try to avoid it early on in my life.

    I don’t know offhand which effect is stronger. My gut says to go with what people want and make them richer, even if that makes them a little more miserable because of the rat race.

    Fighting the hypothetical, however, there are several complication that make your conclusions very debateable. A lot of commenters have already pointed out that development increases life expectancy, so even if people are happy at the same level, they’re that happy for longer. Another confounder is that modern medicine might save the lives of people with chronic health problems, these people will lower the average happiness, but if their lives are still worth living their continued existence is good.

    There also the possibility that happiness research is confounded by accidentally measuring people’s perceived status instead of their happiness, or that it measures general feeling of well-being but doesn’t measure increased frequency of momentary pleasure, or decreased frequency of momentary pain and inconvenience.

  65. Acedia says:

    In some places (e.g. parts of the United States) happiness is seen as evidence of success and mastery, and unhappiness as evidence of personal failure, in a sort of secular prosperity gospel. People living in this culture may find it difficult to say that they’re unhappy even when they are, because it would lower their social status.

    In some other places (e.g. parts of the British Isles) there’s an understanding that it’s normal for life to just kinda suck a lot of the time, and so social status is gained by being stoic and doing your job despite the general unsatisfactoriness of existence, rather than by appearing to be happy.

    It seems obvious to me that cultural differences of this sort would enormously limit the ability to compare self-reported happiness between nations or geographic regions.

  66. Sandeep says:

    (New and relatively shallow commenter here, haven’t read others’ comments, may be repeating some of them).

    1. Here is a plausible explanation for why “claimed happiness” may not increase with economic increase. Namely, some sort of “anchoring” type effect. The numerical scale used to map happiness may be normalized by how happy we perceive others to be. When I was a kid, I used to vastly overestimate the happiness of rich people. In my high school, I used to think that those sexy models on television had a fabulous worry-free life. As I began research, I used to think that accomplished mathematicians had so much clarity that research was full of joy – with little frustration – for them.

    Economic progress exposes poor Chinese to a lot of opulence, and it seems a priori conceivable that even if their own self-perceptions of happiness increases, the conversion rule they use to translate that intangible quantity into a number between 0 and 10 is influenced by their perception of rich Chinese, who may thus contribute an “anchoring” effect.

    2. The last bit might have been given in jest, but it makes me wonder – why are such questions not asked about social progress? One could think of surveys which suggest that people are happier when women are forced to move around in Burqa, and explain it saying that the majority of women who aren’t super-hot don’t feel pressured to look super-hot, and omega males aren’t constantly reminded of their Darwinian irrelevance.

    Now I don’t know if such a survey exists, but would anyone be even open to studying such a question, or simply regard the topic as out-of-bounds for a non-medieval country?

    3. `The argument at hand is “are we morally required to sacrifice our own economy in order to help the Indians industrialize?”’

    Not sure this is the argument at hand; rather, it seems to be: is a rich business owner in the US to be, using force of law, prevented from routing some of his business through willing Indians, just so that a small number of other Americans can keep their job?

    • NN says:

      2. The last bit might have been given in jest, but it makes me wonder – why are such questions not asked about social progress? One could think of surveys which suggest that people are happier when women are forced to move around in Burqa, and explain it saying that the majority of women who aren’t super-hot don’t feel pressured to look super-hot, and omega males aren’t constantly reminded of their Darwinian irrelevance.

      Now I don’t know if such a survey exists, but would anyone be even open to studying such a question, or simply regard the topic as out-of-bounds for a non-medieval country?

      That question would be very hard to study even in theory, because the only example that we have that isn’t located in a war-torn failed state is Saudi Arabia (though SA does seem pretty happy in the 4th chart that Scott posted).

      That being said, a study did find that women tend to be happier than men in Muslim-majority countries. That obviously isn’t measuring the same thing, since only a tiny minority of Muslim women wear a burqa or niqab (for example, out of about 3 million French Muslim women, less than 400 wear a face veil), but it does raise some questions along the same lines.

      • Creutzer says:

        There is, of course, also the Paradox of Declining Female Happiness: Women’s self-reported happiness was higher in the 1970s. (Somehow the 1950s get mentioned a lot in this context, but I don’t know that we even have data for that. I couldn’t find anything, if someone has a reference, I’d appreciate it.)

        for example, out of about 3 million French Muslim women, less than 400 wear a face veil

        Presumably the fact that wearing a face veil in France is, in fact, illegal has something to do with this.

        • NN says:

          I forgot to mention that the study that found that number was carried out before the face veil ban was passed.

          Note that even some Muslim countries that aren’t known for their progressiveness like Chad and Senegal have banned face veils.

    • Deiseach says:

      just so that a small number of other Americans can keep their job?

      (a) How small is that “small number”? Any figures?

      (b) Those Americans with no jobs are going to have to be supported somehow if they can’t find other work. That support is coming out of your taxes. So you are both paying for the goods/services (albeit at reduced prices – or are you?) that the Indian workforce provides plus supporting the part of the American workforce that has now been replaced

      (c) Are the cost reductions in (say) Indian call centres passed on to the customers? What are the charges? Do you pay less because CompCo now has its back office tasks done in Bombay or do you pay the same insurance premium as formerly? I really would like to see pricing on that – “We would have charged you X dollars a year more if we kept our services inhouse or even incountry”.

  67. chaosbunt says:

    development tends to improve life expectancy. Even if it doesnt make anyone happier, if it makes them being that happy for longer, thats a gain in total happiness.

    • Sokka says:

      Yes, this. I don’t see why this is a huge issue for utilitarianism. It’s considered good to prevent deaths in people who would prefer to keep living because their extra years of happiness count as extra utility overall. So increasing life expectancies in people who are otherwise constant in happiness is a net gain in world utility.

      Of course, this is confounded by the fact that the population size generally remains somewhat constant due to lower birth rates as wealth increases, but I don’t think most utilitarians are fond of the Repugnant Conclusion in the first place, whether or not there’s a principled reason for that, so one might consider that the real problem at hand.

  68. BioInfoBrett says:

    I tend to think of intra-national politics as being dependent on the rate of growth which defines the happiness baseline (eg stagnant wages reduce happiness relative to a baseline of growth lead to misery and support for Drumpf).

    Following this chain of logic, it would seem to imply that further work to increase growth abroad isn’t worth it, but I would be suspicious of calls to do things to reduce their growth that might therefore reduce their happiness (given their growth baseline) or support local Trump equivalents and driver is to greater global instability.

    So … stay the course?

  69. W0 says:

    Why would economic growth make people happier? Do you really think people in the stone age were all unhappy, because their GDP was so low?
    Economic inequality, on the other hand, can make people unhappy; and this inequality will only increase with the kind of trade agreements that are being made.

    • I think people in the stone age were unhappy because their children died from diseases we can cure or prevent, they and their friends died from starvation or predators, they were often cold and hungry, things like that.

      I might be wrong–we are both speculating–but why do you take it for granted that none of that mattered?

      If your view is that the problem is not absolute level but inequality, would you be in favor of a society designed to conceal the wealth of the rich from the not-rich–no television shows portraying the lives of the well off, for instance?

      • NN says:

        The historical fact that during the colonial period of American history, far more whites ran away to join Indian society than vice versa would seem to be evidence against the idea that stone age people were less happy than more “civilized” people. Granted, the white people of the time didn’t have modern medicine so they still had the children dying of disease problem and to the extent that Indians suffered more from disease than white people, it wasn’t something that joining white society would fix.

        • John Schilling says:

          Do you have a cite for that? Whites kidnapped into Indian society often refused to return when given the opportunity, but that’s not quite the same thing. And there were plenty of Whites who “ran away” to join the Indian-adjacent but still mostly white “Mountain Man” society. But I don’t recall anything that suggests white people choosing to actual Native American tribes or societies was at all common.

          • Michael Vassar says:

            Ben Franklin asserts that this is the case. I don’t think that he adjusts for relative population. Still interesting.

            There were lots of native tribes. Intuitively, some probably had it better than the whites, and some probably even had greater per-capita wealth by many natural metrics, as both were pre-industrial. Colonial Christianity also kind of sucked.

          • It’s also worth noting that native tribes varied a lot. The Commanche routinely tortured male captives to death and gang raped female captives.

      • onyomi says:

        It does seem like parents who have had one or more child die are bound to rate their life satisfaction lower, on average, than those who haven’t. In premodern times you’d be very, very lucky to have a few children and none of them die in infancy, whereas nowadays we’d consider you very unlucky to have a single child die in infancy. Though, on that point, one imagines that people who have a child die in infancy today may have a harder time dealing with it than people did in the past, when it was so common.

        The other unambiguous evil to me is disease: when you read premodern accounts of people getting sick they are often bedridden for months and are lucky if they return to their former level of health at the end of it all. Those people lying around suffering now easily treatable bacterial and parasitic infections have got to be happier, in reality, even if I don’t wake up every day and say “wow, it feels great not to have malaria!”

      • Adam says:

        I’m pretty skeptical that prehistoric people were all that unhappy because their children died, they succumbed to preventable injury and disease complications, they were never very secure from conditions turning on them, or whatever else we no longer worry about in the modern world. People have a remarkable capacity to adapt to whatever constitutes a reasonable expectation for life outcomes. If you know damn well half the children you have are going to die, it’s just another part of life, not an unspeakable tragedy. If you know a broken leg or infection will likely kill you, when it happens you say your goodbyes and are done with it. No one is sad about it because it happens all the time.

        • piercedmind says:

          There is prima facie no reason we should mourn the death of our parents less than the death of our children. Yet we usually recover quickly from the former, while the latter hurts the parents usually very deeply.
          Who knows, perhaps in a utopian/dsytopian future where nobody has to die people will look at our time in shock and terror?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            From Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality:

            And someday when the descendants of humanity have spread from star to star, they won’t tell the children about the history of Ancient Earth until they’re old enough to bear it; and when they learn they’ll weep to hear that such a thing as Death had ever once existed!

          • Deiseach says:

            And someday when the descendants of humanity have spread from star to star, they won’t tell the children about the history of Ancient Earth until they’re old enough to bear it; and when they learn they’ll weep to hear that such a thing as Death had ever once existed!

            What, they’re going to build robots with functioning tear ducts in the future? Whyever would they do that – what is the point in having your immortal casing for the memory patterns that were once a meat machine emulate the cast-off flesh in its mortal uselessness?

            I am deeply sceptical of the “our galaxy-spanning descendants” crap where ever I see it, because I don’t think we’re ever going to get to that point, and if we do have long-lived descendants the notion of serial longevity is going to be different from what we think. Death (in the sense of “end of existence”) is always going to be around – even the universe is not going to last changelessly forever and ever.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Agreed, That’s definitely an area where Yudkowski would benefit from an elephant’s dose of his own medicine.

          • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

            @Deiseach

            Heat death is trillions of years away, if minds are backed up regularly any losses due to freak accidents can be restored. It does not seem implausible for a sufficiently advanced future society to go a very, very long time without any (involuntary) losses, and not have anything to fear any time in the remotely near future, save perhaps an alien invasion or vacuum metastability event (I am not a physicist and cannot comment on the plausibility or likelihood of that happening). So them saying “death once existed” would not be much of an exaggeration.

  70. Alex Zavoluk says:

    I thought happiness was dependent on what you are comparing your current state to? So if everyone around you gets rich at the same speed, you won’t be that much happier. Particularly if you get richer over generations, so that each generation has no idea how badly their parents or grandparents had it. I know I don’t, and I don’t decide how happy I am based on how well off I am compared to them. If inequality appears to be rising as overall wealth rises, I might become unhappy because I see lots of people gaining more than I am, or seeming to, and I want some of what they are getting. Wealth itself contributes to this effect, as the rich and famous get disproportionate media exposure. We might interpret these comparisons as perceived losses ala prospect theory, and so they are weighted more heavily than our actual gains.

    I believe that a lot of poor communities/countries are already close to maxed out on the happiness scale, lending some credence to the comparison theory.

    What cofounders could cause happiness to stagnate as income rises? Social disruption? Being forced to move into cities as food prices fall and agriculture is harder to make a living off of? Change of government? Political liberalization (you’ve blogged about liberalism being an Elder God before)?

    Alternatively, could our brains have some sort of coping mechanism built in to counter massive mood swings? The evolutionary environment was a rather highly variable one (kill a mammoth today, lose a child to a flood that looks like angry spirits tomorrow) and it might have been necessary (or at least beneficial) for people and groups to limit emotional response in order to keep going in bad times and focus in good ones. Not being satisfied leads to constant improvement; not being depressed makes it easier just to function.

    On a side note, I actually think that industrializing India will be good for the environment in the long run. Rich countries use cleaner energy sources (sun, wind, nuclear, and even fossil fuels are better than wood) and less land. They use less energy per dollar of GDP. Rich people have fewer children and care about the environment. Cities are more efficient than farmland for living, etc.

  71. RNG says:

    Do we have similar studies that look at purchasing power rather than GDPPC or average income? Obviously making 10 times as much as people in another country isn’t necessarily better if the goods and services I buy cost 10 times as much.

  72. Anonymous says:

    Should we measure how high people are on Maslow’s pyramid instead of happiness?

    • suntzuanime says:

      No, because Maslow’s pyramid is baseless nonsense that became popular because it had a slick infographic rather than because it reflected reality.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      Though I cited Maslow’s Pyramid last open thread, it was just a cute shorthand for “some needs are more important than others”. I can confirm Suntzu’s comment: nobody takes the official pyramid any more seriously than Freud’s distinction between id, ego, and superego. But I think it has potential in the sense of “maybe studies should break down general-happiness into how satisfied the citizens are along these specific dimensions”.

  73. J says:

    Industrialization may be worth it just to bring the birth rate down.

    • Sam says:

      Government can do that too, just regulate migration and reproduction. You could have a population target and allow each woman a number of children so that the target would be fulfilled; then these women can trade the permissions at market price. Or just do what China did, with better surveillance perhaps.

    • satanistgoblin says:

      And why is that good?

      • Sam says:

        Less criminals, less terrorists, less mouths to feed, less pandemic risks, less people to control/surveil, less people to revolt, less resource competition.

        • onyomi says:

          Shouldn’t we be more concerned about the good people to criminals/terrorists ratio? Global nuclear war would reduce the absolute number of bad people, I’m sure, but I bet those who survive, if any, won’t, on average, be very nice.

        • satanistgoblin says:

          Yeah, but also less of all the positive things you do not mention.

        • Fewer hands to grow and make things. Fewer brains to produce new ideas, compose books and songs. From the government’s standpoint, more people to pay taxes and enlist in the army.

          Humans are, in Julian Simon’s phrase, the ultimate resource.

          • Sam says:

            Fewer hands to grow and make things.

            Increasing productivity is more important than adding to the number of subsistence wage slaves.

            Fewer brains to produce new ideas, compose books and songs.

            New ideas worth having requires considerable education, and the world already has too many books and songs. New mediocre ones only subtract attention from the good ones. New ideas can also be incredibly harmful, as they empower the above mentioned criminals, terrorists and also governments to torture or enslave more people (and animals). Even technology can pave the road to unspeakable horrors of the future.

            From the government’s standpoint, more people to pay taxes and enlist in the army.

            So more slaves to kill and torture other governments’ slaves. I’ll count that as a negative.

  74. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    I know I am going to regret asking this, but is the title some kind of horrible pun?

  75. Theo Jones says:

    My solution to this is in the happiness studies are a flawed metric of well-being camp. When people are asked about their happiness, they are judging that in comparison to others they deal with. So, it is true that people will strongly prefer more wealth, that this will be a lasting preference (ie. they will have a strong aversion to losing wealth already gained), and that wealth won’t budge the results of happiness metrics much.

    • moridinamael says:

      Yeah, if anything, I would expect happiness to remain flat as a whole country slowly climbs out of poverty, because one of the main “assessing functions” for happiness is “how am I doing relative to everybody I know?”

      If you asked people “How would you rate your daily suffering, hunger, deprivation, and sadness over your children who just died of preventable diseases?” then you would get a sharply improving trend.

      I know I am repeating myself today but suffering and happiness are not on the same scale, they don’t sum, they are different things and changing one doesn’t necessarily effect the other at all.

  76. Qiaochu Yuan says:

    I don’t understand your trilemma at all. Like, I don’t really understand what question you think the three parts of the trilemma answers, and I also have no idea why you think those are the most obvious options. Just as a matter of writing flow I’m very confused about the leap from the paragraph before the trilemma to the trilemma, but independent of the flow of the writing I still don’t understand where you’re coming from.

    So far I see that industrialization doesn’t make people happier. Then… shouldn’t we think harder about what does? (One guess: strong and stable families / communities. I wouldn’t be surprised if industrialization had the effect of weakening rather than strengthening these.) A leap to “abandon consequentalism entirely” seems completely out of the blue.

  77. Wrong Species says:

    Scott, you’re so close. I don’t see why you haven’t given up on utilitarianism yet. That’s not to say that you have to ignore consequences completely. Just stop making it the entirety of moral concern. If you wanted to you could try to quantify consequences, deonotological rules and virtue ethics and try to spit out some model but if you’re only trying to “Maximize X”, then you aren’t really any better than the the Paperclip Maximizer. People are complex with overlapping, sometimes contradictory values. There is never going to be a consistent ethical theory that aligns with our moral intuitions. Now maybe our moral senses are wrong, but how would you ever know? It’s imperfect but it’s the only thing we have.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      So what good does giving up utilitarianism do? I still don’t know whether it’s a good idea to try to help China develop or not, now I just also don’t know anything else.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I guess it’s not so much that you necessarily give up on utilitarianism but that you stop trying to hold on to it so tightly. I would consider economic development to be good in itself but I’m not trying to maximize it at the expense of everything else. If it made us miserable then I would suggest some limits. But if it doesn’t have any effect on happiness, then it’s still a good thing. The problem is the mindset that you have to maximize something. You don’t.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Why is economic development a good thing if it doesn’t increase happiness?

          What is it for? We build the factories just to have them?

          • Wrong Species says:

            You can argue against my values all you want you aren’t going to change them. I consider economic development a good in itself because I just do. Humans aren’t like animals because we have the capacity to do so many incredible things that they can’t. It’s just a pathetic waste of our abilities if we myopically focus on making ourselves happy.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I’m not going to try to “convert” you. But I think if you thought about the reasons for your values, you would change your mind. I’m not saying that everyone does value happiness exclusively or that you have to value happiness. I just think that it is valuable for its own sake and nothing else is.

            You think it would be a waste to see humanity “not use its potential”. Seeing that potential “wasted” would make you unsatisfied, i.e. unhappy. Is it really true that you are imagining a situation where you are completely satisfied in the knowledge that humanity is “not using its potential” but object to the situation anyway?

            For that matter, we have the potential to do all kinds of crazy things. We have the potential to light people on fire or stick forks in our stomachs. How do we determine which ones to actualize?

          • Deiseach says:

            I just think that it is valuable for its own sake and nothing else is.

            Nothing at all?

            But anyway, happiness “for its own sake” doesn’t really exist. We can only experience happiness, or know we are, by having at least the idea of unhappiness (hunger, cold, pain, failure, discontent, rejection, etc.)

            Are you happy that you breathe? Or is that a meaningless question, because you only know that not breathing is an unpleasant, painful experience, and if you never choked or had any interference with your breathing, you would be as unaware of it as you are of your blood flowing (does the flow of your blood make you happy?) Happiness for itself is not a meaningful concept: we value happiness because we have had the experience of unhappiness. One is pleasant, one is not. It is no more an ethical value than the experiment we all learned of in junior cert biology about an amoeba moving away from a prodding instrument; the movement from an intrusive/negative/painful/possibly damaging stimulus has no ethical value or no value for its own sake.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Vox

            Yes, it would make me sad now but I’m still against the idea even if wireheading could alter my preferences where I wouldn’t care anymore.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Deiseach:

            Yes, nothing at all.

            Your example doesn’t show what you think it does.

            We have the concept of happiness because we can distinguish it from unhappiness. But happiness would be just as good if we didn’t know what it was and never knew anything different.

            Should I torture you just so that you can appreciate how nice it is not to be tortured? I guess if that actually improved people’s happiness by more than the torture reduced it, it would be good. I just find that implausible.

            @ Wrong Species:

            I’m not saying you can’t value that. I’m just saying I don’t think you have a good reason to, and it’s against your own best interest.

      • Abandoning utilitarianism as a complete moral theory might make possible a better fit to your moral intuitions. It helps me make sense of my distaste for wireheading or Nozick’s experience machine. Or my reaction to the hypothetical in _Machinery_ where convicting and hanging one innocent man prevents a mob from lynching two or three innocents.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          I don’t see what’s wrong in theory with hanging the innocent man to save the other innocents. Especially when we’re not talking about saving them from natural causes but from being hanged themselves.

          It’s just that, in real life, it doesn’t work. It would undermine the rule of law, lead to rightful distrust of the justice system, and so on.

          You know all of those things subconsciously, and it’s hard to put them aside when someone posing a hypothetical says, “Ah, but what if those things didn’t apply?”

          It’s the same sort of reasoning as “millions for defense, but not one cent in tribute”. If you start paying tribute, you gain in the short run but people start taking advantage of you.

          ***

          And it’s no different with trolleys, either. Someone who would push a fat man in front of a runaway trolley would be a psychopath who didn’t understand much about physics. In real life, you have a heuristic where you look really hard for other ways before you decide to harm innocents.

          It’s totally understandable that people just transfer that feeling they get from actual familiarity with reality to the invented hypothetical situation. And then try to rationalize the feeling in strange ways.

          It’s like any kind of subconscious bias, like when a man who survives the Bataan Death March sees all the future Japanese he meets as evil and untrustworthy.

        • Deiseach says:

          convicting and hanging one innocent man prevents a mob from lynching two or three innocents

          It’s a bad precedent. If the mob is pacified by you hanging one man, why did they want to lynch the three others? Either they think all four are guilty, or you can convince them the three others are innocent but the guy you are going to hang is guilty, which you would have to do anyway – you can’t just ride up and say “We hanged Bob who really did it, now let these guys go” unless the mob can be convinced Bob was really guilty, which means they must have some doubt about the guilt of the three others.

          Otherwise, the mob learns that all it needs to do to get you to do a repugnant deed is threaten to kill somebody. “Hang Tom or we’ll hang these two men we just pulled off the street!” “But Tom didn’t do anything!” “Yeah, but we hate him because of his face/if he’s dead, Bill can marry his widow Annie/I can get his job at the canning factory/I’ll get his land at a knockdown price when Annie has to sell up to pay his debts”.

          It smacks rather too much of “It is better that one man should die for the sake of the people” 🙂

          The only way it works is you have four suspects. One of them probably did it, but you don’t know which. The restless mob is rioting outside and threatening to rush the jail, drag them all out and hang them, so you pick one guy at random (maybe you draw lots) and hand him over as a sacrificial lamb. You can’t be absolutely sure he’s innocent (and neither can the mob) but neither can you be absolutely sure he’s guilty.

          Otherwise, if you know the guy you hanged is innocent, you’re a murderer. Which is the point of these cutesy experiments: “Aha! So you agree that murder is not absolutely wrong under any circumstances, therefore you do not believe in absolute moral values, therefore – ” and we all know the rest of the song. It’s to get you to agree that murder is sometimes justified (and if you try to argue that it’s not murder, they hammer you on that point) and thus something something Nietzsche something something Blond Beast something something the Superman.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Otherwise, if you know the guy you hanged is innocent, you’re a murderer. Which is the point of these cutesy experiments: “Aha! So you agree that murder is not absolutely wrong under any circumstances, therefore you do not believe in absolute moral values, therefore – ” and we all know the rest of the song. It’s to get you to agree that murder is sometimes justified (and if you try to argue that it’s not murder, they hammer you on that point) and thus something something Nietzsche something something Blond Beast something something the Superman.

            Yes, the exact purpose is to get you to agree that murder is not inherently wrong. Its wrongness depends on the consequences.

            The whole rest of your post is just fighting the hypothetical. You can say the hypothetical is extremely unlikely (I agree it is unlikely), but in that case you should have no problem saying that murder would be right in that case but that such a case is so unlikely in the real world that it’s a better heuristic to categorically never do it.

          • @Deiseach:

            My post was specifically responding to Scott. While there is no reason you should have realized it, the reference was to a scenario sketched in more detail in a book of mine that he has read.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Yes, the exact purpose is to get you to agree that murder is not inherently wrong. Its wrongness depends on the consequences.

            The problem I believe Deiseach is highlighting is that utilitarianism doesn’t allow one to distinguish between such circumstances.

            For example, at this point Himmler and Rascher’s “Exitus” Experiments have saved many more lives than they claimed, so from a utilitarian perspective Heinrich Himmler and Sigmund Rascher are heroes.

            Does this mean we should start rounding up ethnic minorities and using them as guinea pigs?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ hylnkacg:

            There are many examples of people who have won millions playing the lottery. That doesn’t make it a good bet.

            The fact that you can show some benefits from occasional Nazi experiments doesn’t show that they have a positive expected return. And I highly doubt that you can show net benefits without ignoring some of the costs, but I’ll take that part for granted.

            If Nazi experiments had a positive expected return, they would be good. On the other hand, you have to consider: good for whom? Certainly not good for the victims. Maybe for the “greatest number” but why does any particular person care about that?

      • moridinamael says:

        (Preference) Utilitarianism is fundamentally a way of trying to extend or extrapolate a preference ordering onto a numerical scale so you can trade some goods off of other goods quantitatively.

        Utilitarianism has rules, like, “If you prefer A to B, and B to C, then you cannot prefer C to A.” Human beings violate this rule all the time, though. So Utilitarianism is only applicable to domains where humans are moderately rational and have carefully weighed and understood relevant tradeoffs.

        You can try to use Utilitarianism to decide whether you should trade eating dessert for a 0.03% increase in the median Chinese person’s income. But you should also put very little weight on whatever your conclusion comes out to be. The conclusion will be essentially a Fermi estimate – you’ve subliminally made up 15 numbers parameterizing all kinds of unknowns about your life, and the Chinese person’s life, and how that money is going to get to them, and what the unknown impacts might be, and multiplied those 15 made-up numbers together.

        You wouldn’t trust that number if you were building a bridge, don’t trust it when you’re doing charity.

        (I am mainly talking about Preference Utilitarianism because all the other ones have the same problems but much worse.)

      • Do you really think that giving up an ethical framework – which is, after all, a conceptual construct that is subordinate to our experience, and neither its source nor (as you’ve recently come to realise) a very good description of it – is going to cause the experiences from which it is derived to disappear or be invalid?

        If you’re used to the feeling of ‘knowing’ the answers to the ‘problems of ethics’ – or at least of having an ethical framework which you’re confident will allow you to ‘know’ – it my be difficult to go from there to the state of the openness and uncertainty of not knowing; it may perhaps be painful as well.

        But if you’ve organically arrived at a point where you do not know, it’s best to acknowledge that, too. What’s the point in denial? At least when you know that you don’t know, you can perhaps be open, move forward, let actual experience guide you.

        (It’s a different matter if you’ve not arrived at that point organically; I’m not suggesting that you should pretend to not know when intuiting/thinking/feeling that you do. I’m just suggesting that if you’re at a point where the only thing stopping you from jettisoning a framework that is no longer ‘working’ is the fear of not knowing, it’s almost certainly better to acknowledge that that is the case, and to be open to (or open up again to) your moral intuitions, than to stick with it out of a fear of not knowing. After all, it isn’t providing the certainty or knowing that you sought anyway. And if your moral intuitions are aligned with the framework, they’ll continue to be even if the framework isn’t there.)

    • Wrong Species says:

      And I think it’s fair to say that preference utilitarianism raises more questions than it solves. It’s not very practical.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      I object to utilitarianism because it’s altruistic, but I don’t see anything wrong with “maximize personal happiness”. I don’t think I have contradictory values. I don’t think other people would either if they really thought about things clearly.

      What does it mean to say that you aren’t “better than” the Paperclip Maximizer?

      The problem with the Paperclip Maximizer, from the perspective of human beings, is that it interferes with their ability to maximize their happiness. Not that there’s something inherently wrong with maximizing things.

      Anyway, if people don’t have some single terminal value, ethical theory is pointless. There is just no way of coherently telling people what to do in that case.

      • Wrong Species says:

        So if everyone was wireheading themselves and letting civilization crumble, you would have no problem with that? Some people may bite that bullet, but I don’t think many would. Most people have values beyond maximizing happiness.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          If civilization crumbled and the electricity stopped being produced, presumably the wireheading would stop and people would quickly become very unhappy.

          The point of civilization is that it promotes people’s happiness. Otherwise, you’re divorcing the means from the end. It’s like being a miser and earning money just to hoard it.

          I am just saying with Aristotle that happiness is a completely self-sufficient thing and the ultimate good. You can certainly argue that particular things are necessary constituents of a happy life. Maybe it’s not possible to be happy without art or family or something.

          If so, then all you are saying is that wireheading is impossible.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Lets just assume that wireheading could continue regardless of whether civilization collapsed. People would do nothing but wirehead until they died. Would you still support it?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Wrong Species:

            Assuming that we’re talking about wireheading in the sense of producing directly the intellectual satisfaction, contentment, etc. (and not just physical pleasure) that people normally produce indirectly but in a lesser amount by means of reading books, thinking philosophically, watching movies, playing games, interacting with friends and family, and so on…

            Yes, absolutely.

            Right now I’m writing things on the internet because I find it enjoyable to think and write about. If I could just get the enjoyment directly without the typing and mental effort, I would do it.

            Of course, it’s possible that the mind is set up such that you just can’t have the enjoyment without the effort. In that case, the effort is the necessary price to pay. That sort of thing would mean wireheading is impossible. You could have Nozick’s experience machine, though. I have no objection to that.

            I think people object to wireheading because they imagine it like being hooked on cocaine in a self-destructive way, or like handing out trophies to everyone instead of people who put in the effort to win the game. Giving out a trophy in that way would be unsatisfying, no doubt. But what wireheading proposes to do is to give the full satisfaction of winning the game without having to do any work.

            I think people’s “moral intuitions”, like their “intuitions” in other areas, are nothing more than “an inarticulate sense of something caused by one’s experience with similar situations”. Since wireheading is such a dissimilar situation, people map it to the wrong analogies and come out with silly answers.

            Maybe it’s true that “no pain, no gain”. That would be unfortunate. But we should still be looking for ways to get all the gain with none of the pain.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            There’s a logical gap between happiness being the highest good, and your own happiness being the only good. There’s also this issue of whether a decision system that doesn’t take other people into account, should count as ethical at all.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ TheAncientGeek:

            There’s a logical gap between happiness being the highest good, and your own happiness being the only good.

            Of course there is a logical gap.

            I just don’t think there’s an argument for other people’s happiness being a terminal value for you. Nor do I think it is self-evident.

            Other people’s happiness does play a large role instrumentally.

            There’s also this issue of whether a decision system that doesn’t take other people into account, should count as ethical at all.

            Exactly like how communism doesn’t count as an economic system because it’s not founded on respect for private property rights.

            There’s no point in trying to hard-code altruism into the definition of ethics this way. It’s not historically founded, since the Classical interpretation of the task of ethics was always to tell people how they should live.

            The idea that ethics only deals with how you behave towards others is a modern invention. If I were to accept that definition—which I don’t because that’s allowing it to steal the positive connotations—then I would make up a new word like schmethics which includes altruistic and non-altruistic codes of telling people how to live.

      • Are you saying that if you could increase your happiness by a little at the cost of killing a thousand innocent people you would do so? I expect you can work out for yourself some bizarre hypothetical in which the killing itself doesn’t seriously lower your happiness.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          I think Richard Lawrence addressed this well in a response to a similar hypothetical from Michael Huemer:

          As Huemer notes, an alternative possibility to Problem 2 is for egoists to, in his words, “Reject the intuition.” That is, they could accept that it is true that “A -> (B -> C)”, but say that there is nothing wrong with that. In other words, they could claim that “C” is actually a morally acceptable outcome in situation “B”. When the outcome is one that would normally be considered immoral and even horrifying — in one of Huemer’s examples, killing a homeless man, in another the deaths of four million people — then people are often reluctant to take such a stance. However, it is not clear that such reluctance is justified. The scenarios typically set up to lead to such conclusions are far from commonplace situations, and thus there is often no reason to think that any ethical evaluations made in such a hypothetical situation have implications for real-world situations. For his more detailed example, Huemer finds it necessary to equip himself with a disintegrator gun, as well as making several dubious stipulations about social conditions and human psychology.

          Why should any ethical analysis for such a way-out situation, however repulsive the conclusion may seem, affect our acceptance of one ethical theory versus another? Imagine that Huemer got Objectivists to agree that if rat poison were safe and nutritious for human beings, it would be acceptable to sell it as food. It would be very misleading for him to turn around and say, “Objectivists think it is sometimes OK to sell rat poison as food! They’re evil!” To develop a hypothetical filled with assumptions that are not true in the real world, and which probably never will be true in the real world, and then denounce a moral theory for the conclusions it draws from it, is no less inappropriate than the rat poison example.

          […]

          Rand did not directly address the issue of whether rights as defined in Objectivism are side constraints or not. Leonard Peikoff’s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, which is supposed to represent Rand’s views, also does not directly address the issue. Tara Smith’s Moral Rights and Political Freedom makes a case that Objectivism is better described as “teleological” rather than “consequentialist,” and portrays respect for rights as a necessary instrument of that teleology. In any case, extremely strong instrumental goals and side constraints are virtually indistinguishable in practice. Incorporation of rights as either a side-constraint or as an extremely strong instrumental goal would both suffice to rule out Huemer’s examples.

          I think this kind of thing is just another form of what Scott calls the “noncentral fallacy” or the “worst argument in the world”. The paradigmatic examples of killing a thousand people are in situations where it is bad—precisely because it has consequences that redound against the perpetrator. If you take away everything that makes killing a thousand people against your interest, you don’t have any reason not to do it; and then if you got some kind of kick out of it, you’d have a small benefit and no costs. So why not?

          The problem is taking the moral judgment that applies to one situation and transferring it to a very different situation—while downplaying how different the situations really are.

          I find the prospect of killing a thousand people horrifying because I do indeed have a basic sense of human empathy. And it would be a violation of rights that would undermine the rule of law, and it would mean I would be hunted down and killed by any decent people. If none of those things applied, then there would be nothing wrong with it. Instead of quoting the whole Fitzjames Stephen passage I always quote when this comes up, I’ll just say: “No doubt, if all religion, all law, all benevolence, all conscience, all regard for popular opinion were taken away, there would be no assignable reason why men should do right rather than wrong; but the possibility which is implied in these ‘ifs’ is too remote to require practical attention.”

          • Nita says:

            The paradigmatic examples of killing a thousand people are in situations where it is bad—precisely because it has consequences that redound against the perpetrator.

            Uh, no. Stalin died in his bed, without suffering any substantial consequences for having many people executed for no good reason — but that doesn’t make his actions less bad.

            The idea that intuition can fail if the situation is unusual does make sense, though.

          • Anonymous says:

            Playing the lottery has bad payoff, even if once in a while someone gets lucky.

          • John Schilling says:

            Uh, no. Stalin died in his bed, without suffering any substantial consequences for having many people executed for no good reason

            Well, he died in bed. Painfully, surrounded by doctors and other associates who may have encouraged the process or at a minimum “worked to rule” in offering treatment.

            Coincidentally, his last round of purges was of allegedly traitorous doctors accused of attempting to murder Soviet officials.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            Yeah, I don’t think Stalin’s a good example of someone who had a really happy life as a result of being a dictator. And as people pointed out, most people who played the game of trying to be in Stalin’s place didn’t turn out even that lucky.

            Nor did innocent Russians were murdered for no reason. But I’m not saying even if you do everything right you can’t still be harmed by factors outside your control. That’s the point of the ending to Ayn Rand’s We the Living by the way: that no one is safe under dictatorship, which is why it is so terrible.

          • Nita says:

            @ Vox Imp

            You said nothing about “most people”, originally. You said “paradigmatic examples” — and Stalin seems to be the paradigmatic example here on SSC.

            Plus, dying at the age of 74 is not a steep price to pay for ruling the largest country in the world for 30 years. (Not that I’d want that, but Stalin probably did.)

            Maybe it would be nice if some supernatural force made sure mass murder always had a negative expected payoff. But I don’t see a reason to believe such a force exists, so, to help us adjust the actual payoff, among other things, our moral theories need to accommodate cases where bad deeds don’t have bad natural consequences.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            Stalin is a paradigmatic example of a murderous dictator, sure. Is he commonly regarded as having benefited on net from it?

            It seems like his power-lust and paranoia made him a worse, more unhappy person.

            The point about “most people” in his position is that even his unhappiness was a relatively lucky outcome. The expected utility of trying to be Stalin is much lower than Stalin’s utility, which was itself low.

            Maybe it would be nice if some supernatural force made sure mass murder always had a negative expected payoff. But I don’t see a reason to believe such a force exists, so, to help us adjust the actual payoff, among other things, our moral theories need to accommodate cases where bad deeds don’t have bad natural consequences.

            If the actions don’t have bad natural consequences, why exactly are they bad?

            I mean, I can think of examples where it is genuinely in your interest to kill innocent people for a relatively small benefit. War is the most obvious. You can debate the necessity, but the commonly held view is that dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused Japan to surrender more quickly and saved American lives that would have been lost in a ground invasion. There was still only a small chance that any particular soldier would die in that invasion, so each Japanese life lost only translated to a small expected gain for a given soldier.

            Some people, of course, do say that the bombings were reprehensible. I don’t really agree. Nevertheless, it’s certainly true that little children in Hiroshima didn’t partake in some kind of collective guilt. They didn’t deserve to die.

          • Nita says:

            If the actions don’t have bad natural consequences, why exactly are they bad?

            Because they have bad consequences for the victims.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            It’s possible for something to be good for some people and bad for others.

            Even in a situation where there is no absolute conflict, things are not good in the same respect or to the same extent. It is good for Africans that they have clean drinking water. It is also good for me that they have clean drinking water. But although it’s a good of the highest level for them, it is only a minor good for me.

          • Nita says:

            @ Vox Imperatoris

            I don’t see what that has to do with anything? If by “bad” you always mean “bad for the actor”, then saying “the paradigmatic examples are bad only because they’re bad for the actor” is tautological.

            OK, let’s start over. You said, “[murder] would be a violation of rights that would undermine the rule of law, and it would mean I would be hunted down and killed by any decent people.”

            1. Why do you call such people “decent”, rather than simply self-interested?

            2. Have you considered that persuading others that they should indulge every sadistic or anti-social urge, as long as they can get away with it, might also undermine the rule of law?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nita:

            1. Why do you call such people “decent”, rather than simply self-interested?

            Does being decent conflict with being self-interested?

            People can be motivated by self-interest, but depending on what they think their self-interest is, they can act in very different ways. I think that if people act according to what is called “enlightened self-interest”, they will act in a way generally described as “decent”.

            In contrast to criminals who may be motivated by self-interest but don’t have the right conception of what it is.

            It’s the same sort of difference between altruism in general and “effective altruism”. After all, many Communist and religious atrocities have been motivated by altruism. They weren’t acting in other people’s actual best interests, but they thought they were.

            2. Have you considered that persuading others that they should indulge every sadistic or anti-social urge, as long as they can get away with it, might also undermine the rule of law?

            First of all, that is not what I am advocating.

            If you are trying to lose weight, should eat a cookie every time you can get away with it without anyone catching you?

            You shouldn’t cheat on your tests instead of learning the material, even if you can get away with it, because it’s a bad habit. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you have to keep cheating because you have no way of catching up on the material—and at a certain point you’re most likely going to get caught.

            And if you in general value honesty and diligence, you’re going to feel guilty and conflicted even if you don’t get caught. If you don’t value those things, you’ll lose the benefits from them in other areas. You can’t just say “well, I’ll lie just when the situation calls for lying and tell the truth just when it calls for telling the truth.” They are heuristics.

            Anyway, I’m not sure what “sadistic” behaviors you have in mind, but I suspect they wouldn’t be in your interest. Now if it’s just something like being a little bit unnecessarily mean to people, it’s bad but probably not that bad. But if it’s like torturing people in your basement, I don’t think that’s going to work out well for you.

            ***

            But to address your main point, sure, I have considered the idea that telling people that it is moral to be self-interested will make the world worse.

            The first thing to consider is that, if true, that doesn’t mean the theory is false. It just means you shouldn’t say it. That was pretty much the Sophists’ theory: that everyone should outwardly praise (what is commonly called) “virtue” and appear to act that way, but when no one is watching they should pursue a private life of “vice”. If Gyges gets the ring and refrains from robbing and raping out of “virtue”, you’d be a fool to praise vice and make yourself a target. But you should be cackling on the inside at what a rube he is: he’s actually taking this stuff seriously, while the smart people merely pretend to be “virtuous”.

            However, that’s not my view. My view is that when people are told that there is a great conflict between morality and self-interest, they view morality as a ball-and-chain. There’s what you want to do, which is just random and arbitrary, and then there’s morality coming in to preach about which of those things are allowed.

            Since people regard morality as an imposition, they “cheat” on it most of the time, engaging in what Scott calls “unprincipled exceptions”. They work to limit the scope of morality by setting arbitrary rules (like “give 10%”) or simply try to dodge situations that would require them to act on it (as in “Newtonian Ethics”).

            But even though they hardly act on it, this vestigial morality keeps them from developing any kind of genuine principles to guide their behavior. Their avowed principle is still some form of altruism like Christianity or utilitarianism. They can’t honestly name any kind of consistent egoistic code, even though 95% of what they do is egoistically motivated in fact.

            As a result, they end up acting in a less benevolent, more crudely self-centered way because anything they do in a “non-moral situation” is inherently a “pragmatic” matter of arbitrary preferences.

            Joseph Rowlands has a good talk on this, “Eliminating the Altruistic Baggage”. He goes into more detail, listing six elements of the “altruistic framework”:

            1.) Measuring in terms of cost.
            2.) Morality for its own sake.
            3.) Morality is in conflict with your life.
            4.) Balancing morality with everyday life.
            4a.) Exceptional situations.
            4b.) A set of rules.
            5.) Morality as a limit on actions.
            6.) Having a separate process for moral choices and practical choices.

            The big advance of “effective altruism” is trying to knock out 1 and 2, maybe 5. But it still has a lot of it.

            I’m not trying to say that “egoism is the real altruism”. I think a perfect altruist would do more to benefit others than a perfect egoist, obviously. But trying to promote altruism is not going to make people perfect altruists. It’s going to make them people who do a minimal amount for one moral standard and “cheat” the rest of the time by acting in an unprincipled way. Because people want to be happy and they can see quite well that if they followed altruism consistently, they wouldn’t be.

            I think promoting “effective egoism”, i.e. enlightened self-interest, is going to be better for everyone than promoting, directly or indirectly, unprincipled behavior.

    • Theo Jones says:

      My thoughts are similar but a bit different. In my opinion there are two types of ethical issues: 1) there is a scarce resource, multiple people have a want for it, but have differing interests, values, and preferences. Who should get it?, 2) What is the good life? What type of person should you be? What should your interests, values and preferences be?

      Preference utilitarianism is probably the best answer for 1. But it has no answer for 2. I lean towards some type of virtue ethics/consequentialism hybrid for 2.

      Hedonistic utilitarianism provides a dubious answer for both.

      This issue of development and happiness has elements of both, but is mostly in the realm of 2.

      Edit to expand the second part.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        Your two examples don’t cover very central examples of unethical acts, such as murder and theft.

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      People are complex with overlapping, sometimes contradictory values.

      This is a good argument against utilitarianism, but not against consequentialism. I agree with you that we need a complex form of consequentialism that assigns value to lots of different things. But I think consequentalism beats out other forms of ethics in terms of “making logical sense” and “not failing at basic decision theory.”

    • Vita Fied says:

      There isn’t a way utilitarianism *can* be wrong the way its defined.

      Its the only moral system that’s tautological true from a very basic definition standpoint.

      Basic fundamentals written like an idiot, since I don’t think its more complicated.

      1. Feeling good is good.
      2. Feeling bad is bad.
      3. More good is gooder.
      4.More bad is badder.

      And some plausible consqeuences.

      a. Good can cancel out bad and vice-versa. People do this intuitively with “Work hard and be bored now, and be rewarded more later)

      I believe that’s one of the most basic thing missing from set theory. Or tautological frameworks of any reality’s. The emotional component is missing, and I think that’s a fundamental force that’s very difficult to measure so far.

      Its just that humans are quite complicated. Almost as complicated as Dwarf Fortress, but not quite. So most version of someones utilitarimism applied to humans don’t work well.

      As far as I can tell, utilitarianism simply *can’t* be wrong when trying to create some framework of decision making boiled down to its smallest and most simple precepts.

      • Bugmaster says:

        There are still multiple ways in which utilitarianism can be wrong. For example:

        1). You say “Feeling good is good”, but is this different from the tautology “feeling good feels good” ? If the answer is “no”, then utilitarianism is useless since it tells you nothing new.

        2). You say that “More good is gooder”, but how do you aggregate goodness ? Does it add up linearly, logarithmically, polynomially, or what ? Does all goodness have the same weight ?

        3). Are “good” and “bad” different intensities along the same spectrum, or not ? If the answer is “no”, then you’ve got the same issue as with #2, only squared.

        4). Even assuming that the answer to #1 is “yes”, is it even possible, in principle, to measure the total amount of good — or even the local amount of good — in the world ? If the answer is “no”, then utilitarianism is still useless, albeit for a different reason.

        5). If “most version of someones utilitarimism applied to humans don’t work well”, as you concede, then shouldn’t we be looking for something that does work well ? Utilitarianism becomes kind of like phlogiston theory in that case: internally consistent, logically elegant, and yet still totally false.

        • Jordan D. says:

          I think you’re right in principle, but…

          1) I think this is certainly not the case- utilitarianism explicitly says that feeling good *is* what goodness is. A traditional, say, Catholic deontological system would tell us that feeling good has nothing to do with The Good (although they often do correlate).

          2) This illustrates an actual point of contention among utilitarians and the utilitarian-adjacent, but I don’t think the fact that there are significant difficulties with quantification renders the whole exercise pointless.

          3) I don’t think I’ve ever seen a utilitarian argue that good and bad are anything but the same spectrum- after all, a unit of disutility is just a negative unit of utility.

          4) This is a reasonable question for debate.

          5) I think this would be a better objection if there was a general agreement that any other particular ethical system does work better.

        • Vita Fied says:

          Well, its not that it tells you nothing new. Really, I believe that its fundamentally important. I believe utilitarianism is correct the same way set theory is correct. It seems impossible to contradict based on what seems to be the most fundamental truths on emotion.
          There’s only a few other “truths” I can think of in philosophy. “I think/feel therefore I am”.

          As for 5, I simply worded it poorly. I simply don’t believe it *can* be wrong. Its applied poorly though.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        Well, you need to show that feeling good is an ethical good, and distinguish egoism and altruism, and aay something about obligation…

  78. Vita Fied says:

    I still am not convinced in any way that free trade harms American workers.

    It might in the way that robots are. AKA, the large amount of cheaper goods and displaced people need to be countered by better working hours and better minimum wage laws, or some variant of a guaranteed income, perhaps with some corresponding provisions.

    I mean, the intuitive argument for me, its if somehow a large amount of much cheaper products are flooding your country, and you can’t find a way to make it successful, then that is a structural problem. An old carrot and stick method of structuring a society that no longer works well, but can be replaced with something that *should* be better.

    If we can’t use lots of cheap things correctly, then we fail at organizing society.

    • Deiseach says:

      Cheaper goods are great if the displaced workers are all in new jobs earning money to purchase those goods. But if the jobs are not being created in the traditional industries, and the new “knowledge economy” takes brains and specific talents that a lot of people will not have, where are the replacement jobs going to come from (and let’s forget the pipe-dreams of “local neighbourhoods built in a barter economy” where your wife can somehow make a living from baby-sitting the neighbour’s kids – but not charging commerical childcare rates – while you do handyman work here and there; everyone in the neighbourhood is going to be making a living taking in one another’s washing, is that it?)?

      The problem with a basic income or the like is that it butts right up against the idea of “something for nothing”, that we will be paying people to sit on their behinds and do nothing. Think of the recent comments on another post here where a lot of people said they could not imagine not having something to do all day, and that the perceived alternative to work was “sitting at home playing games or hanging around with your friends”.

      That if you don’t contribute or earn your basic income in some way (compulsory volunteer work seems to be the most popular idea, which rather makes an oxymoron of “compulsory voluntary”) then you don’t deserve it and you are moreover a parasite on the people who are working, the wealth creators/participants in the knowledge economy who pay taxes to support your idleness.

      And that is not confined to any particular political/social view; Red or Blue or Grey Tribe, conservative or liberal, the idea still is “do something for your free money, even if it’s only picking up litter, or else you’re a leech”.

      The notion of the dole sponger and the welfare cheat is well ingrained over here now, so that it’s an easy sell even for Labour (the party of the working class, it used to be) to claim they are cracking down on benefit fraud (and as we’ve also discussed on here before, actual fraud – as distinct from splashy press releases – is a very small amount and runs much the same percentage in most countries regardless of whether they’re liberal or conservative) rather than instituting things like basic income.

      So it’s a real problem: what do you do with the surplus workers that aren’t needed and realistically have little chance of getting different jobs, or at least not a job that will keep them at the same level of income/respectability as they used to have?

      I’d love to believe our new robot economy will mean three hundred workers all working four hour days for three days a week on full wages of the five day week plus overtime kind, but realistically it’s going to be four guys on rotating shift patterns (such as this which is the kind my brother used to work before his recent promotion and which is a fucking killer over time as it goes on, as it messes with sleep patterns, eating, exercise, everything) overseeing the robot production lines where the three hundred used to work.

      So what happens the two hundred and ninety-six workers let go because they’re not needed? They all get second careers in Silicon Valley start-ups as programmers and entrepreneurs? And how much labour can those absorb, each year every year over a decade of school-leavers coming into the workforce, especially when the low-hanging fruit is replaced by robots and things like the professions (law, medicine) are getting picked off as well?

      • Anon. says:

        This is just elaborate lump of labor nonsense. Completely fictional scenarios that nobody will ever need to worry about.

        • Deiseach says:

          Really? Nobody will ever need to worry about losing their job and not being able to find one at the same level of income or indeed any job?

          This is probably an exaggerated estimate, but if half of current jobs can be done by robots (including sex work, so you can’t even peddle your ass for a living), we will need to create new tech and new labour markets pretty damn fast out of nowhere, or else face up to a lot of people not having work.

          Sure, there are jobs now that even thirty years ago weren’t even a dream. But if unpaid interns are the way forward in a lot of industries, including the creative ones (the Huffington Post UK editor who boasted they don’t pay their writers because that means their work is more authentic than if they got paid for it) and the robots are doing the rest of formerly paid labour, what are you going to make a living at?

          Hand-carved ethnic knick-knacks to sell to the few oligarchs who have private fortunes from their stock options in the robot-labour run factories, while you stand by the roadside touting for their business? “Oh look Meera, genuine American vernacular chair! How much? No, no: too much.” “Never mind, Anil, just take a picture with your smartwear and we can get the robot handyman to 4-D print it for us at home for nothing!”

          • Anon. says:

            >Nobody will ever need to worry about losing their job and not being able to find one at the same level of income or indeed any job?

            We are talking about aggregates here, I’m sure there will be some individuals who fall under that description. That’s not really relevant.

            Unless you have a really good story about how this particular round of productivity improvement is different from all the previous ones, this is just a repetition of the Luddite argument. Yes there is a small unemployment effect in the short term associated with productivity shocks, but the long-run effect is in the opposite direction. People have been constantly worrying about technologically-driven unemployment for two centuries now, and (in accordance with the most simplistic and obvious econ101 analysis — ask yourself what happens to demand for labor when productivity increases) it has never happened.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:
      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I favor wage subsidy over basic income because it will still encourage the people who are, say, really efficient at doing laundry to do everyone’s laundry, and the people really efficient at babysitting to watch everyone’s kids, etc etc.

        And there is still plenty of work to be done, particularly in poor neighborhoods.

        • Deiseach says:

          Efficient laundry on that scale is opening a laundromat or dry cleaning service, not doing it at home in your domestic washing machine and hanging the clothes out the back to sun-dry. The days of Mrs Murphy with the washtub are long gone. Efficient childcare is more than merely babysitting, as the cases over commercial creches being sued prove. Mrs Jones may need to take in twenty kids to make a living at the prices neighbourhood parents are willing to pay, and can she really keep an eye on twenty kids aged three and under herself? She’ll either be using her own family as unpaid labour, or skivvies from neighbourhood kids on “work experience” – and if you’re positive a fourteen year old girl will be cool and calm when dealing with infantile febrile convulsions when she’s never seen such a thing before, I’m sure you’re happy to hand your baby over to an untrained minor child to mind.

          • “and if you’re positive a fourteen year old girl will be cool and calm when dealing with infantile febrile convulsions when she’s never seen such a thing before, I’m sure you’re happy to hand your baby over to an untrained minor child to mind.”

            In our case a twelve year old, although she might have been eleven when we first hired her as a babysitter.

            The original plan was that she would watch our daughter while my wife made dinner, and similar situations. It turned out that she was a twelve year old adult, and we did in fact feel safe leaving our daughter with her when neither of us was in the house.

            Many years later, I got an email from Brande, who had come across some reference to me online. She was now an air force fighter pilot and sent me a picture of her with her plane.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Mrs Jones may need to take in twenty kids to make a living at the prices neighbourhood parents are willing to pay,

            Hence wage subsidy. If the parents pay $3/hour and the state pays $4/hour, everything becomes a lot more viable.

            The point of wage subsidy is to lift up all those whose labor is below the threshold and keep them attached to the task of making one’s way in the world, instead of having them (and their kids) be completely and forever removed from the labor pool.

      • Noumenon72 says:

        I was on 2-2-3 but we didn’t rotate from day to night every week, that sounds crazy. I agree that working your few valuable employees hard seems to be more likely than keeping on a bunch of nonvaluable employees.

      • Cadie says:

        We managed to get to a 40-hour work week from a much longer one. Granted, there are a lot of salaried exceptions and overtime pay, and some people have two jobs, so it’s not a full switch, but many fewer people work 60-80 hours a week than used to, and 40 is considered “standard” at the same pay that you’d get for working much more.

        I don’t see why we couldn’t drop this down further in small increments. Make a 35-hour workweek standard for awhile as technology increases productivity so most jobs that used to take 8-hour days now take 7. Then cut it down to 30 hours a decade later. Drop the number of days from 5 to 4 to get a 24-hour work week. Eventually, if we adjust down along with technological advances, we’ll reach a point where people work one or two shifts a week so there are enough jobs to go around and machines do the rest.

        As for basic income, that works well with it too, if the basic income is minimal, enough to allow the person essentials like food, housing, and essential medical care but not a lot beyond those. Then they’d have to work to afford luxuries beyond the occasional small treat, incentivizing most people to work while not withholding life essentials if they don’t. It’s not realistic right now, but it’s something we could phase in slowly, perhaps by relaxing certain welfare benefit restrictions first and then replacing the smaller benefits with small basic incomes (ex. maybe around 2045, EVERY citizen and legal resident gets $100/month plus $50 for each additional person older than 1 in the household for food, a bit more for babies, and we eliminate food stamps and other food assistance programs since everyone gets the benefit anyway) until we reach the point of very short work weeks and basic income together.

    • Vaniver says:

      I still am not convinced in any way that free trade harms American workers.

      So, agreed that mechanization is a more serious threat to labor than globlization is. But it seems clear that even if the total number of manufacturing jobs is the same, the composition of them is different–and switching costs associated with losing job A and then acquiring job B may make it long-term negative, even if job B and A are equivalent.

  79. Luke the CIA stooge says:

    It would seem the ideas of happiness and life satisfaction are just poorly formed. What someone experiences from having sex, tucking in their child, winning a violent battle, etc. Seem to simply be very different forms of emotions that simply serve the role of rewarding successful behaviour.

    It could just be that life satisfaction /happiness is a longer term form of these rewards meant to reward long term performance at capacity. A tribesman with lots of food, a loving wife, shelter and good friends would be very happy since their is little better he can do. The same person living in a western society might be very unhappy despite sharing all of the same achievements in addition to having modern living conditions/life span because now he has more options and presumably could be doing even better. This is less a criticism of modern society than a failure of the concept of happiness/life satisfaction.

    If if we could create a pill that would make people feel perfectly content with their life, would that be a utilitarian boon or a fail state? It would seem their is a reason most older conceptions of liberal democracy and utilitarianism do not emphasize happiness/life satisfaction but rather the pursuit of happiness/freedom. It’s right there in the title utilitarianism as in utility, usefulness. Things which grant freedom by allowing more actions.

    This conception has the benifit of being relatively objective. You are objectively better off with A and the option to switch to B than you are with A alone, as if you prefer A the option of B changes nothing and if you prefer B your position is much improve by having the choice of it.

    Thus industrialization is a massive improvement as it greatly increases the options of vast numbers of people. Both by giving them longer lifespans (a long lifespan is objectively better than a short one as you always have the choice to end your life early) and by giving them vastly more options. This conception of utility also neatly does away with utility monsters so we don’t have to worry about weird people who get vast amounts of joy from seeing others suffer getting into our moral framework a fucking it up.

    It’s sad this conception of utility has gone out of style as this focus on happiness seems to give far to much weight to people’s emotional states, things policy can’t do much about, as opposed to increasing people’s opportunities to sort out their own shit. Something public policy can do

    • piercedmind says:

      “This conception has the benifit of being relatively objective. You are objectively better off with A and the option to switch to B than you are with A alone, as if you prefer A the option of B changes nothing and if you prefer B your position is much improve by having the choice of it.”

      ” In the book, Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers.”
      See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Paradox_of_Choice

      Note however that, as almost all psychology research with any real world significance, Schwart’s findings are being disputed.

      • Luke the CIA stooge says:

        The thing with anxiety is its an emotion that serves a purpose: Making people focus on a choice or idea and consider alternatives. Thus it is not enough to say that a plethora of choices will increase consumer anxiety, that much should be obvious, but rather that that plethra increases anxiety in excess of any benefit the increased accuracy might give them. This is much harder to argue and I think impossible to justify.

        For example the choice you make in which house you buy could easily mean the difference between thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in happiness and money down the road (the tradeoff of whether to commute or not alone might come out to thousands of dollars a year.) in this case, assuming you Don’t make several hundred dollars an hour (in which case hire some one else to do this), it would probably be worth more than 20 hours of dedicated consumer anxiety and research to get that decision as acurrate to your needs as possible.
        The point is: it is not at all obvious that increased choices increases consumer anxiety to a point where it is actually a greater cost than benefit and it could easily be the case that people are NOT ANXIOUS ENOUGH about there consumer decisions.

        In this case decreasing their anxiety by decreasing choices would be less a boon to consumers than a cheap marketing ploy to create good feelings and exploit the irrationality of human decision making.

        The modern industrialized world should make people anxious as the most productive and valuable time people spend in it (in terms of happiness, money, freedom and security later on) is probably that time they spend anxiously torn between decisions and various options. If those 20 hours you spend picking a house save you only 1000 dollars and you usually make only 30 dollars an hour (60,000 dollars a year) then congratulations for that 20 hours you made yourself 50 dollars an hour, a 66% wage increase and a temporary boost to 100,000 dollars a year.

        And that’s if it’s ONLY $1000 once, if it saves you a thousand a year on gas or you look up the furnace a realize it would have died in a year and cost you 3000 in heating. If that happens then you might have been more productive and made more money in those hours than the highest paid corporate lawyers.

        • piercedmind says:

          ” This is much harder to argue and I think impossible to justify.”
          I should have probably quoted the more relevant part, but this is exactly what Schwartz and other psychologists do:

          “Choice and Happiness. Schwartz discusses the significance of common research methods that utilize a Happiness Scale. He sides with the opinion of psychologists David Myers and Robert Lane, who independently conclude that the current abundance of choice often leads to depression and feelings of loneliness. Schwartz draws particular attention to Lane’s assertion that Americans are paying for increased affluence and freedom with a substantial decrease in the quality and quantity of community. What was once given by family, neighborhood and workplace now must be achieved and actively cultivated on an individual basis. The social fabric is no longer a birthright but has become a series of deliberated and demanding choices. Schwartz also discusses happiness with specific products. For example, he cites a study by Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University and Mark Lepper of Stanford University who found that when participants were faced with a smaller rather than larger array of chocolates, they were actually more satisfied with their tasting.”

          Again, this is controversial, but the fact that it’s controversial means that choice is probably not the most important determinant of happiness.

    • Deiseach says:

      If if we could create a pill that would make people feel perfectly content with their life, would that be a utilitarian boon or a fail state?

      Isn’t that the rationale behind the creation of the different grades of people in Huxley’s “Brave New World” – each caste is conditioned to be happy with its state and not to want anything different:

      “Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly colour. I’m so glad I’m a Beta.”

      And between that and soma, everybody’s happy now:

      But Henry’s tone was almost, for a moment, melancholy. “Do you know what that switchback was?” he said. “It was some human being finally and definitely disappearing. Going up in a squirt of hot gas. It would be curious to know who it was–a man or a woman, an Alpha or an Epsilon. …” He sighed. Then, in a resolutely cheerful voice, ” Anyhow,” he concluded, “there’s one thing we can be certain of; whoever he may have been, he was happy when he was alive. Everybody’s happy now.”

      “Yes, everybody’s happy now,” echoed Lenina. They had heard the words repeated a hundred and fifty times every night for twelve years.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        The suggestion in Brave New World is that they are not truly happy. They are just sedated like people on heroin. The obvious implication is that they repeat the slogan to try to make themselves believe something that isn’t so.

        If so, the objection isn’t that a pill to make people happy would be a bad thing. The objection is that there is no such pill. Maybe there is no such pill; that’s not terribly implausible to me. But then people should be straight about what the objection is.

        • Jeffrey Soreff says:

          If so, the objection isn’t that a pill to make people happy would be a bad thing. The objection is that there is no such pill.

          Or no such pill now

          To the extent that we are on hedonic treadmills, with stable setpoints from biochemical feedback loops, perhaps the right place to look for improvements is indeed in pharmacology, but with somewhat different endpoints than with anti-depressants. Closer to looking for long-term mood elevation, with the usual double-blind placebo-controlled studies?

          Re Brave New World – With a relatively small amount of change (replacing epsilons and deltas with electronics), I wouldn’t consider it a dystopia, but rather a considerable improvement over what we have. To me the interesting question isn’t whether an alpha/beta/gamma BNW is desirable but whether it is feasible.

          • I’ve known a couple of people who appeared to be unusually happy most of the time. Both of them were sane, energetic, productive people with what I think of as glow in the dark personalities. I’ve wondered if the explanation might have to do with brain chemistry, and if so whether it might be possible to duplicate the effect artificially.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @David Friedman

            I’ve known a couple of people who appeared to be unusually happy most of the time. Both of them were sane, energetic, productive people with what I think of as glow in the dark personalities. I’ve wondered if the explanation might have to do with brain chemistry, and if so whether it might be possible to duplicate the effect artificially.

            Many Thanks!

  80. E. Harding says:

    Ctrl-F “migra”.

    Man, guys, you’re doing a terrible job here. Only Publius Varinius even mentions it. If this is something genetic, then why not survey first-generation immigrants from poorer nations? That should do the trick. There are a lot of them these days. Then try the second generation.

    • piercedmind says:

      All kinds of noise associated with this approach. First generation immigrants do not experience steady economic growth, but rather an immediate jump, and second generation immigrants are, iirc, usually unhappier because they are torn between two cultures.

      • E. Harding says:

        “First generation immigrants do not experience steady economic growth, but rather an immediate jump,”

        -Well, control for time spent in new country.

        “and second generation immigrants are, iirc, usually unhappier because they are torn between two cultures.”

        -You sure? I’ve never felt that problem exactly. I’m generally a happy person, and I seem to have gotten happier over the years.

        • piercedmind says:

          As to second generation immigrants being unhappier, here is a quote from a study examining immigrants in Europe:
          “Immigrants and second generation individuals whose both parents are immigrants (G2) report lower levels of life satisfaction. Individuals belonging to G2 seem to be even less satisfied with life as a whole than the first generation immigrants. However, individuals whose only one parent is immigrant report slightly higher levels of both happiness and life satisfaction than natives who do not have any immigrant ancestor. ”
          https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228279224_Immigrants'_Life_Satisfaction_in_Europe_Between_Assimilation_and_Discrimination

          However, that does not really matter, because in both cases of first and second generation immigrants cofounders in both directions are imaginable:
          Not speaking the native language perfectly vs. being that kind of person who immigrates in the first place making you happier about new experiences, being torn between two cultures vs. speaking two languages.

          If we wanted to truly measure the effect of genetics here we’d have to look at adoptees from poorer countries. I could find no study doing this, unfortunately.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I bet this is going to depend heavily on where the immigrants came from and where they ended up. I wouldn’t generalize from, say, Pakistani immigrants to Great Britain to Chinese immigrants to the United States.

          • piercedmind says:

            @Jaskologist:

            I very much agree. It was just a side point to my overall point that studying immigrants would probably not be useful when trying to find out what effects their genes have on happiness.

      • Publius Varinius says:

        The “immediate jump” hypothesis seems unlikely, given that the lottery studies show that the immediate jump of winning the lottery has the exact opposite effect (overall happiness is on the baseline, and the one hugely positive event blunts the impact of later positive events).

  81. Goldjet says:

    Scott no longer bothers to hide the fact that he has so little fellow-feeling for Americans that he would gladly sacrifice their future to help foreigners who would never do the same if the circumstances were reversed.

    And when the now rich foreigners attack because they are as rich as us now but don’t share the same values, it will be the sacrificed Americans conscripted into the army to die in Scott’s defense as he is exempted due to mental health issues or some other nerd-related unfitness.

    You people here are not living in the real world at all.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Do you feel the same way about technology? Because some people believe that it’s new technology that has displaced good jobs from Americans. Assuming that was true, would you try to ban new tech? If you can see why that’s ridiculous, then you can see why we think the same of critics of free trade.

      • Jiro says:

        It’s ridiculous to ban tech to prevent people from becoming unemployed because
        1) the harm to the people being unemployed is balanced off against the benefit to locals, and neither the benefit or harm to non-locals needs to be considered, and
        2) banning technology isn’t practical, anyway

        • Anon. says:

          >the harm to the people being unemployed is balanced off against the benefit to locals, and neither the benefit or harm to non-locals needs to be considered

          The exact same thing is true of trade.

          • Jiro says:

            But this particular example of trade was described as benefiting foreigners and being justifiable on that basis. You can argue that the trade benefits locals and that it can be justified solely based on its benefit to locals–but that isn’t what Scott was suggesting.

          • Anon. says:

            It doesn’t really matter what Scott was suggesting, what matters is how trade works. In any case, Scott never even mentioned the benefits accruing to American consumers which are greater than the costs of unemployment.

            >Suppose that some free trade pact will increase US unemployment by 1%, but also accelerate the development of some undeveloped foreign country like India into hyper-speed. In twenty years, India’s GDP per capita will go from $1,500/year to $10,000/year. The only cost will be a million or so extra unemployed Americans, plus all that coal that the newly vibrant India is burning probably won’t be very good for the fight against global warming.

          • Jiro says:

            It doesn’t really matter what Scott was suggesting, what matters is how trade works.

            Goldjet brought it up specifically as a criticism of Scott. What matters for the purposes of that criticism is indeed what Scott was suggesting, even if there are better reasons that Scott did not suggest.

    • NN says:

      And when the now rich foreigners attack because they are as rich as us now but don’t share the same values, it will be the sacrificed Americans conscripted into the army to die in Scott’s defense as he is exempted due to mental health issues or some other nerd-related unfitness.

      Except that could never happen because nuclear missiles.

      Even if nukes didn’t exist, any government sane enough to raise their country’s per-capita GDP to developed world levels would also be sane enough to realize that nothing could possibly justify the unimaginable expense of a large scale trans-Oceanic invasion.

      Even if nukes didn’t exist and the US wasn’t an ocean away from anyone who could possibly want to invade it (Mexico and the rest of Latin America may not share all our values, but they share enough to ensure stable relations), America’s high gun ownership rate combined with the historical examples of Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and so on would ensure that any attempted occupation of mainland American territory would be extremely costly.

      Taiwan might be endangered if China continues to get richer, but given your stated feelings for non-Americans I doubt you would be concerned about that.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Ideology is plenty compatible with high GDP. If we’re crazy enough to blow our money trying to spread democracy to Iraq, why can’t China be crazy enough to blow its money trying to spread communism to California?

        • NN says:

          Because China has been Communist in name only for decades. In fact, that is the primary reason for its recent economic success.

          Regardless, comparing a hypothetical Chinese invasion of America to the Iraq War is ridiculous. Above all else, Iraq didn’t have thousands of nuclear missiles.

          Even ignoring nukes, when the US invaded Iraq, Saddam’s army was a joke and the US had bases in Kuwait to invade from. If not for the post-invasion insurgency and civil war, the Iraq War really would have been quick and cheap. Even if the entire US military magically disappeared, a Chinese invasion of the US across the Pacific Ocean would be many orders of magnitude more expensive. That’s without taking the inevitable post-invasion insurgency into account.

          I’m well aware that warmongering ideology is compatible with high GPD. After all, Weimar Germany had one of the most advanced economies in the world when Hitler came to power. I could definitely see a rising China invading Taiwan. I could see a rising China led by an especially aggressive leader intervening in Asia, the Middle East, or even Africa to protect their investments there. But it would require North Korean levels of insanity to even consider attacking the US, and as you may have noticed that level of insanity is generally incompatible with running a functioning state.

        • birdboy2000 says:

          Because we’re *not* crazy enough to blow our GDP spreading democracy in Russia. Or even Iran. There’s a reason we picked Iraq.

          (well that and China doesn’t care about spreading communism anymore, but it’s easy to foresee an expansionist turn in any country. Also, nukes raise the stakes in any great power conflict these days to “unimaginable” so we’re fucked either way.)

      • windmill tilter says:

        There are possible scenarios for international competition other than full-scale war. First arguably you can have a non-violent conflict of ideologies where a country feels humiliated enough by another country’s successes to change. Second you can have limited or proxy wars like Vietnam or Ukraine. If only wars with Great Powers are off limits you could admit fellow-feeling with other Great Powers but this would not explain why you would care about, e.g., African countries.

        • windmill tilter says:

          The only plausible morality is the one that wins. So we need to understand how values are spreading today. If being nationalist enables countries to coordinate actions to spread values, then being nationalist is good. This is the missing link that could connect all these speculations (utilitarianism, consequentialism, preference utilitarianism etc.) to reality. We’re fighting a war for influence over the ideas of the other great powers. So the best morality is a kind of meta-question that depends on the morality of other actors. I guess we should do whatever it is that maximizes our national prestige. I don’t know what that is but at least in principle you can find out.

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      I’ve noticed this weird thing where people with nationalist views are totally incapable of conceiving of the idea that people could value foreigners and countrymen equally because they have vast amounts of fellow-feeling for both groups, rather than a lack of fellow-feeling for one.

      What makes this especially weird is that nationalism tends to correlate with religiosity. Do these people really read the Bible and think “Boy, that Jesus sure was a cold SOB, he didn’t care about anyone. That’s the only explanation for why he assigned the same amount of value to everyone in the world.” Do they think that people who follow Jesus’ example and travel the world helping people must be people lacking in love?

      I care about Americans and foreigners equally. And that’s because I love everybody, not because I lack fellow-feeling for others. I’m sure Scott feels similarly.

      Also, I don’t think Scott has ever hidden he feels this way. I don’t know why you think he would. Loving everyone is something you should be proud of.

      • Goldjet says:

        >”I care about Americans and foreigners equally”

        But only one of those will die for you if required. Perhaps this should make you realise you owe them a little bit more than a foreigner.

        American liberals or rationalists or whatever you call yourselves live under the protection of your fellow citizens while denying that you have any special obligation to them over a foreigner.

        They risk their lives for you and you don’t even give them the courtesy of saying you value them higher than any random person on the other side of the planet.

        You are even prepared to consciously harm them if you calculate this will cause more benefit to a greater number of foreigners.

        I do not like that at all.

        • “>”I care about Americans and foreigners equally”

          But only one of those will die for you if required. ”

          I don’t expect that most Americans would be willing to die for me. The only ones that show any evidence of being willing to are in the military, and they are not threatened by unemployment due to free trade.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            I don’t expect that most Americans would be willing to die for me. The only ones that show any evidence of being willing to are in the military, and they are not threatened by unemployment due to free trade.

            Every other beggar I see on the streets claims to be a vet on his sign, and they don’t look much like veterinarians to me.

          • NN says:

            Every other beggar I see on the streets claims to be a vet on his sign, and they don’t look much like former veterinarians to me.

            Because street beggars are renowned for their trustworthiness.

          • Goldjet says:

            You may desire to live in a libertarian world, but you should not confuse that with where you actually live.

            Whether you like it or not you are nourished and sheltered by a nation, made up of many people whose selflessness would evidently surprise you.

          • Publius Varinius says:

            > I don’t expect that most Americans would be willing to die for me.

            Supposing they gave a war and nobody came is funny precisely because it never happens.

            Karadžić is going to be sentenced today. As someone who lived through the dissolution of Yugoslavia, I am convinced that when shit hits the fan, your fellow countrymen will show up, and *only* they will show up. If you’re really lucky, others will provide some measure of support (U.S.) from the skies above, but only if there’s little danger to them. Others will do nothing but put on a show and feel good about themselves (UN).

        • Ghatanathoah says:

          Your suggestion that we should care more about those who would die for us leads to conclusions that I think you would find quite unpalatable if you thought them through.

          For instance, my roommate is unlikely to ever die for me in a war because she is disabled and cannot fight. Does this mean I should not care about her? Should I not care for my aged grandparents why are physically incapable of fighting and dying for me? Should I not care about terminally ill children, since they will die before they reach military age? If I’d been born in the past before women were allowed to serve in the military does that mean I should not care about women as much as men?

          You might argue that those people would die for me if they were able/allowed to fight, but if we’re allowing counterfactuals what about the counterfactual that most foreigners would die for me if they’d been born here or allowed to emigrate here?

          Furthermore, your exact same argument could be used to justify corruption and nepotism. My family would die for me before an American stranger would, does that mean I should screw over strangers to benefit my family? If I’m hiring for a firm should I hire my family members over better qualified American strangers, since my family would die for me before they would? If I was a cop, and I found out my brother was a serial killer, should I fail to arrest him if I’m confident he’ll only kill strangers and not hurt the rest of my family?

          Stamping out nepotism and corruption and making sure everyone is treated fairly is one thing I’m proud of America for doing. It’s made the country better for me and everyone else. I think it’s a good thing, even if it sometimes means I have to treat family member who would die for me better than strangers who wouldn’t. I think the same lesson can be expanded to the rest of the world.

          Also, foreigners have fought and died for you and me. America has engaged in military alliances with many countries all over the world. Do we owe the Turkish, Mongolian, and British people who risked their lives in the Afghanistan war less than the Americans? (If you think the Afghanistan war was a mistake, substitute some other military operation you approve of where we had allies)

          Furthermore, I actually do support Americans who would die for me over foreigners who wouldn’t in one important respect: I pay for the salaries of American servicepeople with my tax dollars. I do not pay the salaries of Belgian or Ugandan or Cambodian people with my tax dollars. And you might argue that taxation is involuntary, but I doubt my behavior would change if we transitioned to anarcho-capitalism tomorrow (except I might pay less money for new weapons and more for taking care of disabled servicepeople).

          I have paid Americans who would die for me for services rendered. So has Scott, presumably. You seem to be arguing that even after paying them, I have an additional obligation, above and beyond that, to treat other people unfairly for their sake. I’d recommend you read Scott’s post on “Infinite Debt.”

          • Vaniver says:

            I think that if you want to do the “following premises to conclusions” thing you have to pick the correct premises.

            That is, there’s a difference between reciprocity between men and reciprocity between people–the nationalist’s view is that it is a man’s privilege to die for women and children that he would never dream of asking to die for him. (Not all women and children, mind you–ingroup women and children.)

            And similarly, the distinction between “foreigners have died for us” and “our allies have died for us” is clear, and presenting it differently is problematic.

          • Jiro says:

            If I was a cop, and I found out my brother was a serial killer, should I fail to arrest him if I’m confident he’ll only kill strangers and not hurt the rest of my family?

            That doesn’t follow because valuing strangers less is not the same thing as not valuing them at all. Furthermore, “not hurt the rest of your family” just makes the killer neutral with respect to your family, since he doesn’t do anything to benefit them.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            The real question is, why do you value your brother the serial killer?

            If I found out that my brother was a serial killer, I would hate him and want to see him punished. It’s not about putting my love for my country above my love for my brother. If I found out that my brother was a serial killer, I wouldn’t love him. I would disown him.

            Same thing with nepotism and corruption. Of course, family businesses are, you know, a thing. But if I hire outside the family, it’s because the quality of the work matters more to me than giving some lazy cousin a job.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @Vox Imperatoris,

            If I found out that my brother was a serial killer, I would hate him and want to see him punished. It’s not about putting my love for my country above my love for my brother. If I found out that my brother was a serial killer, I wouldn’t love him. I would disown him.

            Do you think that’s an accurate prediction of your feelings or more of an aspirational statement about what you should feel?

            People demonstrably do still love their family members, even if they’ve committed horrible crimes. For one example, when David Kaczynski realized that his brother Ted was likely the Unabomber he went to the FBI so that they could arrest him… after he got a guarantee that they would take him in alive and give him psychiatric treatment. When the authorities instead pushed for the death penalty he reportedly felt betrayed.

            It makes sense after all. Not to get sappy but love of family is the closest thing to unconditional love that exists. Even if you don’t like and don’t respect them, it is very hard to really hate someone that close to you even if they’ve done awful things.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Dr Dealgood:

            It depends on the situation. Obviously, I’ve never experienced something like that, so I can’t tell you what I’d do for sure.

            I’m not saying I’ll follow the law over personal attachments no matter what. For instance, if you’re a parent and you catch your daughter smoking marijuana, are you going to report her to the police? Should you report her to the police? No, because I don’t think you should report anyone to the police for that.

            Or even take something actually wrong, like shoplifting. I wouldn’t report a family member to the police for that (not that they would…do anything, for that or the marijuana case in most places). I care more about whether that’s actually going to improve my family member’s welfare than vaguely upholding the rule of law.

            But if I own the shop, I’ll report the thief because I care more about not being stolen from than the welfare of the thief.

            If I discovered that a family member was a complete “sick bastard” serial killer, like some kind of sadistic torturer, then I would think I would hate that person. If, of course, I believed it. Maybe I would be biased not to.

            On the other hand, if they clearly had some kind of mental problem, I would urge caution and restraint. Maybe I would even try to hide it if I was sure there was a kind of treatment that could make sure they never kill again. That would probably be stupid, but maybe I would do it.

            Anyway, I’m not saying family attachments mean nothing to me, but there are some things that can revoke them. Most married people, for instance, are quick to divorce their spouses for something as “simple” as cheating on them. Let alone being a serial killer or a pedophile or something.

            And parents disowning children over, for instance, religious conflicts is perhaps reprehensible but not terribly uncommon. “I have no son.” Even in my family, my first cousin, once removed on my mother’s side was disowned for being gay—not by his parents but by some other relatives—who also stopped associating with his mother, who was their sister.

            Actually, one of my housemates’ father refuses to see her because she’s a lesbian. At least not unless she breaks up with her girlfriend.

            Those are just examples of how values, for good or bad, often overcome family ties.

          • Jiro says:

            Those are just examples of how values, for good or bad, often overcome family ties.

            Values overcoming family ties is not the same as values not being affected by family ties at all.

            There are certainly situations where I would prefer harm to Americans in order to help foreigners–for instance, if lots of foreigners were horribly tortured so that a TV show liked by Americans had a 0.001% greater chance of being renewed. Pretty much nobody is saying that foreigners or strangers don’t count at all compared to people closer to you; they just count less.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Jiro:

            I’m not saying family ties shouldn’t affect values at all. Maybe Ghatanathoah is.

        • Sastan says:

          I disagree with ghata, but this is a poor criticism.

          Sacrifice is not validated by the opinions of others. Sacrifice is the final arbiter of value. And the opinions of cultural traitors aren’t really relevant in any case. They are members of the outgroup. It would be like criticizing the Chinese (since we’re using them as the example today” for not sufficiently honoring French soldiers.

        • Anonymous says:

          They are willing to risk death for the chance to go to the middle east and kill people that were no threat to me to begin with. It remains to be seen if they’d be willing to risk death where it really mattered, or they’d go join the other side.

          C.f. “oath keepers”

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Does the term allies, even The Allies, mean anything to you?

      • Creutzer says:

        I’ve noticed this weird thing where people with nationalist views are totally incapable of conceiving of the idea that people could value foreigners and countrymen equally because they have vast amounts of fellow-feeling for both groups, rather than a lack of fellow-feeling for one.

        It’s not weird at all, it’s just the regular typical mind fallacy. Fellow-feeling for distant individuals is highly atypical, as far as humans go.

      • Sastan says:

        Totally incapable of conceiving? No. We conceived of it, measured the theory against non-nationalistic behavior, and found it wanting. See Scott’s “outgroup” posting. Non-nationalists try to shame fellow countrymen/culture members for celebrating the death of a great enemy, on grounds that no one should ever celebrate the death of a human being. Then, of course, they throw street parties to celebrate the death of a local politician with slightly different views than theirs.

        Humans are incapable of valuing everyone equally. If you don’t value your own group more, it means you are on the side of someone else. This “citizen of the world” malarky is just the rationalization for cultural treason.

        • Nita says:

          So far, I have’t seen a lot of evidence that nationalists are willing to die specifically for Scott or his values. I see a willingness to fight (and die) for what nationalists themselves value, where preserving Scott’s life would be only a side-effect. (Perhaps even an unfortunate side-effect, since apparently he’s a “cultural traitor”.)

          By this measure, Chinese people also have died “for” Scott in World War II.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            The whole thing is just a conflation of self-interest with some sort of collective tribal or racial interest. And an assumption of inherent conflict between races and tribes.

            Sure, almost all of the time, what is good for my fellow citizens is good for me. But also almost all of the time, what is good for the Chinese is good for me.

            If my fellow citizens misperceive their interests and support a policy aimed at harming the Chinese, it may quite well be in my interest to side with the Chinese against my fellow citizens.

            And if you say there are inherent conflicts of interests between nations or races, there is no reason those conflicts can’t cut through national or racial lines.

            Maybe it’s in the interest of productive and virtuous people of all races to band together against irrational and destructive racial collectivists of all races.

            And the idea that you are located inside family which is inside tribe which is inside nation which is inside race is simply ludicrous. What if an American woman marries a Chinese man? Family now cuts across those other lines. Of course, friendships and business relationships also cut across these lines.

            Or maybe we should punish race defilers, I don’t know.

            As for this argument that says: “When the Yugoslav Wars come to America, cross-ethnic ties will break down and then you’ll be sorry!” All I have to say to that is: that is a very good argument for making sure that the Yugoslav Wars do not come to America. You can hedge your bets and prepare for the apocalypse. Or you can go all-in on progress and prosperity.

          • windmill tilter says:

            > Sure, almost all of the time, what is good for my fellow citizens is good for me. But also almost all of the time, what is good for the Chinese is good for me.

            How do you define “good”? Money? Happiness? Respect?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ windmill tiller:

            Money and happiness, sure. Those were the things I meant.

            I’m not sure how “respect” fits into it. Having more respect more my fellow citizens / the Chinese means more respect for me? Less? Whose respect?

          • windmill tilter says:

            I’m thinking respect as in the feeling that I would like to be like someone. And that is zero-sum, but in a world where war is uncommon, it’s crucial because the main way that things will change is for the people in one country to see what folks in other countries have and to want it. (Right?) But the zero-sum aspect means what is good for the Chinese (meaning, what makes the world as a whole respect China) is, often, not good for you or your fellow citizens.

            You can question why we should care what other countries think. So we can consider a measure of National Awesomeness-the more a country has, the more people elsewhere want to be like that country. In this situation, given the assumptions above, the world will become more Awesome and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Even a country that supposedly does not care what other countries think may eventually find itself so eclipsed by others in Awesomeness that parts of its population start wanting to rebel or defect to other countries. So the only real question is which country can be the model of Awesomeness for the others, and so have the most power to influence final outcomes.

          • Sastan says:

            @ Nita

            Was your reply to me? I criticized Goldjet’s comment above. And I never called Scott a cultural traitor, in fact, I cited him as having noticed part of the phenomenon and written about it in his post.

            So……yeah, you appear to be arguing with someone else, I have no real reply to that.

      • Publius Varinius says:

        > I’ve noticed this weird thing where people with nationalist views are totally incapable of conceiving of the idea that people could value foreigners and countrymen equally because they have vast amounts of fellow-feeling for both groups, rather than a lack of fellow-feeling for one.

        The nationalists could have very well noticed this weird thing where people with internationalist views are totally incapable of conceiving of the idea that most foreigners don’t value them at all, and will never value them, and will kill them in the most horrible fashions as soon as they become rich enough to do so.

        What makes this especially weird is that internationalism tends to correlate with being afraid of hate groups…

        /s

        > Your suggestion that we should care more about those who would die for us leads to conclusions that I think you would find quite unpalatable if you thought them through.

        My real point: “weird” only signals your confusion. Instead of immediately erecting straw men based on single sentences, maybe you could pose some questions to the nationalists to find out what they actually believe.

        • Anonymous says:

          Who cares what nationalists believe? We’ve saw the consequences of their loathsome doctrines in the 20th century.

          • Randy M says:

            Yes, comrade, international socialism has proven to be vastly superior to national socialism.

            (No, I’m not saying socialism is the only possibility, I’m saying maybe he’s not controlling for the right variable)

          • Anonymous says:

            I see. The problem wasn’t with nationalism. They just didn’t implement it correctly.

            I’m sure we’ll get it right this time.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Randy M:

            International socialism really has never been tried. Not that I think it would work.

            In any case, nationalism is inherently collectivistic, so it’s unclear what kind of non-collectivist nationalism could be tried.

          • Randy M says:

            Um, wasn’t the USSR at least trying to be international socialists?

          • Protagoras says:

            The Soviet Union claimed to be trying to be international socialists. From at least the time Stalin took power, if not sooner, they were really just garden variety great power imperialist types, with a rationalization about as thinly veiled as any other great power imperialist types. The first and second international may have been international movements, but they never had much power. The third international was just an arm of the Soviet foreign service.

        • Friday says:

          The nationalists could have very well noticed this weird thing where people with internationalist views are totally incapable of conceiving of the idea that most foreigners don’t value them at all, and will never value them, and will kill them in the most horrible fashions as soon as they become rich enough to do so.

          Yes, that’s why you get polling results like this if you ask people in other countries whether they like the US or not. I’m going to guess that if some guy in Burkina Faso doesn’t care enough to say “Yeah, those guys suck”, he’s also not going to kill me “in the most horrible fashions”.

          I’m not unfavorably inclined towards nationalism, and I certainly think the US government should prioritize the well-being of American citizens, but this is just relentlessly silly.

          • windmill tilter says:

            That was an interesting link. I wonder how our standing in public opinion would be impacted by adopting a more bellicose foreign policy.

    • null says:

      Who is going to attack us and when?

      • Anonymous says:

        No one is going to attack us. But in order to justify extensive welfare and the opportunity for murders to murder without consequences, we need to pretend it is some noble endeavor.

      • Publius Varinius says:

        Nobody is going to attack the U.S. in the near future. That’s because they don’t have to: the U.S. has already shown, and is continuously showing, that it is completely unwilling and incapable of defending its allies.

        The allies themselves are not so lucky.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          We only care about our own country, right?

          So what’s the problem here? Are you now the internationalist saying we should sacrifice for foreigners?

          • Anonymous says:

            What ever it takes to justify war, because without war you can’t have real men.(tm)

          • Jiro says:

            No, we don’t “only care about our own country”. We care more about our own country than about foreigners, we don’t care zero about foreigners.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Jiro:

            Publius Varinius has laid out a position that seems to disregard the welfare of foreigners. That’s what I meant: we—according to him—care only about our own country.

            I don’t know about you.

            As for me, I care about foreigners in the same way that I care about countrymen: instrumentally insofar as they benefit me. So I care about my father more than some random guy in China.

            But I also care about a given hard-working Chinese more than I care about a given lazy American.

          • Jiro says:

            Publius Varinius has laid out a position that seems to disregard the welfare of foreigners.

            I don’t see him taking such a position here, if that means “consider them to be worth zero” rather than “consider them to be worth less”.

          • Aegeus says:

            Publius’s position, on its own, is consistent with valuing foreigners. But Goldjet’s comment is what started off the exchange, and if you believe, as he does, that the foreigners are just waiting to turn on us as soon as they become more powerful, then it’s questionable why you value foreigners at all.

            But most likely, Goldjet doesn’t believe that literally the entire world is out to get us, he believes that some nations are allies and some are enemies. So I think the correct question to ask is isn’t “Do you literally hate all foreigners,” it would be “What actions will make a foreigner our ally rather than our future enemy?”

            Or to put it more concretely: “If we have a billion-dollar trade deal with China, are they really going to ruin that by going to war with us?”

          • “Or to put it more concretely: “If we have a billion-dollar trade deal with China, are they really going to ruin that by going to war with us?””

            “”So I make a jest of Wonder, and a mock of Time and Space,
            “The roofless Seas an hostel, and the Earth a market-place,
            “Where the anxious traders know
            “Each is surety for his foe,
            “And none may thrive without his fellows’ grace.”

            http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/kipling/peace_of_dives.html

          • Publius Varinius says:

            Trigger warning: equating people to animals.*

            At one point, two brothers came upon an abandoned farm. The farm had several animals – a lot of chickens, some horses, and a couple of lion cubs.

            The younger brother said: we should build a stable for the horses, keep them well, and they’ll carry us on their backs. We should feed the birds, and they’ll give us their eggs. We should nurse the lion cubs as well, and in exchange, they will keep the pests and the wolves at bay.

            The older, wiser brother said: we should build a stable for the horses. We should feed the birds. However, we should kill the lion cubs, or let them starve: lions are dangerous animals, and they will maim us or kill us if we let them live.

            The younger brother retorted: look how cute these kittens are! I feel good about helping them, and It would be sad if they starved. Besides, they have no reason to harm us, since they prefer being fed to starving. I insist that we feed them.

            The years have passed, and the cubs grew up to form a beautiful lion pride. They really kept the mice at bay, and the wolves quickly learned to avoid the farm. That said, some of the cubs maimed and killed each other on the way, as lions often do.

            One fine day, the lions raided the chicken houses. The brothers agreed that they will no longer feed the lions, but the younger brother said that the lions were too big now, so it would be unwise to try and save the chickens.

            By the next morning, the pride finished with all the chicken houses, and they moved on to storm the stables. Their livelihood threatened, the brothers rushed to defend their horses, and were killed by the lions.

            @Straw Vox Imperatoris: So why does the older brother HATE ALL ANIMALS? And why does he want to build a stable for the horses?!

            * These posts do not explain my actual views, they are mostly meant to be explorations of idea-space, and should be understood as caricatures at best.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Publius Varinius:

            Are you saying we should nuke Iran? Nuke ISIS? Nuke Saudi Arabia?

            Because there’s no need to be so damn coy about it. Some people are lions who are going to kill us in our sleep. There’s no need to darkly hint. “Name the enemy.” Name what you want to do to eliminate that enemy.

            I don’t know if we ought to nuke ISIS, but I am in principle sympathetic to the idea that we need to eliminate regimes funding and supporting Islamism. I certainly don’t think we should maintain alliances with them, as in the case of Saudi Arabia: I think that’s a typical example of range-of-the-moment pragmatism.

            I think we should not be reckless, we should be careful not to intervene in ways that are going to make things worse—but we should take whatever measures are necessary to ensure American self-defense and, to the extent that it’s compatible with our self-interest, the spread of freedom around the world.

            The folks at The Objective Standard are kind of…absurdly over-belligerent and frankly callous, but at least they don’t just hint. They say we should launch total war against these regimes.

            But none of that implies that we shouldn’t take in refugees fleeing that enemy. Or that American freedoms need to be restricted. Or that we have to invoke the principle of collective sacrifice or conscript unwilling people into the military to “die for us”.

            America has overwhelming military force and the capability to destroy any enemy without having one solider set foot on the ground. We don’t need more collectivism or more sacrifice. The only thing we need is a principled foreign policy based on protecting individual rights and the values of modernity.

            However, the enemy we’re fighting is an ideology and a religion. Not a race. So analogies involving lions are less than useless; they are actively harmful. They represent the same kind of anti-Enlightenment barbarism that must be fought.

          • Publius Varinius says:

            > But none of that implies that we shouldn’t take in refugees fleeing that enemy.

            I thought the debate was about whether we should trade with countries (or send money and opportunities their way, which is what Scott talks about in the article) countries that will grow up to be “murderous lions”, or let them starve. In fact, the chicken house was explicitly intended to be an metaphor for the Russian occupation of the Crimea.

            I don’t recall saying anything about refugees.

            > America has overwhelming military force and the capability to destroy any enemy without having one solider set foot on the ground.

            The U.S. has no such capabiity. The only capability that comes close is deploying the ICBMs which are completely useless for “defending the stables” (not to say that some of the lion cubs have them as well).

            The U.S. population had no will to sustain a ground force of 100,000 in Iraq, even though doing so would have been vital for U.S. interests. The U.S. population had no will to provide the protection they promised to Ukraine. Like heroin addicts, the people of the U.S. were happy to give up long term happiness for short term convenience. From my perspective, what the U.S. needs is precisely more nationalism and more collective sacrifice.

          • windmill tilter says:

            > it would be “What actions will make a foreigner our ally rather than our future enemy?”

            Or, does being cosmopolitan influence other countries to be more cosmopolitan? The most obvious negative reply here does not involve countries coming to kill us later. We have nuclear weapons. A more promising negative is that we make ourselves worse off and even if that helps China, the other countries in the world (possibly including China later on) say, look at these idiots who are now worse off, let’s not be like them, cosmopolitan values are harmful. And so we actually push them against free trade (or at least weaken ourselves to no end), because they want to act in ways that benefit themselves, whatever those are.

    • If you insist on discounting the moral worth of aid (I don’t, but ok) consider that governments often use aid to assist with national diplomatic and cooperative objectives that serve their national interest. And also, some people that you help, not all, but enough, might actually really appreciate it and be inclined to support your country and its way of life at a later date. Regarding nerds, in an age where conflict usually involves a lot of technology, maybe a bunch of nerds aren’t necessarily too bad to have around? Most people (myself included) don’t really get the full reality of conflict, but that’s certainly not a problem limited to nerds, its just the unfortunate reality of living in a specialized society where no-one really understands the first thing about what other people do for a living.

    • JBeshir says:

      It’s okay. We absolutely intend to infect them with our decadent Western values, too. 😛

      Chinese people have distributed, varied opinions like people of any other nationality, and like people of any other nationality most of them are decent. The few I’ve known have all been polite and nice, although that probably speaks more for the filtering imposed by the circles I run in. They will not be clamouring for their government to use its wealth to invade and exploit people just because they can in any manner different in kind to that which happens in the West.

      Plus, while cosmopolitanism is probably less common outside of the West, it’s massively on the rise worldwide. With the Internet, it’s increasingly hard to *not* encounter members of other nations and learn to regard them as human/ingroup. The Anglosphere is basically undergoing a full cultural merger (my feelings about this are mixed), and projects and goals and groups and subcultures are basically all international in a way that’s not been possible to nearly such a degree before. Language barriers reduce the effect, but technology threatens to effectively eliminate those.

      Tomorrow’s Chinese government might be less cosmopolitan-driven than tomorrow’s US government, but it is probably better than the US government was earlier in the 20th century. It wouldn’t go ridiculously exploitative on the basis of military force and nothing alone. And even if it wanted to, it isn’t like everyone is suggesting impoverishing the West, and population differences wouldn’t be enough to create the kind of force imbalance needed for that kind of military supremacy.

      Also, as has been pointed out by others, war is a massive expense for little gain in the 21st century. No one is going to do it out of selfishness, except in the proxy war way the US and Russia were fighting each other at best. Selfish people will be clamouring for the money to stay home and build nice things, as they mostly are in the West, not for insanely expensive and infeasible land wars a ridiculous distance away.

      And billions of people living longer by letting them get something more like the Western standard of living is at stake, and we aren’t going to throw them to the wolves just to mitigate niggling doubts without evidence.

      • windmill tilter says:

        There was a lot of economic integration before WWI but it still happened. And, that war does not produce economic gain does not show that war will not happen. Countries may desire prestige (or glory) instead.

    • anonymous user says:

      If you hate nerds so much, stop being one, nerd.

    • Anonymous says:

      Scott no longer bothers to hide the fact that he has so little fellow-feeling for Americans …

      You can’t think of any better method of choosing your 300,000,000 closest pals than that they dropped out of their mothers on the same side of an invisible line as you?

      What do you need 300,000,000 pals for anyway?

      • Randy M says:

        Birthright citizenship is pretty silly, isn’t it? Still, a schelling point is s schelling point, even without the fence.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          We will build a fence, and you know who’s gonna pay for the fence? Schelling!

          • brad says:

            Let’s dispense once and for all with this fiction that Thomas Schelling doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows EXACTLY what he’s doing.

          • anonymous user says:

            Underrated post

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Scott, smiling, had asked Thomas Schelling what level he played at, and Thomas Schelling, also smiling, had responded, One level higher than you.)

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Yeah, this post pissed me off, too. Reminds me of when Eliezer Yudkowsky retweeted this tweet by Robin Hanson.

  82. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Wouldn’t the Coasian thing be to identify the people who would become unemployed by the free trade fact, and then keep them floating at their current income level with some kind of wage boost?

    Find them new jobs that probably aren’t as good as their old jobs, and then subsidize them up to the prior level, until they hit retirement age. Finance this with the tremendous gains we got from free trade.

  83. Gerry Quinn says:

    I find it very plausible that wealth doesn’t make us happy. Surely we evolved to be hungry, and wealth stops us being hungry. Wealth insulates us from life’s dramas and limitations, and we evolved to deal with life’s dramas and limitations. Wealth means the only possible change is for the worse, while if you’re poor you could win the lotto. When you have good medical care and a safe existence, every day lived is a step closer to the grave – whereas if life is risky and short, every day is a victory and a gift.

  84. Azure says:

    Given that the first linked analysis mentions gains to multinational corporations, and another analysis of similar work I read mentioned a net gain to the US favoring stockholders and other investors, I’d rather try coupling trade agreements with poor countries together with redistribution (mostly job training, unemployment insurance, and wage insurance). Ultimately that won’t solve the long term work shortage, but it should ease the shock.

    Also if we limit trade with poorer countries we run the risk of having jobs taken by machines instead of poor people.

  85. windmill tilter says:

    Global egalitarianism is a nonstarter IMHO. BTW, has anyone read Thomas Nagel on “The Problem of Global Justice”? I have not really read it, but it seemed like a serious attempt to develop a non-cosmopolitan philosophy

  86. blacktrance says:

    The only plausible way I see development failing to increase happiness is that the increase in wealth is offset by some change in lifestyle/work patterns/etc that is preventing people from enjoying their wealth. I’ve seen the decline in women’s happiness explained by women working more because they do housework in addition to their work outside the home, and something similar may be happening here. But other than that, the idea that wealth doesn’t increase happiness is so implausible that any study that finds this is much more likely to have something wrong with its calculation of happiness. Do we really think we are no happier for having plumbing, washing machines, and so on?

    • onyomi says:

      I think maybe we don’t think we’re happier, even if our daily lived experience is, in fact easier, more entertaining, etc.

      For example, if, today, you drove a car with no stereo or AC, had a tiny black and white TV, had one land line and no cell phone, as well as no computer or internet, you’d probably feel, basically, that your life sucks. But 50 or 60 years ago that would not only have been normal, you might have rated yourself as doing rather well.

    • Deiseach says:

      Do we really think we are no happier for having plumbing, washing machines, and so on?

      Depends if you never had them and then got them, versus if you always had them.

      Hands up everyone here who grew up, or at least had a substantial period of their childhood, without running water?

      I am very damn grateful and happy to have water coming out of a tap in my house (which is why I pay my water charges; the complete steaming pile of slurry mess the government made out of introducing and implementing them is quite another matter).

      I’ve done the “going with a bucket to the pump four fields away for water” bit, and I am grateful not to do it any more, thank you very much. (Though that is not to say there weren’t benefits; my father pointing out wild strawberries and a wren’s nest and the primroses in the ditches as we walked up the boreen was lovely time together. But hauling buckets over and back at the age of six is not an experience I want every kid to have).

      But all you who grew up with hot and cold running water as a thing, a thing so usual and accepted and indeed even expected that you don’t even think about it – how happy does indoor plumbing make you? Would you put it down on a survey – “happy because I have a sink in my kitchen”? 🙂

      • blacktrance says:

        Just because I wouldn’t put it down in a survey doesn’t mean it doesn’t make me happy, it only means that it’s not salient as something that makes me happy. Compare to food and water – relatively few people would list them (in their generic form) as a source of happiness, but they’d quickly be unhappy without them.
        I expect that what immediately comes to mind when one thinks of what makes one’s life good is only a small fraction of what actually makes it good.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          One thing I do all the time is just sit back and think about how great it is that I can have a particular given thing so cheaply and easily. I’ll look at a pepper grinder or a bag of sugar and think back on how expensive these things were in the past.

          And I’m always very skeptical of people who predict doom and gloom for the future. Books like Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist are very good in that vein.

          I think having a positive outlook like this is very helpful. If there were some independent reasons causing people to have a more negative outlook, that could be a confounder causing happiness to decrease at the same time material progress as such increases it. I don’t know exactly why this would be the case in China—but it could have something to do with loss of faith in socialism without having any ideal to replace it.

      • Loquat says:

        Losing indoor plumbing would definitely make me UNhappier, but absent a credible threat of losing it (or a recent sojourn into the unplumbed wilderness – one of many reasons I don’t go camping) it’s not something I actively think about as contributing to my happiness.

    • Anon. says:

      Here’s a plausible mechanism: reproductive success is based on _relative_ fitness within a reference group. As Heffetz & Frank (2009) put it: “a specific trait will thus be favored by natural selection less because it facilitates resource acquisition in absolute terms than because it confers an advantage in relative terms”. This is why Hamiltonian Spite is a thing.

      Happiness is our internal motivation mechanism, so it makes total sense that it’s driven by relative rather than absolute standards.

      Even Capuchin monkeys care about relative wealth, this is some deeply hard-wired stuff: https://www.emory.edu/LIVING_LINKS/publications/articles/Brosnan_deWaal_2003.pdf

      So: if you have plumbing but your neighbours don’t, that makes you happier. And this is exactly what Easterlin shows.

    • Cadie says:

      This is a possibility, and probably explains at least a part of it. The amount of work one needs to do expands to fill most of the time available; if you have washing machines, you’re expected to maintain a much higher level of clothing cleanliness etc. than if you don’t, so the amount of work you get to eliminate is less than one would naively expect. The work is easier, no doubt, but you have to wash your sheets, clothes, towels, and the like much more often than before. With housework this is a big thing – the richer you are and the more additional appliances/etc. you have, the higher the standard of cleanliness goes.

      I’ve found something that helps increase my happiness and reduce stress, at least a little bit, but it’s something most people probably won’t like: dropping my overall standard of living / class one level. I live in an area and housing situation that’s a little bit poorer than I could afford at maximum, and in general, I live like my neighbors. Yet I have a bit more money and mobility than most of them. So I’m not pressured into the level of status-seeking that my job and income would suggest (which is sort of on the border of working class and lower middle class); I’m in a lower working-class area, and it’s much easier for me to maintain those standards with more time left over and a little bit of money saved for emergencies and entertainment. I can go out to the store in jeans with frayed hems, a baggy sweatshirt, and no makeup and nobody gives a rat’s ass. I don’t have to wash my car weekly. It’s just so much easier, once I found a reasonably safe place to stay that’s close to work.

      I think people are better off with more money, but once you pass the point that your basic needs are taken care of efficiently, the remaining income tends to get swallowed up in things like paying more for housing, spending more on transportation and clothes, private education for the kids, expensive travel, etc. that are socially required to move about in that income bracket and maintain status within it. If you’d get more happiness out of having extra time and being able to spend more on hobbies, gifts, etc. than the more expensive Stuff and specific activities your equal-income peers do, and you’re past the basic-needs level, it may be worthwhile to downgrade yourself a level so you can keep up with your surrounding peers and have time and money to spare.

      I doubt most of the Chinese are at the point where nearly all of them have decent food and housing and the like, but even then standards and personal expectations do rise as income rises and this might offset SOME of the happiness benefits of more income.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        This is why I’m tentatively in favor of a 20-hour (or 21-hour) workweek and a return to single-income households. If Moloch is going to force us to waste all of our extra income on positional goods, then constraining ourselves from trading more of our lives for income than necessary might be a good idea.

        • anonymous says:

          imo “make” vs “force” is a relevant distinction here. Make being closer to cause, and force being closer to hold a gun to one’s head, which doesn’t happen in this context.

          One may in fact personally be forced if one (speaking loosely and insensitively) can’t resist such pressure, but describing the pressure as forcing people is kind of a self fulfilling label, -if it’s a forcing level of coercion then there’s no “dishonour” in going along with and resisting is a pipe dream. So in terms of “logical politeness”, I think forcing is the wrong word, unless the alternatives have similar problems.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            The only things you have to do are die and pay taxes. Everything else is optional.

      • blacktrance says:

        Expensive travel, spending a lot on transportation and clothes, and washing your car weekly are “socially required to move about in that income bracket”? If so, this income bracket must be rather high (above upper-middle class) or it also involves norms that only exist outside of regions I’ve lived (the South and California), because I’ve never experienced anything close to it.

        • Nornagest says:

          Conspicuous consumption norms are really culture-specific, and I don’t just mean regional culture. Take clothing for example; the standard expected of you is very different if you’re an engineer vs. working in, say, marketing or finance. Same goes for cars, though the rules are slightly different there.

          And I work on the infamously casual West Coast. In most of the rest of the country, the differences would be even more marked.

  87. akarlin says:

    Happiness is overrated.

  88. Dr Dealgood says:

    expjpi and Thomas Redding already mentioned preventable deaths dropping with increased wealth, but I think the point can be made more clearly:

    Assuming World Life Expectancy dot com is correctly reporting the WHO, in 2014 India had a rate of deaths attributed to malnutrition of 4.39 in one hundred thousand while China has a rate of 0.39. Four in one hundred thousand over an estimated 1.26 billion Indians comes out to 50,400 lives saved. I haven’t looked at other causes of death, but it would surprise me if most of them didn’t follow that pattern. Third world poverty is a lot more deadly than poverty here.

    [EDITED because I dropped a zero in the mortality rate originally and only caught it when I sanity-checked the numbers. The number is actually way less impressive than the original 48K lives. Oops.]

    [EDITED AGAIN because I actually got the right order of magnitude the first time, even with the wrong death rate. Somehow… I need to go to sleep.]

    Even if average happiness stays the same, having more people alive at that level of happiness still sounds like it should count for something. And since fertility rates in wealthy nations drop like a stone nowadays you are unlikely to run into the Repugnant Conclusion by looking at total utility in this case.

    (In real life, I don’t support globalization. Saving lives in other countries at the expense of Americans should not be the priority of our government. But then again I’m also not a utilitarian or an EA so my preferences aren’t terribly important here.)

    • JBeshir says:

      Agree with this, as someone who *does* aspire to effective altruism, and is inclined to think in terms of a a modified two-level utilitarianism with virtues, habits, norms, practices instead of rules that I think of as “way consequentialism”.

      This post raises some interesting questions about measures of happiness, but doesn’t wipe out enough of the various benefits to non-Westerners to put the preferred policy in doubt for me.

  89. Long-time lurker, first-time poster here.

    First, I would stress economic developed is strongly correlated with life-expectancy, and if you think this is because economic development causes people to live longer, this (presumably) is a good thing.

    Second, this whole issue is probably solved by Eliezer Yudkowsky’s idea of Coherent Extrapolated Volition. To summarize atrociously briefly: the “utility” of doing something is the value the people we wish we were would place on it. So, if the people we wish we were think its good that we watch TV X hours per day, presumably, it is good. At least in the sense in that it increases utility, you’d of course have to aggregate these utilities in some way…

    • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

      CEV has problems, but I agree it’s way better than just trying to maximize happiness. *shudder*

  90. NN says:

    If people got genuine enjoyment from driving drunk at 95 mph while shouting “WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”, was there any reason to make them stop, since they weren’t really hurting anybody?

    Unless they actually kill someone, or themselves.

  91. Vox Imperatoris says:

    The economist George Reisman has some very interesting things to say in relation to this, in his chapter of Capitalism where he talks about wealth and “unlimited need and desire” for it. I recommend reading the whole chapter (Chapter 2, pg. 39), but here is the section titled “Progress and Happiness”:

    The fact that the need and desire for wealth are limitless does not mean that when people devote themselves to satisfying that need and desire, as in the nations of modern capitalism, they go through life with a sense of endless frustration, seeking more than they can ever hope to obtain. The normal man, if he lacks an automobile, does not actively desire a yacht. He actively desires merely an automobile. His desire for a yacht lies dormant until such time as he already has acquired one or more high-quality automobiles. The limitless desire for wealth, in other words, becomes active only step by step. It manifests itself in an active desire for things that are merely one or two steps beyond our reach at the moment. It leads us to exert ourselves and extend our reach. And then, as we succeed, desires previously dormant become active, or totally new desires are formed, and we are led to exert ourselves and extend our reach still further. Thus, the limitless desire for wealth impels us steadily to advance.

    Oriental philosophy and some schools of thought in the contemporary Western world claim that the fact that our desires will always be a step ahead of our possessions shows the futility of our efforts—that, instead, we should seek to rid ourselves of our desires and be content forever with some minimum of wealth. Such teachings are utterly mistaken, and their influence helps to account for the stagnation and poverty that exist in the world. They view the excess of our desires over our possessions as a source of discontent and unhappiness. Actually, this excess is the root of our ambitiousness and our rising to meet challenges. It is what impels us to progress, and, as such, is an essential element of our happiness.

    It should be realized that as rational beings we are also progressive beings. Progress is the corollary of the continuous application of reason. Any individual who continues to use reason—who continues to think—necessarily comes to know more and more, and thus to be capable of accomplishing more and more. If a society is characterized by continuous thinking from generation to generation, and if its educational system works—that is, if it succeeds in transmitting to the rising generation the essentials of the knowledge discovered by all the preceding generations—then the general body of knowledge in the society is progressive, and thus the society as a whole is capable of accomplishing more and more. Progress is the natural result of the use of reason as a constant.

    If our happiness depends on living in accordance with our nature as rational beings, then our happiness and progress are inseparably connected. The fact that our desires will always be ahead of our ability to satisfy them is not a cause of unhappiness. It is the inducement to the steady exercise of our reason, to our living in accordance with our nature, which is indispensable to our happiness. Our happiness does not come from the existence of desires satisfied, but from the steady upward climb itself—from the process of continuing to think and solve problems and to become capable of accomplishing more and more. In other words, progress is a source of happiness. In the lives of scientists, inventors, businessmen, engineers, and managers, progress is the obvious focal point of thinking, planning, and problem solving. It is also what necessitates that the average worker make himself capable of continuing to think and learn throughout his life, so that he can acquire the new skills necessary to adapt to the changing requirements of production. Thus, progress is what helps to elevate even the average man of modern Western civilization into a thinking, literate being possessing an intellectual life incomparably superior to that of previous eras. If happiness depends on the possession of a sound, active mind, progress fosters happiness.

    A further aspect of the connection between progress, reason, and happiness must be mentioned. As rational beings, we are able to be aware of the future: the future has reality for us in the present. To be able to look forward to a better future enables us to bear considerable hardship in the present without complaint, even cheerfully. But to look to a future of unrelieved hardship, or, worse, a future that holds out the prospect of even greater hardship, makes hardship in the present more difficult, if not impossible, to bear. Indeed, the prospect of impoverishment in the future deprives one of the ability to derive pleasure even from the possession of substantial wealth in the present, for the shadow of such a future must hang over whatever enjoyment one might have in the present. Thus, the prospect of progress, as well as the process of achieving it, contributes to our happiness.

    I always thought this was one of the most interesting things I’ve read on the nature of happiness. It’s certainly in stark contrast to not only primitivist types but also the kinds of conservatives who talk about “natural limits” on wealth. The rest of the chapter is interesting as well.

    Of course, it’s all armchair reasoning. Yet it seems very plausible to me.

    It addresses a lot of the typical objections that wealth doesn’t improve happiness because he’s basically arguing that it’s not the amount of wealth that matters (for the most part) but the rate of increase. So if we have a constant rate of growth, we should have a constant level of happiness (all else equal). Except to the extent that progress enables the common man to have an “incomparably superior” intellectual life, in which case potential happiness increases over time.

    • Frog Do says:

      “Any individual who continues to use reason—who continues to think—necessarily comes to know more and more, and thus to be capable of accomplishing more and more.”
      This seems obviously wrong. Are old scientists accomplishing more than young?

      There seems to be a clear natural limit on wealth in the sense of things you can know and hold in your head at one time, the amount of information you can teach before competition forces you to specialize and sacrifice huge areas of knowledge.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        “Any individual who continues to use reason—who continues to think—necessarily comes to know more and more, and thus to be capable of accomplishing more and more.”
        This seems obviously wrong. Are old scientists accomplishing more than young?

        I think this is confounded by factors like older scientists losing mental acuity or motivation and drive. Which perhaps he should have indicated, but if he means it in an all else equal sense…

        There seems to be a clear natural limit on wealth in the sense of things you can know and hold in your head at one time, the amount of information you can teach before competition forces you to specialize and sacrifice huge areas of knowledge.

        Sure, there’s a limit (I assume you meant on knowledge, not wealth) to how much you can hold in your head at one time. I don’t think that’s really relevant, though. You can write stuff down. If only you had enough time (and were as smart as the smartest geniuses in each field), you could rediscover every field of knowledge from scratch. Spend a few centuries on mathematics then a few on physics then biology then back to mathematics and so on.

        Competition doesn’t “force” you to “sacrifice” areas of knowledge. The division of labor simply means that, instead of each scientist trying to do everything, each one can do something different and be an expert on that one little thing, coming to know more and more about it and learning to do more and more with it.

        One interesting idea he brings up (or maybe Hayek, or maybe he got it from Hayek) is that you can basically think of the division of labor as a way of vastly multiplying the collective knowledge of the human race. Under subsistence agriculture, almost everyone knows only how to do the exact same thing: farm crops. Duplication of knowledge approaches 100% (with exceptions, of course). Under maximal division of labor, there is no duplication of knowledge. Nobody knows how to do anything somebody else knows how to do. At least, they don’t know it for the purpose of production; they may learn it for the purpose of intellectual stimulation.

        • Frog Do says:

          Well yeah, but there’s a limit on time, and even if there wasn’t, probably a limit on memory. If we all lived forever with perfect recall this wouldn’t be a problem, but I don’t see how that’s relavent. And before you say it, societies don’t live forever with perfect recall either (no, “writing things down” doesn’t count), and even then there’s the search problem on the exponentially growing category “past knowledge”.

          And competition definitely forces you to sacrifice areas of knowledge, I know this first-hand from the very, very bright magnet school kids I mentor in STEM research projects. A significant portion of them stopped reading fiction, or appreciating art, or doing any non-STEM-course related activity after about the age of 12. They’re hyper-focused on one particular part of the human experience, sure, but I’m not sure I’d call it an “possessing an intellectual life incomparably superior to that of previous eras”, given that these kids would have probably been priest caste in previous eras, also (academics being priest caste in our era).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Well yeah, but there’s a limit on time, and even if there wasn’t, probably a limit on memory. If we all lived forever with perfect recall this wouldn’t be a problem, but I don’t see how that’s relavent. And before you say it, societies don’t live forever with perfect recall either (no, “writing things down” doesn’t count), and even then there’s the search problem on the exponentially growing category “past knowledge”.

            There’s no reason why people can’t eventually live forever, in the colloquial sense of “indefinitely”. And obviously there are theoretical limits on information storage. I don’t see how that’s really relevant, though.

            All he is saying is that, to the extent that there remains more to know, we can come to know more and more over time.

            And competition definitely forces you to sacrifice areas of knowledge, I know this first-hand from the very, very bright magnet school kids I mentor in STEM research projects. A significant portion of them stopped reading fiction, or appreciating art, or doing any non-STEM-course related activity after about the age of 12. They’re hyper-focused on one particular part of the human experience, sure, but I’m not sure I’d call it an “possessing an intellectual life incomparably superior to that of previous eras”, given that these kids would have probably been priest caste in previous eras, also (academics being priest caste in our era).

            There are a lot more academics now than there were equivalently educated people before. So the proper comparison for most of them should be to peasants or something. The “incomparably superior” part is in reference to those sorts of people.

            But more importantly, competition doesn’t force anybody to sacrifice these areas of knowledge. Vastly more people now have the means, if they so chose, to study the exact same material and learn the same amount as your average renaissance man. It is no longer possible to know everything simply because there is more to know. But more people can know the same amount of information, and the information they can know is of higher quality. Collectively, the body of information increases.

            Sure, if you want to be a top scientist on the cutting edge of the field, you might have to exclusively dedicate yourself to that (though not necessarily; they do have leisure pursuits). But you don’t have to be a top scientist if you don’t want to. “Cutthroat competition” doesn’t exterminate everybody who doesn’t get a job at Harvard. You can get a job with regular hours, maybe outside of academia altogether, and dedicate your free time to learning all you can about many different fields of science. It is far easier than ever to retire early so that you can even be a gentleman scientist full time.

            There are two senses of “competition” that people conflate all the time. There is intense competition to be the best. You have to work harder now to earn the highest profits or produce the most research than you did in the past with fewer people in the running. But there is not more intense competition to have a place at all, in the “struggle for survival” sense. It’s just the opposite: more people now can survive on less work than ever before.

          • Frog Do says:

            Okay, so we’re dealing with immortals and not considering storage limits with no penalties for searching information. I was confused, I thought we were talking about people.

            There’s a whole lot of … convenience… in the rest of your post. We can’t compare top class people now to top class people back then, we can only compare them to peasants. Yes, people are able to study the same sorts of things as the Renaissance, pay no attention to the structure of society and incentives, it’s possible, that’s all that matters. And then all of the sudden we’re dealing with “the collective”? Aren’t you an Objectivist? And sure, people can also not compete, but, well, they do, it’s not like choices are made from behind a veil of ignorance or something. Or is this another situation where “people” translates to “immortal perfect future predicitors with infinite memory and instantaneous search time”?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Frog Do:

            Honestly, I don’t understand what exactly you are driving at with your random objections. Maybe you should state your grievance more clearly.

            There’s a whole lot of … convenience… in the rest of your post. We can’t compare top class people now to top class people back then, we can only compare them to peasants.

            I never said we can’t compare top people today to top people back then. But if you define all “academics” as the “top”, then the “top” has gotten a lot bigger.

            In general, life has improved much more for the poor than for the rich. I don’t dispute that. Yet I would prefer to be rich today than rich in 1500, though. I would certainly prefer to be poor today than poor in 1500. I would even prefer to be poor today than rich in 1500.

            Yes, people are able to study the same sorts of things as the Renaissance, pay no attention to the structure of society and incentives, it’s possible, that’s all that matters.

            What are you trying to say? That it was easier to have a broad base of knowledge back then? That such a thing was available to more people? Because it wasn’t.

            And then all of the sudden we’re dealing with “the collective”? Aren’t you an Objectivist?

            The point is that the body of knowledge distributed among everyone increases over time. Are you really objecting to that? I am not arguing that there is a special collective entity.

            Okay, so we’re dealing with immortals and not considering storage limits with no penalties for searching information. I was confused, I thought we were talking about people.

            Again, I don’t understand what you are trying to get at.

            Yes, if you live for a finite amount of time, there is a certain limit to how much you can learn before you die. Do you think I’m disputing that? Do you think Reisman is disputing that?

            All he is saying is that, within whatever span of time people live, they are capable of learning more and more as they come to think more and more. It is possible that they might record and forget some of their old knowledge to make way for new knowledge. That is not incompatible with the idea that they are learning more and more over time. They are still discovering new things.

            I didn’t say anything about perfect recall.

            I don’t think the idea that people might live for an indefinite period of time plays any role in this argument. I just mentioned it because you randomly brought it up. I don’t see why you say that people who live for an indefinite span of time would not be human beings.

            And sure, people can also not compete, but, well, they do, it’s not like choices are made from behind a veil of ignorance or something.

            The people who want to compete can compete. Presumably, they enjoy it.

            The people who don’t want to compete don’t have to compete. For instance, I enjoy playing videogames. I don’t compete to be the best in the world at any of them. I don’t care about that.

            You don’t have to become some kind of drone who never thinks about anything else in order to have a normal career. As productivity increases, the amount of time you have to spend working and thinking about work in order to support yourself decreases, not increases.

          • Frog Do says:

            I object further! My objections are pretty clear, given that I quoted where we disagree and am clearly referring to you comments.

            Given that IIRC this is the second time it’s happened, we’re talking past each other. I will say that you can usually assume commenters here have heard of this thing called “economics”, and repeating talking points from Intro to Micro like some kind of catechism leads me to believe you’re not really interested in engagement. I’ll refrain from bothering in the future.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Frog Do:

            Your objections are not at all clear.

            I get that you have some vague distaste for capitalism and the division of labor. But that’s all I’m getting from you.

            You say things like “competition definitely forces you to sacrifice areas of knowledge”, I say it doesn’t. You insist it does anyway. I resort to “Intro to Micro” to explain more laboriously why it doesn’t. You say I’m just telling you what you already know. Okay, if you know it, you haven’t displayed any signs.

          • Rabidchaos says:

            Keep in mind that judging people’s ability to be competitive whilst maintaining broad interests from 12-year-olds’ abilities to do so is liable to have errors creep in from the differences between the students’ priorities and their parents’. From what I remember of the top students from my high school, they were mostly being pushed extremely hard by their parents to achieve scholastic excellence, rather than to expand their mind / learn more about the world. This lead to them expending almost all of their time on schoolwork. They wanted to do more enjoyable things like read fiction, but had barely any time to do so.

    • Acedia says:

      They view the excess of our desires over our possessions as a source of discontent and unhappiness. Actually, this excess is the root of our ambitiousness and our rising to meet challenges.

      The second sentence is phrased as if the author believes it contradicts the claims in the first sentence, but they seem perfectly in harmony to me. Where else would ambition come from, if not discontent?

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        The desire to achieve happiness?

        Eliminating suffering—the goal of the philosophies to which he is alluding—is not the same as achieving happiness.

        • Acedia says:

          I guess the problem’s with my definition of discontent then, because “I could be happier than I am now” sounds like discontentment to me.

          • Deiseach says:

            Yeah, but everybody could be happier than they are now. If you find the Happiest Person In The World, even they could presumably be that little bit happier (maybe they hate broccoli but it’s so good for health, if only they liked broccoli, they would be even happier than they are now where they eat broccoli but hate it).

            “My life is so great, I wish I could live to be a thousand to enjoy even more of it! Oops, no, mortality – damn, now I’m a little less happy!”

            That’s not really much of a helpful definition if we’re trying to work out if people are miserable or discontented.

            Discontent can spur you on to emulation (“People think Raphael is such a great artist, well I’m going to beat him by working really hard and producing even better paintings!”) or envy (“I’ll never be as good as Raphael no matter how hard I work, it’s not fair he has that talent, I wish he’d go blind or have his hands cut off or something, then I’d be Number One Artist”).

            One may not make you unhappy, but the other certainly will.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Acedia:

            All we have here is the difference between “lack of the maximum quantity of positive feelings” and “the positive presence of negative feelings”.

            Suppose you’re in a state of complete equanimity: you are neither happy nor unhappy, just nothing at all. You don’t have any negative feelings. But you also don’t have any positive feelings.

            The Buddhistic renunciation view says that you should strive for the state of equanimity where you have neither joy nor suffering. The kind of view Reisman is advocating is that you should maximize joy minus suffering.

    • Nero tol Scaeva says:

      “The normal man, if he lacks an automobile, does not actively desire a yacht. He actively desires merely an automobile. His desire for a yacht lies dormant until such time as he already has acquired one or more high-quality automobiles”

      IIRC, this is one of the premises behind the Eightfold Path in Buddhism. Desire leads to unhappiness precisely because it repeats on itself once what is desired is achieved: Unhappiness is the stack overflow of recursive desire.

      I’m pretty sure everyone here is familiar with the paradox of choice. People seem to be happier when they have less to choose from. One crazy example of this is that women were happier when they had fewer rights.

      The other side of this is that people seem to revert back to their baseline happiness after a change. This might be the reason why arranged marriages are just as happy as marriages based on romance.

      Or maybe the reason for all of this is that happiness is a terrible metric to use.

      • NN says:

        The other side of this is that people seem to revert back to their baseline happiness after a change.

        Um, Scott posted a link in this very essay that explained that this is a myth.

        This might be the reason why arranged marriages are just as happy as marriages based on romance.

        I can think of a few reasons for this. Perhaps it is a matter of simple expectations. People in arranged marriages know that they got married to that person for pragmatic reasons, so they won’t panic after the initial infatuation inevitably fades. Or maybe older and more experienced people are simply better qualified to determine whether a couple would make a good marriage than young people in an emotionally compromised state (because how else can you describe “being in love”?).

        • “Or maybe older and more experienced people are simply better qualified to determine whether a couple would make a good marriage than young people in an emotionally compromised state (because how else can you describe “being in love”?).”

          Temporary insanity perhaps?

        • anonymous says:

          “a bit of a lark”?

          I don’t think the idea of a happiness set points that people often return to is completely a myth. I think the idea that this is a universal or necessary thing is nonsense but if someone is extremely used to being a certain level of happy their future happiness might bounce back to that point, one way or another. I’ve no idea how prevalent that is but the basic concept seems sound.

          I think people going into an arranged marriage, not imaging that they are one another’s soulmates, are less likely to think they can read each other’s minds. They’re also imo actually “in it together” in a way that a couple that gets married by choice isn’t -they’ve been thrown into this situation, and the success of the arranged marriage is clearly dependent on how they approach it. They’re just a couple of people that have to get on with each other. I think that’s a pretty solid foundation for a marriage.

          I’m not saying arranged marriages are good btw, I don’t know what the institution tends to be like in the real world, but I think the principle of the thing is far superior to the western model, -if one accounts for the disney just believe and everything will be ok, no, will be perfect, nonsense. Maybe there’s some worse nonsense attached to arranged marriage but even if I granted that people choose their partners well, which I don’t, the structure of the arrangement is such that it starts with people pushing themselves to get on with each other, rather than starting by people picking someone, usually by who they deem impressive or exciting rather than who they get along best with. But the whole disneyplex of expectations for marriage can ruin even the latter.

          Then again western marriage looks pretty awesome if one just focuses on its best points as I’m probably doing for arranged marriage just because I feel its unfairly dismissed as a concept.

  92. Jiro says:

    Maybe every way economists have hitherto measured happiness is hopelessly deficient, and there’s some ineffable essence of happiness which, if we could get at it, would increase during national development.

    I think this is another case of utilitarianism not handling blissful ignorance. Relatively poor but absolutely richer people are for various reasons are more aware of how bad life is–they may have greater access to media showing rich people, they may encounter more corruption because they actually do things that the authorities can interfere with and have money that the authorities can take, they may understand democracy better and see how their government falls short of it, etc. If you measure happiness and don’t have a way to exclude blissful ignorance, the fact that they know how poor they are and are thus less happy would count as a point against this society.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      Excluding blissful ignorance just on principle seems misguided.

      The question is whether ignorance is truly blissful. If it is, then we should maximize ignorance and primitive lifestyles, perhaps by having robots or a rotating servant class tend to the needs of the ignorant masses without having the population crash back to the Stone Age.

      Or is ignorance actually not superior to knowledge? The question is just what happiness is. Surely it’s more than physical pleasure, like from sex or having a massage. Is it more satisfying to think deep thoughts about the great works of literature and philosophy than to be some kind of peasant knowing nothing but herding sheep?

      Mill, of course, argued that poetry was superior in kind to pushpin. That makes things really hard (read: impossible) to measure mathematically, but isn’t necessarily false.

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        Or is ignorance actually not superior to knowledge?

        I can attest that I personally seek out knowledge that makes me feel unpleasant and sad because I value knowing it more than I value positive emotions. And I’m talking about abstract knowledge that doesn’t have any affect on my day-to-day life.

        I have limits, I’d rather forget what the capital of Ecuador is than have clinical depression for the rest of my life. But to some degree I value knowledge more than positive emotions.

        The question is just what happiness is.

        You seem to be be defining happiness as synonymous with “valuable.” To you it sounds like asking “is this happiness?” is the same as asking “is it valuable.”

        Other people define happiness as a specific emotion state, to the asking “is this happiness” is the same ask asking “do you feel this emotion.” These are both commonly used definitions, but I think accidental equivocation between them is a big part of what makes these conversations about happiness difficult.

      • piercedmind says:

        To me it seems obvious that Mill valued an unhappy Socrates more than a happy pig because he felt closer to Socrates (i.e. he considered his way of life superior than a different way of life).

  93. jimrandomh says:

    I think the happiness data is actually pointing directly into a blind spot; that if you look at the lives of Chinese people from ground level instead of from five-thousand-foot economist level, you will find that things have *not* improved. That if you visit a Latin American country, you will find that their lives are better, despite their lower income; and if you visit an ex-communist state, you will find they are worse.

    Because the things in (https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/12/24/how-bad-are-things/) are not affected much by GDP. Because if you average log incomes instead of log’ing average income, you will find the gains are smaller. Because much of that income is spent on positional goods. Because GDP fails to report when societies are facing corruption and pollution and eating adulterated food. Because some of that wealth is being used to create sick systems (ht tp :/ /i ss en dai .li vejournal. com/57 2510.html – SSC auto-rejects comments containing this link for some reason).

    Or maybe it’s because people’s self-reported happiness is just a comparison to how happy they think their neighbors are, making local comparisons valid and inter-country comparisons invalid. That’d be a happier result.

    • Deiseach says:

      Am I being horribly cynical to wonder how reliable the Chinese data is? Do we really believe the Chinese government – which does not trust its population to have unfettered access to Google – would really be happy to have a global report reading “Chinese people are less happy than they were in the past”?

      Looking at the graph the variance is from 4.5 to 4.9 on a 0-10 scale. 0.4 of one point is not a huge difference.

      The Chinese people have always been happy. They were happy in the Great Socialist Past, they are happy now in the New Market Present, and whatever the future may be, they will be happy then as well under the benevolent guidance of their wise and kindly government.

  94. jimrandomh says:

    I posted a comment and it’s strangely missing from the page. (But attempting to resubmit, the site detects it as a duplicate.)

    (EDIT: The site reacts to any comment with a particular link-text in a strange crashy-looking way. The link was ht tp :/ /i ss en dai .li vejournal. com/57 2510.html)

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      The site doesn’t like non-https urls. Try adding the s.
      (Oh, I see you’ve got a regular http one down below. Then again, it’s a SSC link. At any rate, I’ve had a change of non-passing url results before, by adding the s.)

  95. Error says:

    In particular, it would make us want to concentrate our resources on increasing technological progress, perhaps in the richest economies, rather than trying to help poor countries in particular.

    This comparison interests me. How many of the billion people who get pulled out of poverty go on to become scientists or engineers? Enough to outweigh directing that same money to existing science sectors? I think probably yes — a small percentage of a huge number adds up to a lot of good scientists.

    On the other hand, even if that’s correct, those good scientists don’t start producing work for a generation. You have to eat the local unemployment costs now. You’re at war and you have three hundred energy credits. Do you spend them on missile rovers or network nodes?

  96. DensityDuck says:

    I’m reminded of a Dave Berg cartoon.

    A guy is talking to a union picketer; the latter is holding a sign saying “SHORTER HOURS, HIGHER PAY!” The first guy says “you know, if you keep getting fewer hours then eventually you won’t have to go to work at all. What will you do then?” The union picketer replies “oh, we’ll still be busy–striking for higher pay!”

    ********

    Another instructive example: Jesus said “the poor will always be with us”. There will always be something to feel like you haven’t got enough of. Maybe it isn’t food or basic shelter; maybe it’s insurance against catastrophic health issues, maybe it’s free access to information and communications.

    • Mary says:

      Maybe it’s your own private intergalactic starship. . . .

      There will never be a post-scarcity society while humans stay the way they are.

      • Viliam says:

        I feel that a society where the poor don’t have enough private intergalactic starships is still better than a society where the poor don’t have enough food to keep their children alive. Even if both of them would report on average 6 of 10 points of happiness in a questionnaire.

    • aanon smith-teller says:

      ‘Jesus said “the poor will always be with us”.’

      No, he said “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

      Since all the people involved are now dead – which is kinda the point – it doesn’t imply a magical poor-force will forever be going around collapsing utopias.

  97. tom says:

    “I understand that having children will likely decrease my happiness”

    I’m not sure where you get the likely part here. If children made people unhappy, wouldn’t the world population be much much smaller?

    • Friday says:

      People with kids self-report lower levels of happiness, presumably.

      • Randy M says:

        All my kids make me happy. For some, it is when they come in; for others, when they go out.
        😉

    • NN says:

      For most of history, not having kids (unless you were a monk or a priest or otherwise supported by strangers) would almost certainly lead to a miserable and probably short old age.

      Also, for most of history kids became positive sources of income around age 6, so having kids back then might have had a less negative or even positive on happiness (ignoring pregnancy and childbirth, obviously) since most people didn’t stress over whether their kids got into college or if they could afford to send them there, but we don’t have the data to say for sure. In countries where economic and social development has changed that state of affairs, we have seen a tremendous drop in fertility rates.

    • Sayre says:

      Not if those with children are sufficiently adept at hiding their relative drop in happiness from their peers at large. The desire to maintain your status as happy and successful in the eyes of others would see most people learning those skills pretty quickly, at least for the majority.

      Then it’s just the cycle repeating itself as the mostly unaware non-parents join the ranks of the “Awakened” (TM Cult of Parentology) due to spur of the moment decisions, honest mistakes, and pie in the sky family planning.

    • Adam says:

      People seem to have trouble admitting how much of human behavior is compulsive. We don’t have children because it makes us happy or esteemed in the eyes of peers or gives us status or whatever. All of those are derived values whose purpose is to make us better at having kids. Creating more of ourselves is the most fundamental drive of all life. We do it because the fact we have an overwhelming urge to do it is the reason we’re here in the first place.

    • Mary says:

      The happiness studies also conclude that children make you unhappier.

      On the other hand, they add meaning to your life. I’ve heard of studies that concluded that some of the benefits of happiness are, it turns out, correlation, because what really was happening was that more happy people found meaning in their lives — but unhappy people with meaningful lives were more like them than happy people with meaningless lives.

    • satanistgoblin says:

      Maybe people are not very good at happiness maximising?

    • Anon. says:

      It’s almost as if your genes don’t give a shit about whether you’re happy or not.

  98. AndrewE says:

    Happiness surveys seem like they’d be hopelessly prone to positional-like effects.

    If you ask me how happy I am, I think I give an answer that’s directly related to how I’m doing compared to how the people around me are doing. I’m not imagining my life against what it could be like in 2500, with cheap spaceflight and free energy and no disease, nor am I imagining it against what it could be like in 1500, working the fields for my lord 100 hours per week until I die. I could imagine people in both circumstances answering a happiness question with “eh, could be better, could be worse, so 5”, even though an outside observer will note that basically everybody’s life in 2500 is better than basically everybody’s in 1500.

    I feel like the apparent lack of happiness difference between pre and post industrial China is probably the same sort of thing. If you change the question to “would you prefer to live under pre-industrial China conditions?”, I bet you’d get a very different result.

    • DensityDuck says:

      Yep. If you asked me how happy I was in 2000, I’d have said I was pretty happy. If you described what my life would be like in 2016 to that year-2000 me and said “well, are you still happy, when you look at what you haven’t got yet“, then maybe I’d change my tune.

  99. Vox Imperatoris says:

    I find this sort of research disturbing, as well. My gut reaction is that I don’t trust the happiness research at all.

    Other than that, I’d go with “wealth is necessary but not sufficient for happiness”. And I believe that anyway, but it has major problems if happiness is literally flat with economic development. It suggests that we ought to reallocate all resources away from further development and toward, I don’t know, psychology, self-help, and moral philosophy.

    Mainly though, I just don’t trust the data. I think people are happier but it’s not being measured right.

    • A different approach is subjective judgement by an observer. I had a friend who got her degree in anthropology. For a while she was living with an Indian tribe in South or Central America, I’m not sure which. She believed she was only the second non-native speaker of their language.

      Her impression was that they seemed about as happy as the people she knew back in America, although they were obviously enormously poorer.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        I’ve seen the same sorts of accounts from people who go around to the slums in India, listening to the inhabitants say how much they love their washing machines or other conveniences, holding the view that these things are improving their lives.

        Or Eskimos from the older generation saying that you’d have to be insane to give up the benefits of modern technology and wealth.

        So the evidence here seems to go both ways, at least.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        This seems like as good a place as any to plug one of my favorite papers: http://www.amstudy.hku.hk/staff/kjohnson/PDF/engl56_kj_axtell_whiteindians.pdf

        • onyomi says:

          Maybe the price paid in libidinal control necessary to enjoy civilized life is not, in fact, worth it?

          • Psmith says:

            Unless this is some special sense of the term “libidinal”, see pp 67-68 and 78.

          • onyomi says:

            I didn’t mean sexuality, especially since I was thinking about the children in particular. I meant more like Freudian repression. I got the impression that being a Native American child sounded more fun and uninhibited than being an English settler child (though obviously the Native Americans were living in accordance with rules and expectations of their own).

            I mean, if you’re a ten year old boy, which is more fun to you, learning to hunt and ride a horse or farming and studying the Bible?

          • Psmith says:

            Thanks. Makes sense, and it’s also pretty much what some of the white Indians are quoted as saying.

        • Nita says:

          Thanks, that was an interesting read.

          So, many English captives grew to love families who treated them like their own flesh and blood, although most Indian captives did not grow to love institutions that treated them like second-class citizens? I can’t say I’m surprised.

          Of course, the sudden shift from the initial terror to the later kindness and acceptance probably helped a lot. Neither side had a well-developed science of psychology, but at least the “savages” had a well-developed craft.

          tl;dr: One side had better weapons and manufacturing, the other side had better adoption and assimilation technology.

          • Acedia says:

            A fair amount of the stuff described in that paper (not all of it) sounds like Stockholm Syndrome to me.

          • chaosmage says:

            If it was Stockholm Syndrome, shouldn’t it work both ways?

            I don’t get Stockholm Syndrome anyway. If only there was a knowledgable psychiatrist who could explain it to me.

          • Publius Varinius says:

            @chaosmage: There is nothing to understand. Stockholm Syndrome is not a recognized psychiatric disorder.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Maybe not, but it is still the referent of a magnificently terrible pun.

          • Furslid says:

            My guess on Stockholm syndrome is that it is an adaptive behavior for situations when subject to arbitrary power with no way out. Basically the sufferer is making the best of their situation.

            It protects people from abuse. Those with power also abuse people with Stockholm Syndrome less than those without it. This is because sufferers are less likely to disobey. More importantly they are less likely to show anger, resentment or hate that they don’t feel. Showing these emotions toward someone who has power is not adaptive. Because people are good at reading other people, the only reliable way not to show emotions is not to feel them.

            It also increases happiness to reframe arbitrary power as something else. That increases happiness, as it’s better to be a protected and valued hostage/servant/wife/whatever than a victim.

            Stockholm Syndrome is essentially the shift in perspective, and that shift is adaptive for as long subject to inescapable arbitrary power. It’s not adaptive after that power is gone.

            It also takes time to shift perspectives either way. So people don’t immediately get Stockholm Syndrome when they are hostages or whatever. They also don’t immediately change back when released.

      • I’m a migrant from India to the USA. I’ve interacted with people from a number of social classes in India, and a very very restricted set ((a part of) the Bay rationalist community) in the USA.

        FWIW, my observations has been that pretty much every social circle I’ve been a member of in India is much, much happier (on average) that the rationalist community (or at least the subset of it I interact with).

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          More detail? What religion were your Indian circles, and did they seriously believe it?

    • anonymous says:

      I find the idea that happiness is more about purpose, being able to organise tasks to direct ones energy towards things so that it’s not at risk of stagnating or turning upon itself, etc, than it is about material wealth, -very plausible, even to levels of low material wealth people might consider extreme, but I also don’t trust the research.

      On a somewhat related point, if you imagine yourself in such a scenario, it’s very difficult to adjust for the effects of acclimatisation, which might take months or years, of immersion and exposure in that environment, or maybe even never happen at all if one did not understand such an environment from a young age. Simply transposing oneself as one is now to such a situation, though already difficult to imagine, just doesn’t do it.

      Consider what the idea of working eight hours a day almost every day sounds like to a smart and imaginative five year old, unused to work -they can potentially imagine themelves in such a scenario, but imagining the changes which could take place in them that could allow them to endure, become inured to, and enjoy, is a whole different level of difficulty.

      The effects of different expectations and acclimatization are very difficult to imagine in an a priori way. To go from a young child to whom the general state of the world is kept secret to someone who isn’t even massively slowed down by a week of work, or perhaps not at all, is a much greater transition than even the transition from four days a week to 7.

      (I am accounting in my head here for the fact that the ratio of work days to free/rest days goes massively up with each extra day of work, except the one from three to four) (4:3 is a 1.3 ratio, 5:2, is a 2.5 ratio, 6 to 1 is a.. I’ll leave that one to the audience. That plus 7 to 0 every other weak, so 6.5 to 0.5, is thirteen to 1)

      To go from no work, an infinite ratio of rest to work, to any obligatory work at all is a really significant qualitative difference, yet most people manage it. To go from there to a significant minority of work is another. etc. etc. etc. etc. I’m not sure how many more etcs going from a call centre tech support job to a much harder but more rewarding laboring job and no internet or hot water is, but it’s not a million. Whatever one does, wherever one has landed in any area, it can be easy to forget that things could be different.

      I suppose a necessarry metaphor/belief to this, is that I think that by default people don’t have strong and organised purpose, and that it’s actually a hell of a lot worse than at present because of advertising, trashy stuff, etc. Even something as simple as an equilibrium where so many people are trying to be “attractive” like that michale jackson character from One Piece probably makes a difference. -even that can be an attentional challenge. That’s a bit debatable, but the level traps and things for one’s attention and focus is through the roof.

      I think therefore that having a struggle before oneself is a great crutch, much like having one’s work due for the next day can be a great crutch to getting it done if one is disorganised, -except much more so and in a much broader way. Having a life stretching out before one in which one must be a certain level of motivated, strong, etc, is, actually.. the word crutch is kind of wrong, because it kind of happens the other way around..

      So let me say it can be like a pillar of support: one is presented with a certain height to rise up to, and can rest upon it’s responsibilities and necessities, pride and anticipations, if one reaches it.

      Without the pillar one has to have their own very strong structure of internal organisation and motivation to reach so high, which not many people have, so naturally you see people being extremely tough in very tough circumstances, and very tough in tough circumstances, but almost no one being extremely tough in moderate circumstances. -the circumstances themselves are the focus which enables it, and the latter takes an entirely different kind of self mastery, as well as a willingness to ignore one’s “peers” as a system of reference. When the soft society is on top of that full of active bullshit, sometimes literally, explicitly saying, “spoil yourself, you’re worth it” (-explicitly conflating a person’s worth and self indulgence for example) and
      distractions, etc, etc. Then it’s even harder to get a perspective from inside such a place to what it’s like to be extremely purposeful (with the aid of a comparatively very difficult purpose).

       

      There’s also the simple empirical observation that there are people who work 7 days a week at a job they don’t particularly mechanically like, or they in fact dislike, and who are very happy. and I see no indication that the possibility for such acclimatisation stops there, or is even being *fundamentally* pushed.

      Imo the real causes of unhappiness are simple core things like lack of purpose, fear, and a lack of belief in one’s basic entitlement to feel good (sometimes deserving, but that’s not the point).

      Other things can certainly make being happy more difficult, but if one has a purpose, does not fear for their life regularly, or from from moment to moment, and feels they are entitled (and can safely be), to be happy, then they can be happy doing almost anything. I probably missed some core things but imo it does mainly come down to a few core things.

       

      Summoning the necessary levels of focus and motivation to not slip, and if/when one slips not to slip too far onto a slippery slope, in difficult, painful, or even harrowing circumstances, is difficult, but people seem to be able to live up very far to the challenges or purposes with which they are presented, as well as down to their lack or their confusion, so the model that makes the most sense to me is that at least most people have massive potential which can be brought out.

       

      Even now with all the advances made to reduce scarcity, and in the west, it’s not like we can’t observe people being acclimatised to a significant amount of hardship.

      Generally things associated with that directly reduces happiness, but the simplicity and purity of purpose that come from walking a financial razor’s edge, as well as a physical one in terms of one’s health, and the sense of entitlement that many lack simply to be happy, as well as the direct engagement in a struggle in which motivation is an important factor, are, in the absence of things like people feeling like failures, or being treated with contempt, having to live in dangerous areas, tradeoffs that on net make almost no difference to how happy someone is, so long as they are up to the challenge, because it’s such a strong crutch and people are so mentally-organisationally-weak.

       

      Struggling to survive is the most basic existentially rewarding thing there is. Having this activity lined up for you every day can do wonders for someone’s happiness, or of course destroy them, -walking a tightrope over a pit of alligators is only a romantic experience with many good facets so long as one does not slip and fall, but it can certainly do the former.

       

      I don’t think psychology etc are industrialisable. More likely than useful work in these areas notably increasing, I think, is that all kinds of new nonsense makework would be invented, and that it would be even more difficult to find good stuff among all the opportunists now filling up the industry. At least there’s some minimal sincerity filter on such areas at present. But even still a massive proportion of “self-help” is vapid at best and at worst approaches an “it’s ok, other people don’t matter, accounting for them is difficult but not important” irresponsible pyramid scheme/cult, and the current level of industrialisation of that area is a big part of that.

      And there’s a pretty good chance that a smooth genuine transition to pursuing such a goal would not be what happened, and it might instead be captured by stubborn philistines who refuse to change their ways, get with the program, and go on valuing money despite being told not to. and power, which they haven’t been told not to, and degeneracy, which they haven’t been either. I don’t have a clear model of what makes an area in danger of being taken over by crappy people but inviting such people en masse into what are in this hypothetical the most important areas, -but subtle ones with no clear objective standard to weed out or expose such people, seems like a recipe for poisoning that well rather than somewhat improving it.

       

      Imo actually getting that to work would require a “spiritual” rather than economic mobilisation, which a simple reallocation of resources would not have a good chance of resulting in. Imo such a thing could happen very easily if there were a few great thinkers/speakers with mass proliferation, but I don’t see any other way in which it could happen quickly rather than slowly or not at all. Plus, as far as I can tell the zeitgeist has all kinds of cancers to excise first, and has to establish basic standards like, for instance, “aggression is not an argument”, before decades of really basic progress and eventually maybe it’ll be a sensible time to try to take the question of happiness head on.

  100. Bugmaster says:

    One way I sometimes look at this problem is by thinking in terms of capabilities and choices, rather than preferences or happiness. I know this philosophy has a name, I just forgot what it was. Anyway:

    Instead of maximizing something totally abstract like “happiness”, we could attempt to maximize the number of different things a person may reasonably choose to do. A poor person’s choices are extremely restricted, since most of his time is spent just surviving. A billionaire, on the other hand, can do a lot of things that a poor person cannot even imagine of doing, such as starting his own space program. Therefore, a rich person is better off.

    However, wealth is just one way to increase the size of the possibility space; technology is another. A working-class person in our modern information-age society can do all kinds of things that a medieval king cannot even dream of, despite being at the top of his medieval economic pyramid. Thus, industrialization is generally a good thing. At one extreme end of the scale, dead people have no choices at all, and thus medical technology that can keep people alive and fully functional is unequivocally a good thing.

    Of course, wealth and technology have detrimental effects, as well. A billionaire can choose to plunge a country into war; and sufficiently advanced technology can lead to nukes. However, I think that in most cases the benefits outweigh the losses.

    • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

      I believe that’s called “The capability approach.” Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum, Elizabeth Anderson are the big names behind it. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/capability-approach/

      I agree it’s a big improvement over the let’s-just-maximize-happiness alternative.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      If you’re just as happy with the smaller amount of choices, why would you increase them? What is the point?

      The usual reason people increase their choices is that they get bored with just a few, and this makes them unhappy.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I haven’t read the article linked by Daniel Kokotajlo yet, so I’m probably wrong, but still; I can think of an objection.

        First of all, imagine that you are the kind of person who, due to a combination of genetics and upbringing, would be really happy with devoting your life to computer programming. Unfortunately, the current year is 1600 and there are no computers for you to program. You could go and become a monk or something, and be reasonably happy; however, you could’ve been even happier if computers existed. Of course, other people choose to be farmers and are as happy with that choice in 1600 as they would be in 2016, but this is unlikely to be true of everyone.

        The upside to having more choices is not just the sheer number of choices, but the increased probability that some hitherto unknown choice would be even better for you than all the others.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          All of that is entirely consistent with my position. The problem with the natural computer programmer in 1600 is that he finds monk stuff more boring / less interesting than he would find computer programming.

          The point of having more choices is that they increase happiness or at least the potential for happiness. If they don’t, the additional choices are pointless.

          We don’t seem to disagree on this.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think the point is that happiness is impossible to usefully measure or define, to compare across individuals and sometimes even to compare across the same individual over time.

            So how can you maximise it when you can’t even say what it is? It’s an incoherent goal.

            Whereas when you aim to maximise capability, your success is easier to measure and you are indirectly maximising happiness, assuming some form of rational choice.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            Maybe we can’t measure it across individuals. That’s already a standard feature of economics.

            And maybe we have to use some kind of heuristic for happiness, like capabilities. What you are saying is exactly how Ayn Rand said that happiness is “subjective” because it’s an emotion and that therefore while happiness is our ultimate purpose, our standard of value should be life or survival.

            But that is flawed because there are obviously situations where what promotes your survival doesn’t promote your happiness. And the same goes for capabilities.

        • Deiseach says:

          Oh sweet God, this is where I start banging the table about dragging all the STEM types by the scruff of their neck to mandatory history classes. This is why universities insist on modules during the courses that you take outside of your main field – humanities for the STEM and sciences for the arts types – in order to give you a rounded education.

          The Year of Our Lord 1600, my children, is not a time when your only options if you are at all interested in the natural sciences or mathematics are to go “become a monk or something” – flattered though I am that you compliment my Church by considering it to be the only avenue of intellectual outlet at the time.

          That is the first year of the 17th century. There was this little thing called the Renaissance going on for a bit before that, yes? A revival of the arts and sciences? Also, though I may be mistaken in this, I understand there were these places called “universities”, some of them around for a couple of centuries by this time! And you didn’t have to confine your course of study to theology any longer! Imagine that!

          Law, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, all these fields are open to our putative programmer. Instead of writing for a machine not yet invented, they could have worked on calendrical problems (the Gregorian calendar had still not been universally adopted) which are a branch of applied mathematics. They might (in emulation of Babbage who came later, if it is not anachronistic to speak of emulating a successor) have worked on clockwork and the mechanical opportunities and problems of a difference engine on which their programs would run. Indeed, they could turn their nascent mathematical and programming talents to the same problem which spurred Babbage’s interest in automated calculation: “Babbage’s own account of the origin of the difference engine begins with the Astronomical Society’s wish to improve The Nautical Almanac”.

          Or emulate Ada, Countess Lovelace, the mathematician who wrote for Babbage’s putative difference engine: (S)he is often regarded as the first computer programmer. Granted, these two come from a later period, but there is no reason a bright programmer-in-embryo could not turn their mathematical talents elsewhere to other fields of endeavour and enquiry outside of “being a monk” and found a satisfactory career.

          And in 1600, some forty-two years down the road there is the birth of an obscure and little-remembered figure called Isaac Newton to anticipate 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            Also, in the year 1600 this book gets published, talking about magnetism and some new-fangled concept called “electricity”.

            Well, obviously that’s going nowhere, no reason why a smart guy like a would-be-a-computer-programmer-if-computers-existed type we’re talking about would want to know or investigate that! 🙂

            My point here is that in the 25th century there could be this marvellous new career in polytronic upsidownium transfamatiels that I am absolutely suited for and I would be ecstatically happy at it. That’s not much use to me and my measure of happiness right now. Your choice is based on your choice right now. A Chinese farm labourer may have the choice right now to go work in an Apple components factory instead. Is that going to make him happier? Maybe, maybe not. But saying that he would be much happier with a career that isn’t even in existence yet is not getting the cart any further forward along the road.

          • piercedmind says:

            As one of the aforementioned STEM majors, who on top of that resides in a country whose universites do not force everybody through a humanities curriculum:

            Was the option to become a scholar really open to the would-be-programmer? I imagine that only a handful of the elite attended universities, making the probability of a random person having that choice very small.

            However, I also seem to recall that during the actual Middle Ages these kind of studies were also open to monks, is that correct?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Yes, there were a lot more avenues of intellectual opportunity around than just being a monk. Being a monk was well on its way out in 1600.

            But: a) that’s irrelevant to the point, and b) far fewer people could become a Descartes or Newton than can have the equivalent amount of learning today.

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            @Deiseach:
            The whole point of the Capability approach is to work to make said hypothetical polytronic upsidownium transfamatiels career available ASAP, so that a group of people who, until now, could not achieve their potential maximum happiness, can now achieve their potential maximum happiness, and thus more people in the world on total being happier.

            This is like why gay marriage was pursued even after civil unions were available, and there being gay people who will never choose to marry. Because there are some people who can be happier now that that choice is available.

            So many people express feelings of “how did I live without this thing/person/knowledge/activity before now?” Why deny them the option to make those discoveries?

          • Bugmaster says:

            I appreciate the history lecture, but “1600” and “monk or something” were just meant to be vague examples; their only purpose was to illustrate a career/vocation choice that was compatible with, and yet not as good as, computer programming — which, after all, did not exist in 1600.

            If you prefer, you could replace the example with “writing plays / directing movies”, or with “sculpting / creating 3d animation”, or with “writing music for the piano / writing trance electronica” or whatever. The contrast is less harsh than the one in my example; if you want to go further, you could say something like “piloting canoes / piloting experimental jet craft”.

  101. Nicholas says:

    Two observations on the graph: One is that on the graph of GDP/happiness, no one both was less happy than S. Korea and also made more money than S. Korea. So it’s not like there’s no correlation, it’s just lossier than expected.
    Two is that for the immediately following graph, median income did not rise nearly as evenly or continuously. Possibly the disconnect is that the poor of china have not seen the advantages of the increase in national wealth, and instead only the few have seen a large benefit.

    • Friday says:

      Possibly the disconnect is that the poor of china have not seen the advantages of the increase in national wealth, and instead only the few have seen a large benefit.

      Based on my really cursory research, this doesn’t seem to have been the case, at least in narrowly economic terms.

  102. suntzuanime says:

    I think it’s better to think of this in non-altruistic terms – not “is it worth sacrificing something in our nation to make another nation richer” but “is it worth sacrificing something in our nation to make our own nation richer”. Then you don’t have to grapple with all the issues that come along with altruism like whether or not to respect the preferences of others even if you think those preferences are kind of dumb, and you can think calmly about what’s actually good instead of what will make you look like a good person.

    I think there have been at various times in various nations a lot of angst about what those nations have been sacrificing in order to get richer, and when you stop framing it as an altruistic moral imperative for a second it starts to sound like the roaring of Moloch. There’s an argument that rich is just what nations tend to get as a result of each person desperately trying to get richer than their neighbors, and that struggle results in a lot of pain and wasted energy. I’m a fan of the mindset that tries to analyze Gross National Happiness as an alternative to Gross National Product. And it’s endorsed by a Dragon King, which seems like the sort of fellow you’d want on your side if you were going to fight an ancient demon.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      It’s not really an altruistic question at all.

      It’s: should we adopt free trade, which will make China richer, which will make us richer in the long run?

      No, if it will not make us happier. Yes, if it will.

      • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

        Happiness isn’t the only ultimate goal. Wireheading will make us happier, but I don’t think we should all do it. Sometimes justice makes someone sadder and no one happier–but we should still seek it. Etc.

        • blacktrance says:

          One could turn that around and say that if justice makes someone sadder and no one happier, then what good is it?

          • Soumynona says:

            If happiness leads to injustice, then what good is it?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Soumynona:

            It’s good in itself.

            Isn’t the purpose of justice to help people, to benefit them in some way? If nobody is getting anything out of it, why should they do it?

          • arbitrary_greay says:

            @blacktrance: Some would say then that’s probably vengeance, not justice.

            Usually in the form of fictional narrative. In those cases, there’s some theme to the effect of “justice is about setting the world right such that it’s a better state of affairs, vengeance leads to the whole world blind, etc.”

            @Soumynona:
            The assumption is that happiness via injustice is sadistic, that usually there’s a scenario to achieve the happiness without the injustice, (There are even ways to entertain sadist happiness without doing undue harm to people!) and the relative increase in happiness via injustice is not as great as what could be achieved by just means.

          • Rabidchaos says:

            The largest value that a justice system provides is predictability. By disincentizing certain actions, it theoretically lets people operate under the assumption that everyone else will avoid those actions. Thus, even if everyone involved in a certain case is unhappy with the resolution, it still benefits everyone else.

            (Theoretically, at least. This breaks down in practice, which is why both the Prohibition and the War on Drugs have failed, doing a lot of damage in the process.)

          • anonymous says:

            The point of justice isn’t to be itself good in the usual sense, but to produce good effects, and the most important of these are not direct. The more justice a society has, for instance, the safer it will be to do something which is good, but might look ambiguous, but which’s intentions can be puzzled out by honest people.

            For a “reductio ad absurdum” (is there a shorter word fo that?) proof of the opposite view:

            if someone kills someone else, but they also kill their whole family so that there is no one to grieve for them, does it then follow that we shouldn’t inflict further suffering on the criminal, perhaps because two wrongs don’t make a right?

            (fuck no)

            Or, what if on one side, the perpetrators family loudly protest said-vicious-creature’s perfection and innocence, and wail and moan ever louder, starting with the first suggestion that he isn’t quite a perfect fellow,

            while the murdered person’s family not only remain stoic and dignified but even, -being christians or jains or something- forswear the taking of pleasure in vengeance?

            So then the perpetrator’s nest stand to be hurt by his punishment, perhaps they stand quite ready and fired up for it in fact, and perhaps cogniscant primarily of the pressure they hope to put on the sentencer,

            while the victim’s family will not take pleasure in justice, -partially conflating it with vengeance. (and associating vengeance with I don’t-know-what, -something negative)

            What value is justice then?

            Well Obviously it’s 85%% of the value, or 70 or 95 or whatever, because the main and fundamental point of justice is not to make people less sad, or happier (-except on an extremely diffuse, eternal-level-long-term, and indirect, level-) it’s to reduce the average profit, or “eV” of being a degenerate, and to give peace of mind to people, to give citizens leverage to slow down or halt psychopaths, gangs etc, to move in the direction of ensuring that one’s grandchildren or children will not be beset by degenerates and savages. -That sort of thing, roughly.

            (note I am talking about justice here, not law, law ideally being a means primarily of justice, and secondarily of stability (stability being the easier), and in point of fact sometimes being a source of injustice and instability. (especially qua practice-of rather than qua law)

            It’s Quite hard to delineate, but intuitive, natural, and usually easy to know-when-one-sees-it, -so long as one isn’t too biased, and takes an interest in such things. Those are the hard part.

            And in fact the happiness or relief which justice can bring flows from the same place as the general intuitive perception people have of the general and even abstract importance of justice, or proper redress. It’s simply more keenly felt by the individuals involved for various good reasons, most of which relate to proximity.

             

            The question shouldn’t be what is the use of justice, outside happiness and sadness, it should be how do we move from the state of discoordination and corruption where people aren’t educated on the importance of justice (or indoctrinated, or preached, or whatever) to one people’s natural and intuitive understanding of justice can flow without obstacle, so that, even though happiness and sadness aren’t remotely the point, people as a whole will anyway be sad and angry when justice isn’t done, and pleased when it is.

            (there’s such a long way to go that the basic answer is basically just be good, preserve and perhaps increment what spirit exists, that one can but for my idea of of some of the long term underpinnings:

            more honesty, more decency, more goodness, better incentives. more game theory)

            IMOYMMV

          • anonymous says:

            @Rabidchaos

            You illustrated the theory extremely well imo, but which action is chosen to theoretically-predictably be eliminated, -in practice to be disincentivised and semi-formally rejected, is just as important, and alcohol and imo drugs too, while better to “demonise” than, say, donating to charity, is an extremely borderline case. Imo at best.

            So alcohol and the war on drugs don’t work for illustrations of an inherent flaw of justice-in-practice, because neither harms anyone else. Forbidding their use is not justice, merely law, or custom. And denouncing their use, or jailing people for such crimes at a remotely comparable level to real crimes, is gross injustice.

            One might say that that injustice is for a greater cause, but giving someone the same 8 years a fucking murderer gets for smoking a PLANT is ipso facto some of the most gross and obscene injustice on the planet, when one takes into account that it is does with a straight face and taking the name of a good cause. If you ask me, it’s high treason against the human race, but that’s neither here nor there for the present purpose.

            If you meant that justice must break down in practice, rather than, e.g. that it very strongly tends to do so in present conditions, I would be interested in hearing your argument for that, if you felt like it.

            I think there’s a certain basic level of justice which can be lost, but is eminently sustainable: like, in pickarandomwesterncountryland, if you supply absolute proof that something happened, it becomes very difficult to profitable deny that it did, for example. That’s a level of justice which is not guaranteed by the universe. If people are dishonest, dishonourable etc enough, it’s entirely possible for them to lie completely openly.

            And it can get a lot worse than that, though I won’t present a 1984-like vignette to try to convince anyone of that, for reasons of pleasantness, and shall leave it at an assertion to bring the idea to attention for judgement or notice.

            The current level of justice sustained in developed western countries is for the most part somewhat above that. I hold that it could be much less, but also could be much higher, and that, as the idiom goes, this is an engineering problem. (-non idiomatically, that it’s mostly an engineering problem, but also a “spiritual”/moral one.) (though I think the other way around can work, too)

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          If wireheading will make us all happier, absolutely we should all do it. The question is whether it will. If it’s just the thing where you stimulate the pleasure center, it doesn’t really make people happy because intellectual happiness is affected by things other than pleasure alone.

          And as blacktrance says, if justice doesn’t make anyone happier, so much for justice. Happiness is the end. Justice is the means. Your sort of viewpoint is turning justice into paperclips.

          You can, of course, argue that living in a state of justice is a necessary constituent of happiness, but that’s different.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            Happiness is just a signal that something good, distinct of happiness itself, has happened. It’s therefore strongly correlated with good things happening but they are not the same thing. Just like pain is strongly correlated with bad things happening but is sometimes useless like chronic pain or phantom pain.

            Being happy about surviving some horrible disease is different from being happy about having a lifetime supply of heroin which is different from being happy about being in communion with the Divine or whatever.

            Not just difference in degree but in kind. I think I’d rather be sad that I didn’t get a promotion than be happy that I found a job after years of struggle with unemployment.

            That’s how I feel anyway. If happiness doesn’t lead to good things, then I’d rather be unhappy and accomplish good things. What good things should we strive for is of course an important difficult question but just literally going with your gut and chasing whatever makes you happiest sounds like a cop-out.

          • piercedmind says:

            @Saint Fiasco:

            But how do you reliably make sure that that what you think is good is actually good?

            If people centuries ago had access to the same happiness data we have now, most would have proudly declared: “I dont care about happiness, I would rather be miserable so I can serve my god/fight and die for the glory of my country.”

          • Anonymous says:

            @Saint
            I don’t see how you can make “something good” distinct from happiness. Justice is only good because it makes us happy to fix injustices. For example, nobody cares about the moral wrongness of most process scheduling algorithms – they are literally unfair in how they distribute time between processes, but nobody’s happiness is affected, therefore no computer scientists are debating bringing justice to your home CPU.

            You can define Good as a separate value, for example crusades are Good because God says so. But why is that worth doing? Would producing billions of paperclips and launching them into space be worth doing if God said that it is Good? Why do you care about some pie-in-the-sky definition of Good? If the answer is “because it makes me elated to imagine Good being fulfilled”, well, you’re not being very distinct from happiness there.

          • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

            All you are doing here is pounding your fist on the table and reasserting what I denied, namely, that happiness is the only ultimate goal. “If justice doesn’t make anyone happier, so much for justice.” I reply by doing the same thing to you: “When justice and happiness conflict, so much the worse for happiness.” Except I’m not even being that dogmatic, because I agree that happiness is good, I just don’t think it’s the only good.

            Why do you think there is only one ultimate good anyway, in the relevant sense?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Daniel Kokotajlo:

            Why do you think there is only one ultimate good anyway, in the relevant sense?

            There being only one standard of the good is inherent in the idea of ethics being able to recommend a coherent course of action.

            Say you terminally value both lemons and pears. If these are just incommensurable, there is no way to determine how to split your efforts, whether you should plant lemons or pears. But if you have a single standard, such as “maximize the number of lemons and pears in a ratio of two to one”, you can do it.

            But why do I say happiness is the sole ultimate good? Because it’s just obvious upon reflection that my having happiness is good in itself, that I want it unconditionally. Whereas with justice, I value it as a means to happiness and think we shouldn’t focus too much on justice if, for instance, it costs too much and leads to not having enough TVs or something.

            I am not saying that you can’t choose to value justice as an end in itself. You are free to choose what to value. I am saying that there is no reason to value justice as an end in itself. There are various arguments, but they are bad arguments.

            There is no reason you have to value happiness either. I think there’s reason to value it but not sufficient reason. If you don’t want it, fine. But happiness seems to stand on its own without any need for justification.

            I think that, if people rejected the bad arguments that people have a “duty” to pursue various other things, they would naturally come to value their own happiness.

            I have more detailed arguments, but I don’t want to write a whole long post.

          • Nita says:

            @ Vox

            You could want to maximize min(lemons,pears), for example. Then you couldn’t compensate for the lack of lemons with more pears.

            Of course, there’s nothing wrong with giving min(lemons,pears) a name, but you shouldn’t use names that are already taken, such as “lemons”, as that would make things confusing.

          • anonymous says:

            As values go, justice is an extremely good candidate for raising to a terminal value, because incentivised injustice is by definition that which gains one person something at the expense of others. -In SSC terms, it’s half of the core of “moloch”, (the other half being uncoordination or discoordination).

            Whether justice would be better elevated this way in a more religious revering sense than a more fundamental, theoretical (deliberately conflating) one is another question, but I think the second option is legitimate, as utilitarianism is (imo) clearly the correct “map” but requires so many kludges and workarounds to avoid exploits and traps and glitches and the simple problem of seeking happiness generally being a poor way to get it, -to be a usable model, that people can easily be better off conflating model for map, than map for model.

            Not being aware of the distinction (in some sufficient way) is the most dangerous thing, but, if one is aware, then, most of the time using utilitarianism without models, is kinda like..:

            Using the sine function without a calculator. in a warzone, while hallucinating, a little as well as occasionally, and with a serious tremor in one’s pen hand. And possibly a tendency to write the wrong number by accident without noticing.

            -Rather than using a calculator which gives the right answer 70% of the time, and whose answers one is free to cross check against other things, including “common sense”.

            It’s just not particularly useful outside of the meta level.

            To continue the analogy, you can eyeball things approximately that way if you’re a really good judge, but even knowing the necessary arcane secrets you can’t even guarantee a remotely good answer from the incredibly laborious process of following the formulas slowly and meticulously through. So you’re mostly stuck with eyeballing it, and you can probably eyeball that angle better directly, than using an intermediary function.

            Some of the main exceptions being:

            -for people who are outliers in maths knowledge and skill, and can work in a warzone, while remaining ready to respond to the battle, or can somehow remove themselves from it, there are a few situations where they can get at something using the fundamental formulas, -and can only get at it that way. (outliers in both directions)

            -If one is unsure how broken the calculator is, or cannot crossreference the answer. or to find out if its broken in a certain unknown way. (the meta level)

            -If one does not have, or can negate, undo, or control, the hallucinations, tremors, and number substitutions, and can write really fucking fast. (representing things like bias, false data, cognitive blindspots, etc.)

            -if one happens to be comparatively much better at this than other ways. (same translation outside of analogy)

            But 99% of the time, most people are better off eyeballing things or using a preset mode, unless they happen to have a calculator which is even worse (which they can hopefully calibrate and improve)

             

            -So my idea is that the map is for meta-level adjustments to the models, checking one hasn’t gotten too far wrong, etc. Just (primarily) something to check in with every so often, and use as a reminder.

            That analogy fails in a lot of ways, and overstates some things, but I think it works in a lot ways too.

             

            Anyway justice is imo the best kludge/model/lens to view utilitarian, that is moral, problems, through, because it counters moloch, both in the sense of being a tool of any kind which can work against it, and in the rock-paper-scissors sense. (except that rock paper scissors is so simple and symmetrical, as well as fundamentally not a sound game, that it analogises poorly to basically everything, but it should illustrate fine here).

            There might be some other metaphorical evil eldritch god which it can summon, if it became too unquestioningly prevalent and degenerated, but that’s on the other side of the pendulum, and it would likely be a far weaker one anyway. Plus justice is by definition constrained to good shapes. Innapropriately disproportionate vengeance is. And it can branch out to “doing justice to” things as well, which is a pretty great “intuition pump” for general goodness as well. I can’t think of a better thing to use as a primary terminal value.

      • suntzuanime says:

        One of us has badly misread Scott’s post.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Scott is framing it as an altruistic question. I am saying that it isn’t, really.

          If the question is how much of our net happiness we should sacrifice for them, my answer is: none, ever. Because I am not a utilitarian. But I don’t think it’s a matter of us vs. them.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Oh, you’re just fighting the hypothetical. Well, whatever.

          • anonymous says:

            you could at least put “fighting the hypothetical” in quotes.

             

            ..like this I mean

            “fighting the hypothetical”

             

            ..not this

            “”fighting the hypothetical””

      • Muga Sofer says:

        >It’s: should we adopt free trade, which will make China richer, which will make us richer in the long run?

        Gosh, it sure is convenient that this policy you advocate has absolutely no downsides.

  103. Arthur B says:

    Happiness is just a mood, it’s not the only thing people care about. Poor Chinese peasants do not only care about being happy, they would also like to be wealthier.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      If they want to be wealthier but it won’t make them happy, why is that different from wanting any kind of stupid waste of money?

      • Nebfocus says:

        Would you prefer to toil 16 hours a day just to get by, or work 12 and have 4 with your family. Reported happiness may not go up, but what percentage would choose the former?

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          I am not talking about reported happiness but actual happiness.

          I don’t deny that the statistics on reported happiness may be skewed.

          But if it is in fact true that you would be happier working 16 hours a day than 12 (or 8 or 4 or none), then you should work 16. The point of working 12 is that you think you’ll be happier spending time with your family. I think it is true that not having to work grueling hours contributes greatly to happiness. That’s why I’m skeptical of the statistics on reported happiness.

      • Muga Sofer says:

        Vox, are you being intentionally dense?

        Maybe they care about their children not dying of preventable diseases – even though, as Scott notes, their children’s wellfare will not make them happier. Maybe they care about being able to learn new skills, and get out of dead-end jobs, and make better people of themselves. Maybe they care about living longer, safer lives, for some mysterious reason.

        All these are eminently sensible reasons to prefer wealth even if it doesn’t increase happiness at all. Humans aren’t happiness-maximizers.

        You’ve had this pointed out to you several times in this thread, and you’ve just sort of skirted the question and moved on to repost the same thing under a different comment.

        • Psmith says:

          I think Vox is rendering eudaimonia as happiness, rather than flourishing or whatever. Some respected translations of Aristotle do this, so it’s not out of left field or anything, but it’s a bit misleading. Happiness is something you feel, flourishing is something you do.

  104. Thecommexokid says:

    all we will have done is … kicked a million Americans out of work for no reason (and they will definitely be unhappy)

    Citation needed. You’ve just finished explaining to me how, against all odds, improving people’s situations doesn’t make them reliably happier; I’m not sure why you expect me to take it on faith that firing a million Americans will make them sadder.

    • anonymous says:

      Ignoring, OP’s response: The reason is because Scott Alexander, locally notorious paper-crawler, (lol@my use of “locally”) chose to phrase it that way. -It’s implicit (imo almost to the level of being explicit) that he has a study, or studies, for it.

      Either that, or he slipped up on phrasing slightly and I happen to be giving too much credit in this case.

      -I could be wrong, or partially wrong, but I’m fairly sure you weren’t expected to take it on faith, but to take it at his implied word that studies to that effect exist.

       

      (By the way if your post was satire, it’s excellent by the way. Not that I’m saying it’s particularly bad if not, but if it’s a joke, it’s perfectly poised to get me hunched over my keyboard trying to highlight the minutiaeic distinction between on-faith and on-someone’s-word, before the possibility occurs to me that you point might just have been joking about taking studies on faith in the face of common sense , or something to that effect.

      That is hilarious, and if it was meant that way thank you for the laugh.

      (And sorry if it wasn’t. With slightly different emphasis in reading, it makes sense both ways. One of them is hilarious, and the other is a perfectly legitimate request for something to be backed up, -just one that happens to have (so far as I can tell) questionable phrasing. ) )

  105. HeelBearCub says:

    This sentence phrase seems likes it’s crucial to a bunch of your reasoning:
    “kicked a million Americans out of work for no reason (and they will definitely be unhappy)”

    But, if (on net) happiness is not caused by income, then this statement is false, or at least the evidence offered for discounting China’s income increase points at also ignoring America’s income decrease.

    So, it seems like you are looking at the happiness of Chinese and American’s differently. It suggests ignoring this counter intuitive result in favor of looking for a less simplistic model for predicted happiness.

    One thing you point to is stability. I’d suggest that stability is perhaps less important than predictability, fairness and opportunity. But regardless, a simple raw income measure is not going to predict happiness very well, and shouldn’t be expected to, especially at an aggregate level.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        But what about all the many more Chinese that have jobs now as a result of the free trade deals? You are discounting them.

        • piercedmind says:

          In the vast majority of cases the Chinese in question were not unemployed before industrialization, they were simply farmers.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @piercedmind:
            At an aggregate level, did total employment increase or decrease in China as a result of industrialization? At an aggregate level, has employment increased or decreased in the US as a result of trade?

            Scott’s entire argument is based on looking at aggregate levels of GDP and comparing them to aggregate happiness, but then he cherry picks one measure that shows some people are made unhappy by trade. That is poor thinking.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Economic growth does not change the level of employment. It changes the fields in which people are employed.

            Besides, I don’t know about Communist China but the Soviet Union had almost no unemployment because they gave people make-work jobs and made it illegal not to work.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Vox:
            The corollary to that is the economic contraction does not change the level of employment, it only changes the jobs people do. Certainly we can find individual cases of people who lost jobs and never gained them again as a result free trade, but just as surely we could find people who were unemployed who gained employment working in jobs created by trade.

            I’m not taking the position that free trade is just fine and dandy, with no downsides, but cherry picking a few losers from free trade and comparing those individual losers to only an aggregate measure on the other hand isn’t right.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ HeelBearCub:

            I agree completely. I’m the last person to be attacking free trade.

            I am just saying that industrialization per se does not tend to decrease unemployment. Except by way of raising Malthusian limits, I guess.

            And switching from communism to capitalism may very well increase unemployment because capitalism does not employ make-work and forced labor (as systematic policies, at least).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Vox:
            Industrialization and conversion from capitalism to communism aren’t really being debated here. I mean, I guess the wage advantage of certain countries results from transition to industrialization, but before Mexico and China, there was a trade-scare around Japan, who were not in transition at the time.

            Rather, the question that is being proposed is whether we should look only at the jobs which are “lost” and ignore all the jobs that are “gained” due to free trade.

            I’m putting lost and gained in quotes, because it is not at all clear to me that free-trade results in any net job loss, even within an individual nation.

            Perhaps one could justify weighting job losses directly attributable to free trade as more important than any jobs created, based on the psychological fact of loss aversion. That doesn’t seem like an argument one can just assume, though, and I don’t think Scott has even made it. Rather he just said “some jobs will be lost, therefore free trade = bad”.

            Heck, cancelling existing free trade agreements would result in job loss, and I’ll bet there are also jobs that would be lost in some hypothetical ongoing regime of protectionism, but are saved when/if a new free trade agreement is signed.

            The whole post just seems not fully formed.

            Edit: Which I guess should be expected when he leads with [Epistemic status: Overly simplistic treatment of a horrifyingly complex topic; I can only hope I haven’t missed enough to completely embarrass myself]

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ HBC
            The whole post just seems not fully formed.
            Edit: Which I guess should be expected when [Scott] leads with [Epistemic status: Overly simplistic treatment of a horrifyingly complex topic; I can only hope I haven’t missed enough to completely embarrass myself]

            Finest kind.

      • satanistgoblin says:

        Shouldn’t we just abolish minimum wage if woking makes people happy and income does not? China only makes people unemployed if they will not work for lower wages.

        • Vaniver says:

          Shouldn’t we just abolish minimum wage if woking makes people happy and income does not?

          Yes.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            Should we force the unemployed into pointless back-breaking labour and pay them a pittance? After all, working makes people happy.

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s a pretty wide gap between forced pointless back-breaking labor with little or no compensation and the kind of work that most people do. It’s easy for the latter to make people happy and the former not to: it could fail on “forced”, or “pointless”, or “back-breaking”, or even “pittance”. “Pointless” strikes me as the most likely point of failure, “forced” the next most.

            Let’s say you’re a reasonably fit teenager staying on your grandparents’ farm for a couple weeks: if one day your grandpa has you digging a ditch as a chore, and the next day he sets you digging holes in the back forty and filling them back up again as punishment for setting a sheep on fire, you’re probably going to enjoy the latter a lot less. You’d probably also like it more if he asked you to dig the trench as a favor instead of just telling you to do it, but for me, at least, the gap would be smaller.

  106. Anthony says:

    Hypothesis: a person’s general level of happiness is innate. If unexpected good things happen, a person may become happier for a while, but that ‘s only true for unexpected good things. People adjust their expectations in response to what happens around them.

    Over the long run, the average level of innate happiness within a population can change if baseline happiness affects reproductive outcomes, but in the medium or short run, it’s not going to happen. Major systemic shocks might persistently change the relationship between baseline happiness and reproductive outcomes, but otherwise, they just change people’s immediate happiness level until they’ve gotten used to the new ways.

  107. onyomi says:

    Happiness reminds me very much of most other aspects of human physiology, such as, for example, body weight.

    My body weight seems to me to have a very strong set point right around “not as thin as onyomi would like to be, but not too fat, either.” When I exercise more, my appetite increases. When I go on a diet and temporarily lose weight, my appetite upregulates to get me back to the set point, etc.

    That said, it’s not as if, were I to stop exercising entirely, I wouldn’t look worse five years from now than if I continued. It’s not as if, were I to give up all dairy, processed sugars and fats, I wouldn’t look better five years from now than I probably will. But ask onyomi a and onyomi b at the end of five years how he feels about his body image. They’ll probably both say, “eh, I wish I could lose a few pounds, but I’m reasonably happy” or “moderately satisfied.”

    So, first of all, there’s the difference between how happy/fit you really are and how happy/fit you think you are (yes, I think the actual joy you experience on a daily basis and how you intellectualize your level of happiness in an abstract way are separate, with the latter, imo, probably being more greatly determined by socio-linguistic factors), and second, while there really are strong set points pushing you in the direction of looking neither like a fitness model nor a biggest loser contestant, of feeling neither amazing nor miserable, it doesn’t mean positive long-term changes can’t positively impact your lived experience, though intellectualizing and cultural-linguistic factors will tend to exert a further inertial drag, especially at the level of reporting.

    (I do, however, think that there is interaction between lived happiness and intellectual estimations of happiness such that maybe cultures which encourage people to think of themselves as happy do, as it were, enjoy a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy effect: Latin cultures, for example, seem to emphasize joie de vivre in a way Eastern European cultures do not).

    • anonymous says:

      onyomi do you have a blog?

      or some other kind of newsletter to which I could subscribe? (other than SSC comments)

      sorry if(f) the implied sort-of-flattery is annoying.

       

      (iff=if and only if, for anyone not familiar)

  108. Friday says:

    The New York Times agrees and says that “Chinese people’s feelings of well-being have declined in [this] period of momentous improvement in their economic lives”. And this seems to be worst among the poorest Chinese.

    My first guess about this was that the poorest Chinese are about as poor as they were in 1990, but that turns out to be wrong: according to the World Bank, “Between 2002 and 2007, incomes rose nearly 50 percent among China’s poorest 10 percent.” Inequality is up too, but I have a hard time believing that offsets such a huge improvement in standards of living.

    Oh, also, hello, SSC!

    • Nicholas says:

      Have prices increased more than 50%? Because if the income inequality was severe enough, it would drive prices above the gain in wages.

      • Friday says:

        I assumed it was adjusted for inflation, but I’ll check.

        (Update: yes, it’s counted in constant 2002 dollars.)

        • Nicholas says:

          But prices can increase faster than inflation, so even if we control for inflation, there might be an increase in prices beyond that: Has the price of, for example, food or heating oil increased in 2002 dollars over time?

          • The inflation rate is usually defined as the average rate of price increase.

            Is your point that some prices increase faster than that and some slower? Or are are you defining the inflation rate by the rate of increase of the money supply? That’s not the definition used in calculating real income.

          • Nicholas says:

            Food, fuel, and sometimes housing are excluded from the CPI calculations normally used to judge the rate of inflation. If those three things have all increased in price faster than the basket of non-food, fuel, and housing (depending on the calculator) products has on average, then you may see a decrease in the poor’s spending power that is not captured by inflation statistics. This would be particularly important considering that Food, Fuel, and Housing are a larger percentage of poor people’s spending than other economic groups’.

          • “Food, fuel, and sometimes housing are excluded from the CPI calculations normally used to judge the rate of inflation.”

            What is your source for that claim? I don’t think it is true, although I could be mistaken.

          • piercedmind says:

            @David:

            When it comes to absurd claims about China, normal intuition does not apply, because no matter how absurd that claim, it might just be true. In this case it’s partly true: Much to nobody’s surprise, the weighting of goods in the CPI of China is not public, but it does include food and transportation. However, it includes housing only nominally:

            “the NBS (National Bureau of Statistics) refers only to the mortgage interest rate in order to calculate the price of housing. Said figure is a virtually static number that does not really take into account the price of buying a house—which according to the NBS 70-city index rose approximately 120% between 2006 and 2010. All this suggests that housing is severely underweighted in the calculation of China’s overall inflation rate.”

            http://www.chinaeconomicreview.com/reverse-engineering-chinas-dependably-stable-consumer-price-index

    • Hello and welcome!

  109. Sniffnoy says:

    Again assuming I haven’t made some simple calculation mistake, I can think of three ways to go from here. First, abandon consequentialism entirely (I understand that having children will likely decrease my happiness, but I still want to have children because I value them for non-utilitarian reasons). Second, switch to a consequentialism based on non-subjective things like maximizing development and industrialization as a terminal goal (Really? Even if everyone hates it? Does it matter what the factories are building? How about paper clips?). Third, switch to preference utilitarianism.

    Please stop conflating consequentialism with utilitarianism, Scott! You mean “abandon utilitarianism entirely”. You could have all sorts of exotic non-utilitarian consequentialisms.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      That’s why I differentiated that option from maximizing development. If you can solve it with a consequentialism maximizing something other than development, I’d like to hear about it.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Ah, I see. However, your first parenthetical doesn’t fit with that.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        A consequentialism need not “maximize” anything. It doesn’t have to depend on any single numeric measure, or any single measure, or any numeric measures. A consequentialism’s evaluation function over outcomes can be arbitrarily complex and convoluted, could involve arbitrarily many levels of indirection (i.e. “the best outcome is that which Said Achmiz subjectively judges to be the best outcome”, “the best outcome is that which [insert other system] calculates to be the best outcome” (which system could itself refer to other systems), etc.), can refer to any features of the world (including intangibles like “love” or “[untranslatable 4]”), and can perform arbitrary operations on its inputs on the way to its output.

        Evaluation functions which maximize (or even, more generally, aggregate) some straightforwardly measurable quantity characterize a tiny, tiny fraction of even more-or-less-plausible consequentialisms, much less of possible consequentialisms in general. Utilitarianisms are a fraction of those, in turn.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          They can always be described as maximizing something if they recommend a coherent course of action.

          For instance, “the best outcome is that which Said Achmiz subjectively judges to be the best outcome”. This maximizes the extent to which the state of the world resembles what Said Achmiz judges best.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            No, this is not what “maximizes” means in this context; using the term in this way (i.e. saying, in effect, that consequentialism “maximizes” the output of its evaluation function) makes it trivial and meaningless. The correct usage, which is the not-trivial usage, is where “maximize” means that the output value of your evaluation function is monotonic with some other quantity (like the GDP of Poland, the diameter of the sun in millimeters, the average length in characters of a 4chan post, the total happiness of all sentient life-forms in Earth’s light cone, etc.).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Said Achmiz:

            That quantity is how much the world corresponds to what Said Achmiz desires. That may be hard to measure, but it’s a quantity.

          • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

            Wait, I’m confused. Are we positing Claim A: that there exist Consequentialisms whose functions have an arity greater than 1? or are we positing the Claim B: that there exist Consequetionalisms which don’t maximize any possible “philosophical abstraction over a combination of arbitrary inputs” (i.e. we can’t take an arbitrarily-complex function and retroactively name its output “utility”).

            Claim A feels obvious to me. And I think Scott is aware of this given his parenthetical regarding paperclips.

            Claim B I disagree with. The fact that we judge outcomes and make decisions at all suggests to me that possible universes are weakly ordered. E.g. what would it mean for a compiler to evaluate a conditional statement without a relational operator? That’s like ordering a cheeseburger without cheese.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @ FullMeta_Rationalist:

            Claim B is obviously silly, and that’s what my above reply to Vox Imperatoris addresses.

            Weak (or partial) ordering, however, doesn’t mean that describing the evaluation function as “maximizing” something is useful (i.e. non-tautological) terminology.

            If Scott is aware of this, his post and comments do not show it.

      • ilkarnal says:

        You should maximize for survival, of course. Ordered in priority: your own, then your family’s, then your country’s, then your ethnicity’s, then your species’, then your biosphere’s, then life in general. The priority can obviously shift around a bit depending on what is under threat in particular circumstances. In general, though, to be moral you must devote the most attention to the most specific and close problems, and the least to the most broad and far away problems.

        Chinese and Indian industrialization damages the four closest and most important priorities, and it doesn’t solve any sort of species or biosphere scale problem. The moral imperative is clear.

        If there truly is a deadly and addressable threat to something later on the priority list, it is virtuous to sacrifice earlier items in order to defeat that threat, for the obvious reason that the higher priority items are subsets of the broader, lower priority items and so bound to their fates. It is worth risking the whole of Earth-origin life if all life is safeguarded as a result. But such proposals are almost always fraudulent. For instance, you don’t make your family safer by joining the military – that’s a bald-faced lie meant to make a betrayal of your own interests seem virtuous. The lie is transparent enough that in order to get sufficient manpower it is almost always necessary to force people into service.

        Note that the act of forcing people into service is totally virtuous. It helps with all the items on the list, for the people doing the forcing. That does not make risking voluntarily risking one’s own skin and family – the latter having a very high probability of disintegrating and not being ‘your’ family anymore when you return – any less of a betrayal.

        When you confuse betrayal with virtue, when you pretend to be making a needful sacrifice when it is in fact needless, you tend to lose the thing you were pretending to sacrifice for. The fetishization and pedestalization of what is essentially scut work – the work of enlisted soldiers – has done irreparable harm to the ability of this country to wage wars. War is dirty work for poor wretches who have no choice but to do it. It is won by societies who understand that said wretches are disposable. That’s the lowest bar you have to clear, so obvious that it shouldn’t even need to be said. Yet it has been forgotten. An incalculable loss. If it only resulted in the loss of our nation, we ought to consider ourselves lucky.

        Another example of betrayal confused with virtue is ‘effective altruism.’ It is based on the idea that the priority list I outlined at the start is somehow immoral. In fact it is the only valid moral compass. I mean this in a consequentialist sense – when you don’t follow it, you are apt to lose all you hold dear. If you act like something doesn’t matter, it’s likely to be damaged. It has become unfashionable to say that ethnicity matters, but it does. You have a moral duty to your race. You forsake it at your peril. If you succeed in the mighty task of pulling other races up to your own level, you will find out the hard way that they do not share your cruel moral affliction.

        It may surprise you to learn that I hold the leftist dream of a united humanity very dear. I believe it is our future, and moreover a necessary step for the survival of everything on the initial list. But such unity must be eugenically forged – a common and supreme race bred from the best humanity has to offer. It is a mighty task. In lieu of undertaking it, leftists pretend that it is already done. It would be wonderful if their delusion was reality. If all individuals rested on or near the bleeding edge of genetic performance and loyalty to a common humanity, the future would be bright indeed. But one does not achieve a goal by pretending it is already achieved. To shrink from the arduous path ahead is one thing, but convincing oneself that the end has already been reached is the blackest evil.

        • Anonymous says:

          Did you really expect this argument by vigorous assertion to be persuasive?

          Why in the world should the next step from my family (~10) be my country (~300M) and after that my ethicity (~???)?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I responded in more detailed form above to this kind of racist ideology, but really I think it’s a matter of being so infatuated with the nobility of having to sacrifice “childish things” for bitter necessity that you lose sight of whether it’s really necessary after all.

            You like breaking eggs so much that it doesn’t matter whether you get any omelettes.

          • ilkarnal says:

            Why in the world should the next step from my family (~10) be my country (~300M)

            You can add arbitrary intermediate steps – say, your employer, your town, your province – but not a lot of blood gets spilled over those these days. My impression is that the fashion these days is to spill blood blood over their own skin, their family’s, then their country’s. If there were a lot of significant wars recently between cities under the same nation I would have added cities in. I don’t have any particular attachment to the specific points one plots to make the overarching point, which is that responsibility shrinks with distance from the self.

            But this jump seems to happen even in the most sectarian places. In Syria, people are motivated by the fight over the fate of their country rather than for the creation of tiny independent enclaves. The Sunni extremists want Assad to fall, not for the country to be partitioned. The Kurds want a Kurdistan eventually, not to hold tiny indefensible stripe of an enclave indefinitely – or they want the Sunni extremists to lose, and gain more independence within a victorious Alawite dominated Syria. The ambitions are focused on the scale of nations, the war is fought between sides with different views about the fate of their nation. It’s not a war fought between warring independent cities.

            Why in the world should this happen? Well, nations have been fairly good at uniting, as those that have that skill swallow those that don’t. There’s no cosmic reason why this is an appropriate jump. You can like it or dislike it. It’s just a reflection of practical reality today – I think. Feel free to disagree, I guess. It doesn’t really affect the broader point. It’s just what points on the line you decide to plot.

            argument by vigorous assertion

            Well, a large part of my post was making the point that when you don’t follow the moral compass I lay out the consequences tend to be calamitous. I’m not aware of what you can do to advocate for some kind of morality besides vigorously assert it and then defend it on the basis of its the positive consequences from following/the negative consequences from eschewing it.

          • ilkarnal says:

            racist

            As a subset of selfish, I suppose. But somehow while people understand the greater duty to oneself and one’s family, they become utterly horrified at the prospect of a greater duty to one’s ethnicity than to humanity as a whole. Silly.

            so infatuated with the nobility of having to sacrifice “childish things” for bitter necessity

            Pretended necessity is precisely what I criticize in my post. I criticized sacrificing one’s self for one’s nation when it was not necessary, and noted that it damaged both terribly – I would equally criticize sacrificing one’s nation for one’s ethnicity in the same manner.

            Indeed that’s a big part of what the Nazis did – they imagined themselves saviors of the White race from a largely imagined threat of internal contamination, which was part of what they were addressing with their ill-advised eastern crusade. It would be fine if their premises were correct, but they weren’t, and as a result they did terrible damage to what they thought they were saving. It’s not clear if we’ll ultimately survive the backlash from that mistake. The damage you inflict on what you pretend needs saving in these sorts of circumstances tends to be awe-inspiring.

            If the Nazis had been less execrable, the Union probably would have crumbled. There were a surprising number of traitors even with the Nazis being as amoral and ignoble as one can imagine (on that front, not everywhere). So the Nazis lost their war in the bargain – or at least lost it much more brutally than they would have if their ultimate conquerors came from the West – along with their honor. Well-deserved, but as I said the consequences go far beyond that.

            You like breaking eggs so much that it doesn’t matter whether you get any omelettes.

            I believe anyone who advocates ‘breaking eggs’ in the specific sense of self-sacrifice is probably dangerously deluded. When those delusions get taken up by larger and larger groups the damage scales up to unimaginable levels.

            As far as breaking other people’s eggs to get your own omelet – I think that’s the fundamental character of life. Take away everything that does that to make a living, and I don’t think there’s anything left. Even photosynthesizes survive by blocking competitors’ access to light and ground.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ ilkarnal:

            If racism and nationalism were actually in your self-interest, they would be good. My objection is that they are not.

            You can gain quite a lot by trading and interacting with other members of the “white race”. You can also gain quite a lot by trading and interacting with members of the “Asian race”. The relative amount varies from person to person depending on circumstances. If, as a white person, you marry an Asian person, that is such a large positive that you are likely to gain more Asians than from other whites. Not to mention that you can, you know, move to Hong Kong or something. And the Chinese can move to America or Germany.

            People should look out for themselves, fine. That doesn’t mean the best way to do that is to look out for other members of their racial group, or to disregard harms to other racial groups.

            The part people are objecting to is when you say we have to “eugenically forge” a “superior race” or something. Suppose the members of some races are better on average than others. Nevertheless, “A genius is a genius, regardless of the number of morons who belong to the same race—and a moron is a moron, regardless of the number of geniuses who share his racial origin.”

            As far as breaking other people’s eggs to get your own omelet – I think that’s the fundamental character of life. Take away everything that does that to make a living, and I don’t think there’s anything left. Even photosynthesizes survive by blocking competitors’ access to light and ground.

            That’s probably the biggest area where you’re wrong.

            The world isn’t zero-sum. It’s not the law of the jungle, red in tooth and claw. Plants can’t produce more sunlight; they can only take it away from another plant.

            But human beings are capable of producing wealth in a positive-sum way such that there are no fundamental conflicts of interest among them. In the context of a free, capitalist society. That’s why it’s important to promote international, cross-ethnic cooperation and trade and to establish the rule of production, not force.

            That may sometimes require using violence in self-defense against irrational collectivists who are opposed to allowing peaceful trade across racial and national boundaries. But that violence should be limited as far as possible because it is destructive. And anyway, you don’t sound like you’re on the right side of that conflict.

          • ilkarnal says:

            But human beings are capable of producing wealth in a positive-sum way such that there are no fundamental conflicts of interest among them.

            But that’s obviously wrong. The world is finite. There are a limited number of women, a limited number of men, a limited amount of resources – and infinite need. What I mean by that last point is very important – there is no ‘enough.’ How many children does an organism have, ideally? As many as possible. There’s no limit. How safe do you want to be from injury and death? As safe as possible – there’s no limit except 100% safe, which is impossible. The resources necessary for each sequential .1% increase in safety go up exponentially.

            A more salient point in this era of temporary safety – what do you want your chances of dying alone and unloved to be? You want them arbitrarily small, meaning you want yourself to be as desirable a partner as possible. Arbitrary resources can go into this basically ‘zero-sum’ game (you don’t create more eligible girls or boys by being more desirable) without you ever being desirable enough to be SURE you will get a suitable partner.

            If, as a white person, you marry an Asian person, that is such a large positive

            That’s clearly advocated for in my ‘moral compass.’ The self goes before the race, which itself goes after the nation and after the family. You haven’t put any effort into understanding my position – you’ve just caricatured me as a stoopid raciss and left it at that.

            Nevertheless, “A genius is a genius, regardless of the number of morons who belong to the same race—and a moron is a moron, regardless of the number of geniuses who share his racial origin.”

            Broadly true, with caveats – depending on your race your performance and that of your children will regress to a different mean. But more importantly, it’s a numbers game. You want the genetic stock that gives you the best performance. For every white individual on the extreme low end of the white bell curve there’s another on the extreme high end. You don’t compare one end of one bell curve to the other end of another. You compare apples to apples – a given percentile of one population to a given percentile of another.

            Anyway, I am just quibbling. I am perfectly happy to skim the cream of the crop off the top of other populations. Look at my compass. Is getting the most brilliant Chinese folks to come over here a minor betrayal of our ethnic interests? Perhaps. Is it a boon for our national interests? Yes. So do it, on that basis.

            Unless you’re an individual who will be hurt by that immigration, in which case you should oppose it. I do think that skimming the very best off the top of other societies is on the whole a good deal for almost everyone in skimmer nation, though. It’s the careless ladling I have a problem with, and everyone here should have a problem with.

            irrational collectivists

            Synonymous with “humans.” But yeah, you go try fighting an “individualist” war against those evil “collectivists.” Lemme know how it goes.

          • Anonymous says:

            How many children does an organism have, ideally? As many as possible.

            How safe do you want to be from injury and death? As safe as possible – there’s no limit except 100% safe, which is impossible.

            what do you want your chances of dying alone and unloved to be? You want them arbitrarily small, meaning you want yourself to be as desirable a partner as possible.

            All refuted by revealed preferences.

            Also, you may want to review the naturalistic fallacy and the teleological fallacy.

            Fear of death is natural, but you aren’t your genes. Even if they were, you still couldn’t be immortal. Sorry.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ ilkarnal:

            But that’s obviously wrong. The world is finite. There are a limited number of women, a limited number of men, a limited amount of resources – and infinite need. What I mean by that last point is very important – there is no ‘enough.’ How many children does an organism have, ideally? As many as possible. There’s no limit. How safe do you want to be from injury and death? As safe as possible – there’s no limit except 100% safe, which is impossible. The resources necessary for each sequential .1% increase in safety go up exponentially.

            I am not saying there is any “enough”. I linked in this very thread to a chapter arguing for the “limitless need and desire for wealth”.

            And yes, the universe is (as far as we know) finite. But that is irrelevant and certainly doesn’t mean things are zero-sum.

            For all practical purposes, we are not constrained by the carrying capacity of the universe, or the total amount of natural resources in it. We are constrained by the amount accessible to mankind. An improvement in mining technology does not metaphysically create more iron, but economically it does by making that which was previously cut off from human access now within human reach.

            The way of human survival in a civilized society is production, not predation. Maybe in some sense my first choice would be for everyone to sacrifice themselves on my behalf, to serve me above all. But I recognize that they don’t have any reason to. To get them to help me, I can either produce things myself and trade with them, or I can use force to coerce them.

            The second way is impractical and self-defeating because when everyone tries to rob and defraud everybody else, we all end up worse off. That’s why we have institutions against that sort of behavior.

            A more salient point in this era of temporary safety – what do you want your chances of dying alone and unloved to be? You want them arbitrarily small, meaning you want yourself to be as desirable a partner as possible. Arbitrary resources can go into this basically ‘zero-sum’ game (you don’t create more eligible girls or boys by being more desirable) without you ever being desirable enough to be SURE you will get a suitable partner.

            There is no universal scale of the desirability of partners, from the lowest on the totem pole to the highest. There are people who are more and less compatible.

            As population and communication increases, linking people together, the compatibility of possible matches increases. So even this is positive-sum.

            That’s clearly advocated for in my ‘moral compass.’ The self goes before the race, which itself goes after the nation and after the family. You haven’t put any effort into understanding my position – you’ve just caricatured me as a stoopid raciss and left it at that.

            If you don’t want to be perceived as a stupid racist, you probably shouldn’t come in with some kind of Stormfront-level bluster about the Peril to the White Race.

            Besides, if you admit this, it contradicts the whole framework you laid out. If you admit that other races can be equally if not more valuable to you than your own, where does the special value of your race come in?

            You seem to be misunderstanding the very “concentric circles” model you’re putting forward. The model says: you over other people, then your family over other families, then your nation over other nations, then your race over other races. But if someone from another race can come in above your family, let along your nation, this model isn’t providing you any guidance.

            The model is supposed to work like this: we may fight within our family, but when the Lancasters come, we Yorks stick together. And when the French come, we English stick together. And when the Yellow Peril comes, we Europeans stick together. You don’t get to side with the Yellow Peril to get one up on the Lancasters: that defeats the whole idea.

            “Race loyalty, but only when it’s not in your interest to betray your race,” doesn’t make sense. The world’s most perfect cosmopolitan adheres to that standard.

            Unless you’re an individual who will be hurt by that immigration, in which case you should oppose it. I do think that skimming the very best off the top of other societies is on the whole a good deal for almost everyone in skimmer nation, though. It’s the careless ladling I have a problem with, and everyone here should have a problem with.

            Why do I care about the “careless ladling” or the average quality of the “racial stock”?

            No matter the level of ability of the foreigners, if they produce more than they consume, they are a net positive. If they consume more than they produce and not on the voluntary aid of others but by trying to rob them, well, that’s why we have the police.

            Synonymous with “humans.” But yeah, you go try fighting an “individualist” war against those evil “collectivists.” Lemme know how it goes.

            If you’re saying the level of individualism in a society is a constant, let alone a constant zero, that’s just wrong.

            As for war, look at the war between the relatively individualistic United States and the relatively collectivistic Empire of Japan. The Japanese fought harder, were willing to sacrifice more. But they were outproduced by the superior wealth of America.

            “I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country.”

          • ilkarnal says:

            All refuted by revealed preferences.

            Why are safe neighborhoods so expensive? Why do people spend so much money on status symbols, and so much time at the gym?

            Fear of death is natural, but you aren’t your genes. Even if they were, you still couldn’t be immortal. Sorry.

            I hate to break it to you… But this is a non-sequitur. Sorrrryyyy. So sorry. Sorry again.

        • Anonymous says:

          In fact it is the only valid moral compass. I mean this in a consequentialist sense – when you don’t follow it, you are apt to lose all you hold dear. If you act like something doesn’t matter, it’s likely to be damaged. It has become unfashionable to say that ethnicity matters, but it does. You have a moral duty to your race. You forsake it at your peril.

          This is circular reasoning. You argue that ethnicity should matter because I hold it dear. But I don’t. I give no fucks if the “white race” survives.

          • ilkarnal says:

            Are you white? Bonus question: are you suicidal?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ ilkarnal:

            I believe the intent of the statement was: “I don’t care if the white race survives me or this generation.”

            If all white people stopped having children, that would be the end of the white race. I would not care.

            I don’t think that’s likely to happen. But nor do I think the white race is likely to be murdered in their beds by the Colored Hordes. Which I would care about but find ridiculous.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yes, I’m white. No, I’m not suicidal.

          • Cadie says:

            ilkarnal, the “white race” as a distinct entity is unimportant even when it comes to things like descendant and gene survival. Any children I have will carry ~50% of my genes, regardless of the race of their father. Any grandchildren will carry ~50% of the kids’ genes. Etc. It doesn’t matter. My brother is engaged to an Asian-American woman. If they have kids, they’re still my nieces and nephews. The additional genetic difference between me and those kids from her race being different from ours is tiny, vastly overwhelmed by the similarity of second-degree relatives. When me and my immediate family are gone, our legacy is going to be about the same either way.

            Not to mention there’s conflict over who counts as what race, anyway; it’s not a totally arbitrary division, due to the presence of genetic similarities/differences leading to different rates of different diseases, different environmental adaptations, etc. but there’s plenty of disagreement over where to draw the boundaries.

          • Looking at my moral intuitions, I probably give a slightly higher weight to fellow Ashkenazi than to random people. But I give a much higher weight to my kind of people, defined by intellect and personality, whatever their racial background.

        • JBeshir says:

          I maximise for my values, which is why I like Effective Altruism- because I hold values over the state of the rest of the world in the same way I hold them over the state of my own body.

          And while naturally this includes survival, and you could duck-punch my value system into just survival using really weird definitions (“it isn’t really the same thing if everyone in it is miserable, and it’s surviving *more* if everyone is happy”), for any non-stretched definition I have to say that I value things other than survival too.

          And while you might *want* me to value ethnicity and country, I simply don’t value the former and, instrumental value aside, have at best a mild aesthetic preference for the existence of the latter that I’d make no serious sacrifices for. You call that betrayal; I say that as far as I know, you haven’t done anything that justifies me owing you anything.

          (Although I suppose you might consider the lack of value for ethnicity predictable, since my background is mixed race, not that you’d know it to see me. I’m pretty much what the anti-mixing people were afraid of in that regard.)

          If I read your “should” arguments as meaning that under any other value system, one should self-modify/pretend to value the things you list, because it’d be instrumentally valuable to those value systems to do so, because valuing anything different causes everything to collapse, it is coherent and could in a hypothetical universe be true. But it isn’t in ours.

          Firstly, to the extent it’s necessary to promote moral decency, there’s no reason to use ethnicity as a proxy for it- you can simply favour it *directly*.

          Secondly, there’s no reason to favour *yourself* or your own group when doing so- if you can find people who are morally better than you according to your values, you should promote *them*, not you and yours. This one is important, because it’s what leads you to put power in the hands of the competent as opposed to in the hands of your family, which even as flawed as it is, is a pretty critical part of Western civilisation’s success.

          Thirdly, we have a lot of countries in the world, and we can compare the countries where people favour their own ethnicities to countries which attempt liberalism. This comparison does not favour your position; the former is basically an endless conflict which makes everyone worse off. Because the endless conflict follows pretty trivially from the incentives involved, it’s implausible that “have the same game but with different players” would end much better.

          Also, generally we want some actual evidence *for*, when someone says we need to perform massive blood sacrifice In The Name Of The Greater Good, and that’s lacking.

          • ilkarnal says:

            I think your value system is wrong in the following senses – it leads to terrible results, and it is extremely fragile. I think when thrown into circumstances fraught with deprivation and danger, you will rapidly start acting and feeling as if my moral compass is correct.

            Moreover, if you don’t, you’ll be less likely to survive and successfully reproduce.

            That’s enough to satisfy me that your moral compass is completely without merit relative to mine.

            we can compare the countries where people favour their own ethnicities to countries which attempt liberalism

            The countries that are ‘attempting liberalism’ in the modern sense started doing so over about the past century. They got their towering lead over the rest of the world before that, while they were distinctly illiberal when it came to things like racial and gender equality, and subjugating foreign countries by force. Over the past century, their lead over the rest of the world has shrunk drastically. The Asian countries biting at their heels do not share their ethno-masochist tendencies.

            I don’t think you can blame this on the cascading liberalism (though I am obviously inclined to call it a contributing factor) but the circumstances do NOT support the idea that modern liberal ideology leads to greater wealth and power.<