« Happiness and Wellbeing- Becker | Main | The Internet, Competition, and Censorship—Posner’s Comment »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Chris Walker

Could an explanation be found in the fact that, while per capita income has increased on a high level in the past 30 years, the average income for the average person has not increased significally? Especially in relation to the cost of living?

What I mean is that for the past few decades, the trend has been that fewer and fewer people are making more and more money. Since the per capita increase in income has hardly been shared among everyone, it might explain why a happiness increase is not felt among everyone.


Isn't it true that when the rich get richer, the poor get richer too? In times of economic downturn and the rich getting poorer, and the poor getting poorer, happiness is not there.

Eli Koz

While the marginal utility of income is decreasing, maybe the marginal (and perhaps dismal) labor required to increase income is far higher in advanced countries. Even if practically pointless, people - especially in richer nations - still strive to obtain a higher paycheck, often going to great lengths to do so.

As was pointed out, places like the U.S., Japan, and the U.K. rank high in GDP, but are mediocre in "happiness." Perhaps their advanced workforces have hit a critical point with happiness as they encounter the increasingly steep promotion/income curves of their cutting-edge economies.

My conjectures and generalizations could, however, be entirely wrong. The issue seems less related to economics and more to sociology, though there undeniably is at least a hint of positive monetary correlation with happiness. Did somebody say "scatter-plot?"

John Hosack


The data on happiness is of doubtful reliability or interpretation.
For example Inglehart, Foa and Welzel, in the article "Social
Change, Freedom and Rising Happiness", Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, graph data derived from Veenhoven's World Database
of Happiness (http://worlddatabaseofhappiness.eur.nl). This shows the
US to have a gradually rising level of happiness since about 1980.
The US level is higher than other countries graphed, including the
estimated level in Denmark.
However, the Veenhoven data currently has Costa Rica on top and
Denmark second.


Why is Judge Posner focusing on the increase in *per capita* income? As Robert Frank notes in his recent book The Economic Naturalist's Field Guide, *median* income has barely changed in the 30 years. Why this disparity? Because the rise in per capita income is due to the skyrocketing income of the upper class. Most of the country hasn't significantly shared in this growth. Judge Posner's analysis glosses over this distributional reality.

Chicago School and a Denier of MMGW


30 years of a mini ice age coming, yet Al Gore and the fascist cult of fraudulent scientists want policy makers to tax carbon so we can send money to Hugo Chavez.

The thought of my home heating costs going up doesn't make me very happy.

Nick Webroyalty

very good posting. i liked it. keep going. :)


Brian Davis, Austin, TX

Legal (alcohol, tobacco, mind-altering Rx potions) and illegal drugs, very largely, in my humble opinion. These poisons are a scourge. They wreck health, lives and families, kill initiative, and turn users into thieves and cons. But it's still America and most folks don't share my views. Listen to any monologue by Coach Lou Holtz, a favorite of mine from the years when his ragged Arkansas football team used to whip up on powerful Texas and Oklahoma. He says you must have four things for a satisfying life: 1) somebody to love, 2) something (constructive) to do, 3) something to believe in, and 4) I can't recall immediately. But it didn't have anything to do with power or money. Great question, Judge.

Jeff N


but I would like to point out the people in the United States that derive happiness from their work. My father in particular comes to mind--with 30 years of military service, he retired with a pretty sizable pension. However, he returned to the civil service and works doing almost the exact same thing as active duty military. I am sure that there are those who hate their work but I cannot imagine that my father is alone in finding pleasure in his work. I may only be in my second semester of micro theory, but this defies any labor supply curve (upward then backward).

Denise Shull

"Maybe so; but as long as people do have this strong preference, economics can explain a great deal of human behavior."

This is a spurious correlation in that it is saying that stated conscious preference equals reality in terms of motivation.

Neuroscience can now show a very strong role for emotions in actual decisions and those emotions may motivate in a way so as not to increase income.


Obviously you don't believe that "the best things in life are free". Yes, it is true that modern man needs sustenance, shelter, occupation, companionship and physical security. Much more than that is probably starting down the right side of the bell curve. Might I also point out that the essence of human life can be centered in the physical, intellectual, spiritual or transcendental realm. The higher one gets, the less money one needs to be happy once the basics have been achieved. Americans are unhappy because they have been hoodwinked by the media and political indoctrination of what "success" or "happiness" mean which in large measure is unattainable, in particular for women.


As stated previously on this blog;

"Notice finally how the migration of women from household to market jobs exaggerates economic growth, because market earnings are counted as part of GDP but household "earnings"--the value of household production--are not."

Maybe this explains it. Maybe in real terms (that is including the value of household production) GDP has not increased.


"but as long as people do have this strong preference, economics can explain a great deal of human behavior."

Let's just not mistake explaining for justifying--or quit searching for a macroeconomic metric that measures what we ought to want for ourselves as a nation.

Meanwhile, what has this GDP done for us lately?

Michael F. Martin

Happiness moreover is a psychological, which is to say a biological, state, and biological states are not as variable as income is. ...
But one should distinguish between happiness and preferences, and hence between maximizing happiness and maximizing preference satisfaction. ... as long as people do have this strong preference, economics can explain a great deal of human behavior.

From whence do preferences arise if not biology?

Peter "Grow Taller" Davis

I do think that we are getting less and less happy. I am no psychologist but in my opinion, it is caused by too much freedom. I not even close to saying that we have too much of it, simply people have so many possibilities in today's world they get lost. In the past, you had one or two options to pursue now, you can do whatever you want. Continental and language barriers are no longer of any value, so the entire world is under anyone's fingertips... And for some it is motivating and for others discouraging. Just my two cents.


I recall Lou Reed, the old 1970s rock-and-roller, saying that "money can't buy you love, but money sure can buy you a Cadillac to go looking for it." Truer words were never spoken.

andy adkins

I am 36 years old and the following is the typical storyline encumbering the bastard life of the son of Bill Clinton

Results 1 - 10 of about 77,400 for ROBERT WOOD JOHNSON HARRISON ARKANSAS. (0.32 seconds)
Search Results
1. Harrison Daily Times - Harrison, Arkansas - Neighbor Newspapers > News
Jan 1, 2010 ... North Arkansas Partnership for Health Education (NAPHE) at Harrison has been awarded a $360000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ...

harrisondailytimes.com/news/ - Cached

So that the murderers can continue to enjoy luxury built on lies until the world ends (their actually planned retirement...)

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Announces Games for Health ...
Hillary Clinton to Moderate Regional Forums on Health Care Reform Sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Newspaper article from: U.S. Newswire ...

It is a Bribe that is no different than the national wetlands research center, johnson controls laboratory, call centers, and the more recent $billion given with the last budget that was given to University of Louisiana- Lafayette (the bourbon political elite (google the term)-( the Waterboy's Bourbon Bowl was about the bribes paid by the voodoo woman named fills us), the alma mater from which I was the least outstanding graduate in history. My life was harried, homeless, friendless, & perennially jobless unless digging ditches until they finally let me go to graduate in 2001 after his terms had ended.
the comedy central tag on my blog makes everything obvious (and it is not me saying it), the circumstance were treated as a resource to exploit big money on the west coast.
It is why my life was wrecked in Fayetteville, Arkansas (where I intended to obtain a MA in Economics from UA (Clinton home is an important historical landmark to them). They actually wrecked my vehicle and seriously injured me on 9/22/2006 see the song "Fly Away" and "all the way" there is another one that mentions the wreck on the album Despite Our Differences by the Indigo Girls (I still have pictures and the Police Reports (actually made the police make changes to the report (but the damage was done with my insurance). "three county highway" (I-540) and I was cited for careless driving...actually made a case out of it

if it were your life and your capacity to contribute, would you be happy? the unimaginable is at stake

andy adkins

i wouldn't call the anything that happened regularly on the side during the courting of the marion county democratic party chair in the two year run up to the 1974 3rd congressional election a mistake...and no matter how much language is effected nothing makes a fetus a cyst *as the chicago native.....


"Maybe so; but as long as people do have this strong preference, economics can explain a great deal of human behavior."

Sure, but as you say...

"Most people, including most economists, do not regard per capita income or other measures of economic welfare ... as an end in itself, but as a contributor to human happiness broadly conceived."

Furthermore – what different revealed preferences would you expect to observe if people wasn’t trying to increase their absolute, but relative, income?

Neil E. Hatfield

Well..., it seems that the studies cited seem to bear out the theoretical underpinnings of Mazlow's great psychological work of 1943, "A Theory of Motivation". It appears that it really is all about happiness and the "Hierarchy of Needs" Such that, at the bottom of the pyramid lies the physiological needs, followed by safety needs, then love & belonging, then the esteem needs, and finally the self actualization needs. It appears that there is more than the greenback at work.

Perhaps, a new economic discipline is in the making, "Psy. Econ."

Gray, Germany

It's a serious mistake to look at the AVERAGE income. You should have looked at the MEDIAN income instead. There, the progress hasn't been so positive. And this at least explains the stagnating happyness of men, and partly explains why the women are less happy today.


In answer to Landform's question,"Isn't it true that when the rich get richer, the poor get richer too?", no. The last few decades would seem to prove they don't. However, the converse, that if the poor get richer, the rich get richer (but perhaps not relatively so), may well be true.

Luis Hernandez

well the more the better, but as long people get enough satisfying basic needs the extra money they get does not buy happiness and this might be affected by different aspects such as friends, virtual friends, how demanding are the jobs now, traffic jams (sure much lower 40 years ago than now). Also I think that the scale of satisfaction is subjective so an 8 of happiness of me is maybe 6 for another person like me, but that is more exigent, and between generations they also differ, and current generations might be more ambitious and competitive than others?

abercrombie and fitch

that's why we always say you can not buy happiness with money.

Obadiah Shoher


Could unhappiness be perhaps related to the amount of advertising? Empirically, I would imagine that the amount of advertising experienced by American consumers is far larger than in other countries, and women are more receptive to advertising than men. The more advertising they see, the larger is a gap between what they have and what they wish to have.

Talmudic tractate Pirkei Avot asks, 'Who is a happy man?' And it answers, "The one who is satisfied with his lot.'

It might be that the people who subsist on $1 per day do not expect a better life, and are satisfied. And in America, consumer advertising (both direct and in TV shows) makes people unhappy over not owning a house in Beverly Hills.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Become a Fan

May 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31