Wednesday, January 25, 2006

happiness, not necessarily economic growth

Economists are beginning to realize that continuous growth is *not* a good thing. In a speech last week, Professor Andrew Oswald reported that new statistical work by psychologists and economists demonstrates that “once a country has filled its larders, there is no point in that nation becoming richer.”

His speech (in the Financial Times—subscription required—-and recounted in the New Economist blog) notes that industrialized nations have not become more happy over time. Oswald attributes this to three reasons: our happiness is usually relative, compared to those around us; we get used to new circumstances fairly rapidly; and we rarely know what really will make us happy.

The fact that we are made happier by comparing ourselves to others I find regretful, and will leave uncommented-upon. The fact that we adapt quickly is related to the fact that everything in the universe goes in cycles. The only thing that grows forever is cancer.

It will still take a while for economists and politicians and the rest of us to stop pursuing growth at any cost, but at least the dawn is beginning to brighten.


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