Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wealth and Happiness

A fantastic essay at the Atlantic about the extent to which wealth brings happiness, discussing survey data from very rich households in a forthcoming Boston College study (which I will be sure to read when it comes out).
“I realized good and evil are equally distributed across the economic spectrum and not particular to the wealthy or the poor,” [sociologist Paul G. Schervish] says.
Exactly right. Contra Ayn Rand and Karl Marx, virtuous wealth and virtuous poverty are both myths (although the latter is probably more widely believed these days than the former).

Incidentally, as an economist I have from time to time been guilty of laughing at sociology as a discipline.Guys like Paul Schervish and John Havens remind me that it's a very bad habit to get into, as a lot of interesting work is done there.

I also very much liked these lines towards the end:
If anything, the rich stare into the abyss a bit more starkly than the rest of us. We can always indulge in the thought that a little more money would make our lives happier—and in many cases it’s true. But the truly wealthy know that appetites for material indulgence are rarely sated. No yacht is so super, nor any wine so expensive, that it can soothe the soul or guarantee one’s children won’t grow up to be creeps.
Just so.

As a man who makes a living from finance and economics (albiet one far too poor to speak of these things firsthand), I endorse every word. Read the whole thing.

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