Ignoring Easterlin: Why Easterlin’s Correlation Findings Need Not Matter to Public Policy
Many believe that the lack of correlation between happiness and income, first discovered by Richard Easterlin in 1974, entails the conclusion that well-being policies should be made based on happiness measures, rather than income measures. I argue that distinguishing between how well-being is characterized and how that characterization is measured introduces ways of denying the conclusion that policies should be made based on happiness measures. It is possible to avoid the conclusion either by denying that well-being hedonism is true or by denying that happiness measures are a better way of operationalizing hedonism than income measures are. By making these possibilities explicit, we find that less hinges on whether income and happiness are correlated than is often thought.
KeywordsEasterlin Well-being policy Operationalism Hedonism
I thank Nancy Cartwright, Saba Bazargan-Forward, Craig Agule, Alexandre Marcellesi, Casey McCoy, Martin Binder, Kelsey O’Connor, and two anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts. I also thank the audience at the 17th INEM/CHESS Summer School in Economics and Philosophy for helpful comments.
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