Motivationally Balancing Policy


In response to Amitai Etzioni’s paper “Happiness Is the Wrong Metric” I argue several points. First, arguing against a view of humans as seeking only pleasure is a strawman, and ‘satisfiers’ should be more broadly understood as seeking to satisfy their preferences by maximizing utility. Second, the idea that humans have multiple motivations is not new, but is nevertheless important for understanding and guiding behavior. Third, the standard economic practice of methodological utility-maximization is beneficial in the short-term, while it has some potential downside in the long-term.

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  1. 1.

    It is possible to construe commitments to oneself as having a moral dimension as well. If, for example, one is an ethical utilitarian, she would view her own pleasure as part of the general pleasure she is morally committed to maximize.

  2. 2.

    The recent trend of corporate inversions to avoid paying taxes in the US are an example of the utility-maximizing mindset, rather than any commitment based mindset.

Further Reading

  1. Aristotle. 1925. The Nichomachean Ethics. J. L. Translator: Ross David. Revised by: Ackrill & J. O. Urmson, (Eds.), (1980th ed.). Oxford University Press.

  2. Gneezy, U., & Rustichini, A. 2000. A Fine Is a Price. The Journal of Legal Studies, 29(1), 1.

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  3. Marwell, G. R., & Ames, R. 1981. Economists Free Rides, Does Anyone Else? Journal of Public Economics, 15, 295–310.

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  4. Sen, A. 1977. Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 6(4), 317–344.

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  5. Smith, A. 1759. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. London, UK: Strand.

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Correspondence to Gil Hersch.

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Hersch, G. Motivationally Balancing Policy. Soc 53, 264–268 (2016).

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  • Methodological utility-maximization
  • Multiple commitment
  • Motivations
  • Public policy