There's nobody here but us chickens.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

The price of happiness

I was having a conversation about politics while in Sweden over the weekend when the topic of citizens salaries came up. I was asked whether this was taken seriously as an issue over in the UK. Not at all, I answered. No, its not considered plausible over here at the moment either, she expanded. I explained that I meant it is not considered plausible, it is not considered, has not entered the zeitgeist in any real way. Citizens salaries are as foreign as sil and saltlakrits.

This is one strand I want to explore over the next couple of months – I certainly don’t have the credentials to claim any authority in matters of macro-economy, but I have some enthusiasm for the topic and I’d like to push the boat out a little bit in terms of what is generally brought to this debate (right wing: large welfare state is intrinsically bad, with reduced independence and freedom; left wing: tendency to drift towards utopianism and rejection of local optima - ‘good enough’ solutions).

Today I just want to link to a beautiful post from a site I’ve never read before, but it hits on one of the key issues more eloquently than I ever could. It touches on themes long noted in the human decision-making literature, about the discrepancy in economic measures of utility and choices about how much things are worth to real people. The clearest example is that the value functions that you can plot to describe the reward got for a reward in resources are not straight but curved - the subjective worth of a resource tails off as the amount becomes greater. More than this, it deals with the battle between two American Dreams, both of which can plausibly be described as Global Dreams on this 21st C ball of mud. Better still, it’s not much longer than this plaudit here. Go check it out.