Thursday, October 30, 2008

If you're happy and you know it...

After opting into a Race, Class, and Gender course last spring and suffering through an intolerable amount of Marxism and postmodernism and a whole lot of other -isms, I was happy to read this this morning:
One of the most annoying tropes of modern intellectual life is that the material abundance of liberal market societies has come at the cost of increasing unhappiness and unease — the "paradox of prosperity," I call it. Over the past half-decade, a raft of books has been devoted to our allegedly paradoxical ennui. Examples include The Progress Paradox, by Greg Easterbrook, The American Paradox by David Myers, and The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. But the paradox of prosperity is a myth. The multidisciplinary field called "happiness research," from which all these books draw, now shows that, other things equal, prosperity makes us happier. Wealthier individuals tend to be happier. Wealthier societies tend to be happier. Average happiness tends to rise in places where average wealth is rising.
One of the main arguments against capitalism that I've heard from my profs is that wealthier nations become unhappy - that there are diminishing returns to the free market. These studies thus give me comfort.

One postmodern bugaboo that I still need empirical evidence to refute is that inequality in a society is intolerable and inherently unjust. Last semester, I remember making the mistake of trying to speak up for the free market and my prof interrupted.

"Excuse me, there is no such thing as a free market."

[Was she going to clarify that we live in a mixed economy, I thought?]

"There is no such thing as a free market because capitalism inherently enslaves people. It requires inequality."

Since when were inequality and slavery the same thing? Sigh. A less extreme version of her argument is that inequality makes people unhappy because they see what they cannot have and it makes them feel inferior. So does anyone have any sources/books/references on people coping with inequality?

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