Monday, October 23, 2006

Out of position: Against the politics

Out of position: Against the politics:

"According to Layard, Frank and others, we fiercely value positional goods because we fiercely value status—the ultimate positional good. This explains, they posit, why average self-reported happiness has not gone up over time, though wealthier people at any time are more likely to be happier. Higher relative standing makes us happier, but the middle of the income distribution is the middle, no matter how big the number. So there simply is no avoiding the positional downside of every positional upside. But, they argue, we cannot simply shrug off the inevitable cruelty of a world in which our interests are in irreconcilable conflict. Policy must take human nature seriously, and do what it can to help. We should take the dismay and anxiety caused by zero-sum competition over positional goods just as seriously as sludge dumped in a stream, the roar of jets at a nearby airport, or other classic examples of negative spillover effects (or ‘negative externalities’) of economic activity."

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