Re: Market failure to sufficently weigh the future

Date: Mon Oct 30 2000 - 11:04:55 MST

Robin writes:
> Why don't you just bite the bullet and tell us that their theory doesn't
> describe your preferences? How much are you willing to spend today to
> give yourself in ten years $1 more to spend then, and how much would you
> be willing to spend today to give yourself ten years ago $1 more to spend
> then, assuming we could arrange a time machine to implement this choice?

I don't think this is quite the right question to ask, in terms of
evaluating their proposed remedy. You are asking about a one-time event,
giving up something today for a benefit ten years ago that I might not
remember. However their remedy would have continuous, long term effect.
I might not remember a specific day ten years ago, but I would remember
the overall tone of my life in those days.

The real question is, it seems to me, is would I have been happier over
the course of my life if I had generally saved more for the future, and
consumed less in each moment of the present. Should I have sacrificed
current happiness in favor of postponed gratification? Would that have
given me a happier and more satisified life?

This is what their remedy would do. It would coerce or persuade me
to delay present pleasures into the future. Their claim is that most
people would be happier, in general, if this were done to them.

My answer to the question in this form is, no, I don't think this would
make me happier. Of course, having more would be good, generally,
and delaying consumption would make me wealthier. But this will come
at a constant, gnawing cost, of giving up the pleasures which make life
so enjoyable. It is this ongoing cost which I think is missed by the
question as you formulated it. A life of deferred gratification is a life
of sacrifice and frustration. I believe that if we fully internalize and
understand that cost, that we will come to understand that past pleasures
are very worthwhile, even when we have forgotten the specific details.


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