Re: Damned European Socialists ;-)

Steve Tucker (
Thu, 12 Nov 1998 23:50:52 -0600

Bernard Hughes wrote:

> Steve Tucker wrote:
> [snip]

> > > If this research is accurate, a rational libertarian should voluntarily give
> > > away most of their wealth every so often to maximize happiness. The short term
> > > hit after giving it away is more than compensated for by the long term
> > > opportunity to rebuild from a low base. It is rather counter intuitive though.
> > > How convincing would the research need to be for people on this list to adopt
> > > such a strategy? What would be the economic effects (Robin?)?
> >
> > Did I miss something? It sounds as though the able-bodied should choose to become
> > quadreplegics for the sake of their happiness, if one accepts this sort of nonsense.
> >
> > - Steve
> I figured the "we should all become quadriplegics" deduction was so obviously flawed
> that it didn't need comment. The quadriplegic example was just to illustrate that common
> assumptions about happiness may be flawed. People with so little of what we consider
> valuable should be miserable, right? Not necessarily so. People with lots of "valuables"
> should be happy, right? Not necessarily so.
> My point was if we are trying to maximize our happiness, but are intuitions about what
> makes us happy are flawed, then our strategies are likely to be flawed. Declaring
> research nonsense because it doesn't meet our expectations doesn't seem to be very
> rational. Since the reported research is not yet published, its hard to guess its
> validity. But my question remains, would you change your strategy for increasing your
> personal happiness if reliable research showed the currently accepted assumptions to be
> flawed? Or are you trying to optimize some other factor than happiness? If you are
> trying to optimize power for example, I would guess absolute values rather than rate of
> change become most significant.

I understand your point, and it's not the research I was declaring nonsense (sorry if I was unclear), but rather the extrapolation from it. I think it's quite a leap to postulate that because those who are forced to be quadriplegic may be quite happy as the propects of improving their condition improve, then self-impoverishment for other people will cause them happiness at the propect of struggling back to financial security (or at least their previous state) again. So where is the flaw in the "we should become quadriplegics" deduction that does not pertain to the "we should become impoverished" deduction?

A similar case might be a person on the verge of starvation. When presented with a sandwich his happiness may exceed anything in my common experience, but I don't see that as an argument for malnutrition.

So, if we shouldn't become anorexic to increase happiness (or pay someone to beat us up because we're so happy when they stop), then why should we voluntarily place ourselves into poverty (even relative poverty) for the pleasure of having to achieve financial security again?

Now, if some people chose to do this and became known as the happiest people in the land, I would have to pay serious attention. Until then (or similar compelling evidence) I will consult my own experience of what tends to make me happy, and what measure of common sense I may possess, and my knowledge of others' experiences, when striving for my happiness. As always, when someone claims the commonly accepted strategies (for happiness or anything) are wrong, the onus of proof is on the claimant.