In previous posts, I have referred to cross-country data about reported levels of happiness, and suggested that these surveys support the notion that increases in GDP per capita, beyond a certain point, don’t make people happier. I have further suggested that this is encouraging given that if we are to deal with the problem of climate change in an ethical manner, this will require a drop in income for rich-nation inhabitants.
But in recent paper, Helen Johns and Paul Ormerod critique happiness studies and dispute that policy conclusions can be drawn from the results of such studies. I find their critique and conclusions persuasive, for the most part. It is important to note that they are not critiquing or supporting the policy positions that have been supported by happiness data, but rather the meaningfulness and use of the data. In the end, perhaps this serves as another reminder of the limitations of utilitarianism as a guide to policy-making, and of the inevitability of making ethical and value choices when making public policy decisions.