Introduction to the Conference on Law and Happiness

Eric A. Posner, Cass R. Sunstein
2008 The Journal of legal studies  
Economists who make normative proposals traditionally assume that policy should advance "efficiency," usually in the Kaldor or Hicks sense, which defines efficiency in terms of whether the project's winners can hypothetically compensate the project's losers. A compensation criterion is used because it can be based on ordinal utilities, which puts a smaller information burden on the decision maker than cardinal utilities do. Ordinal utilities, unlike cardinal utilities, can (in principle) be
more » ... n principle) be inferred from observations of consumer behavior. By seeing how people trade off goods, willingness-to-pay (or willingness-to-accept) amounts can be derived and summed, so that alternative policy outcomes can be easily compared. This approach has received a great deal of criticism over the decades, but it has survived mainly because no alternative method has commanded widespread agreement. In recent years, however, a small group of economists and psychologists have argued that an alternative method is available. This method, often called the "happiness approach," relies on surveys that ask people to rate their happiness on a scale. Econometric analysis then finds correlations between ratings on the scale and various characteristics or experiences of the survey respondents-wealth, income, family relationships, and so forth. Though still regarded with skepticism in many quarters, the happiness approach has scored some notable successes. The various factors that are correlated with happiness appear to be robust: they recur in different surveys and are correlated
doi:10.1086/597059 fatcat:5qcyfftk3ngnzgfbb6bzgdxxxa