Happiness, Development, Ethics

On these pages you will find information about my research interest happiness, economics, development, and ethics.

The basic intuition underlying my research is the overwhelming impression that we are doing a poor job transforming economic progress into good development. While incomes have multiplied many-fold over the last decades and centuries in most of the richer societies, it seems that people have not become happier as a result.

This observation gives rise to at least two distinct questions:

First, why is it that we are not becoming happier? Economists, not entirely unreasonably, take it for granted that economic growth gives rise to higher well-being—objective and subjective—because it is supposed to increases our range of choices. As long as we use the additional income to buy things we like, we should end up happier than before. Yet, empirical studies consistently refute this hypothesis. What mechanisms are responsible for this counterintuitive result? Are there ways to put our increased economic potential to better uses? These (positive) questions have been investigated—with considerable success—in particular by psychologists and economists.

Second, how can we judge whether a given path of development is good or bad, better or worse? Whether a society should, and could, do better? Which of two societies is enjoying a higher degree of well-being? In thinking about these (normative) questions, happiness seems to be a particularly promising concept, even though there is certainly more to good development than happiness alone. Any attempt to answer these questions must necessarily be ethical in nature. 

© Johannes Hirata (last update: March 15, 2009)