Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Freedom and Happiness

I really like this post on 2Blowhards. The question:
Is there any way around these multiple forms of self-subversion? The free market requires the assent of its participants. What if many of them -- because of conditions created by the free market itself -- just don't feel like giving their assent?
He also talks about how choices confuse people and make them unhappy, and how people care about relative wealth, not absolute wealth, and so are not made more happy by making more money.

My main response to this is to question why anyone thinks human beings are programmed to be happy. Surely all of these observations reveal that no matter what we have, we continue to want to out-do our neighbours. There is a reason that major religeons dissuade envy and jealousy as vices -- people are envious and jealous and do destructive things as a consequence of these emotions. The "too many choices" or "too much money" crowd seems to beleive that if you just took choice, or money, away then people would be happy, but in fact our natures are envious and greedy and we would just find other things to be unhappy, envious and greedy about.

So the question becomes, given that people are and always will be unhappy, envious, and greedy, how should those emotions be channeled? The free-market takes those energies and puts them towards making new goods and services for others. This takes our very "zero-sum" emotions and turns them to "non-zero-sum" ends to the benefit of us all by any measure. We can either be unhappy because we have too many cereal brands to choose from, or we can be unhappy because our neighbours have something that we think they don't deserve. I know my preference.

Lastly, 2Blowhards ask what's to keep free-markets alive if people find them icky. The answer is not too much, maybe competition between countries. But as we've seen in Europe, this competition more often takes the form of sclerotic economies trying to freeze free economies as often as sclerotic economies freeing themselves. I don't think economies are particularly free now nor do I think there is much keeping them from becoming even more regulated in the future.


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