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Income = Happiness? A Strangely Tough Sell in Aspen

I spent last week at the Aspen Ideas Festival, talking about Betsey’s and my research on the Economics of Happiness. You might think that my message—that income and happiness are tightly linked—would be an easy sell in Aspen, which is the most beautiful and most expensive city I’ve ever visited. But in fact, it’s the millionaires, billionaires and public intellectuals who are often most resistant to data upsetting their beliefs. You see, the (false) belief that economic development won’t increase happiness is comfortingly counter-intuitive to the intelligentsia. And it’s oddly reassuring to the rich, who can fly their private jets into a ski resort feeling (falsely) relieved of any concern that the dollars involved could be better spent elsewhere.
Over at The Atlantic, Clive Crook provides a useful summary of the talk (and a few pointers for how I could have done better). But we agree on the conclusion:

I came away thinking the Easterlin Paradox was a smoking wreck, and that pursuit of economic growth remains a worthy objective even for rich countries.

If you are interested in seeing the full talk—without paying thousands to visit the conference, here it is:Also, don’t miss an entertaining take from The Atlantic’s Jennie Rothenberg Gritz who—in a career-first for me—cites my hair as evidence of expertise:

Wolfers, a Wharton professor with an Australian accent and surfer-style blond hair, certainly seems like someone who should be an expert on happiness

On a related note, you might enjoy a video of the interview that Charles Kenny and I did with the irrepressible Felix Salmon.

If there’s one lesson I learned from this, it’s that economists need to stop dressing so similarly.
Finally: See also Matthew McClearn’s useful piece on the age-old happiness v. GDP debate.