Happiness, Lessons from a New Science by Richard Layard. Part 3

How can we tame the rat race?

We all want status – or at least respect. It is wired in our genes and is a major source of satisfaction if we get it (My view: whatever changes is not real).

The desire for status is utterly natural. But it creates a massive problem if we want to make people happier. It is a zero-sum game.

  • the fallacy of consumer sovereignty: consumers are also producers; if they work harder, they can indeed consume more but only at the sacrifice of something – their family life or their tennis or whatever… too much work and a distorted work-life balance
  • taxing pollution: taxes provide a standard cure for pollution – a tax on income from work will reduce work
  • taxing addiction: we get used to the higher standard of living
  • respect: we work to be respected by our fellows
  • performance-related pay: in most jobs there is no objective measure for performance; people are evaluated against their peers, which puts employees into a ranking. There has been an increase in stress due to growth of performance-related pay. Also, by upping financial incentives we diminish a person’s internal incentives to give of his best
  • advertising: a lot of advertising makes us feel we need something that we previously didn’t need. Overall effect is to make people want more. Sweden bans commercial advertising directed at children under 12. Pictorial advertising can have a negative effect on the happiness of those it pouts pressure on. It is not true that capitalism depends on advertising. It is true that less work would be done, but at the same time people would also want to do less work because they would want to buy less. So there would be no change in the balance between demand and supply of labour.
  • compete or cooperate? : we need a sensible balance. Scandinavian countries are among the happiest, they have the clearest concept of the common good.
  • risk-taking: as a society how much risk should we expect the ordinary citizen to bear?
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