A thoughtful article by Bill Mckibben on things like happiness and the pursuit of material things. (The snippet below is found on page 2.)--FYhttp://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2007/03/reversal_of_fortune.htmltraditionally, happiness and satisfaction are the sort of notions that economists wave aside as poetic irrelevance, the kind of questions that occupy people with no head for numbers who had to major in liberal arts. An orthodox economist has a simple happiness formula: If you buy a Ford Expedition, then ipso facto a Ford Expedition is what makes you happy. That's all we need to know. The economist would call this idea "utility maximization," and in the words of the economic historian Gordon Bigelow, "the theory holds that every time a person buys something, sells something, quits a job, or invests, he is making a rational decision about what will...provide him 'maximum utility.' If you bought a Ginsu knife at 3 a.m. a neoclassical economist will tell you that, at that time, you calculated that this purchase would optimize your resources." The beauty of this principle lies in its simplicity. It is perhaps the central assumption of the world we live in: You can tell who I really am by what I buy.Yet economists have long known that people's brains don't work quite the way the model suggests. When Bob Costanza, one of the fathers of ecological economics and now head of the Gund Institute at the University of Vermont, was first edging into economics in the early 1980s, he had a fellowship to study "social traps" — the nuclear arms race, say — in which "short-term behavior can get out of kilter with longer broad-term goals."It didn't take long for Costanza to demonstrate, as others had before him, that, if you set up an auction in a certain way, people will end up bidding $1.50 to take home a dollar. [...]
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