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Quotation of the Day…

… is from this Bryan Caplan EconLog post of September 19th, 2019 (first link added; second link original):

Most people embrace a dogmatic pessimistic ideology, and believing is seeing. Hedonic adaptation amplifies the problem. After all, it’s easier to deny that your standard of living is great than to admit that you’re unhappy despite your affluence. The fault is not in our stuff but in ourselves.

DBx: I’m sure that hedonic adaptation is real. If it weren’t, we modern, ordinary Americans would be about 300 times happier than were the vast majority of our pre-industrial ancestors. And whatever you might think about the reliability of claims of relative states of happiness, it seems highly unlikely that we today are 300 times happier than were, say, our great, great, great, great, …, great grandmothers and grandfathers.

I myself am much more materially affluent than I was in 1980. This fact is so both because I’m now at the peak of my career and because, despite incessant claims to the contrary, even ordinary and poor Americans today have far greater access to material abundance than did their counterparts of 40 years ago.

But am I happier? Perhaps a bit, overall and on average on a typical day. Yet maybe not. I can’t say for certain. But whatever difference there might be between my happiness in 2020 and my happiness in 1980 is minuscule compared to the difference between my material wealth in 2020 and my material wealth in 1980.

I’m certain, though, of this fact: I would be dreadfully unhappy if I were, today, reduced back to the level of material prosperity that I had in 1980. Ditto for 1990. Ditto for 2000.

This reality about human psychology can lead to all sorts of different conclusions. Here’s mine: It’s better to be at happiness level X and have material-prosperity level Y than to be at happiness level X and have material-prosperity level (Y-Z), where Z is a positive number.

And here’s another conclusion: even if, in 2020, every American’s still-rising material abundance generates for that American no additional long-term happiness over what the level of happiness was when Jimmy Carter was scolding us because we wanted to keep our homes warmer than he asserted was proper, no good purpose is served by those who continue to peddle the fallacy that ordinary Americans’ material prosperity has stagnated for decades. This stagnation claim is spectacularly false – as has been proven by, among many others, Michael Cox and Richard Alm, Terry Fitzgerald, Bruce Sacerdote, Scott Winship, Steve Horwitz, William Cline, Michael Strain, Alan Reynolds, Thomas Cooley, and the late, great Stanley Lebergott.

Peddling the stagnationist fallacy only pointlessly contributes to making ordinary and poor Americans unhappy, for it blinds them to the genuine material improvements that they enjoy and, thus, makes them feel unjustifiably bitter.