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December 04, 2007



Well said, Sir. How's the guitar playing coming along?


Thank you. As I say, mere competence is an aspiration - though I am starting to come to grips with Turlough O'Carolan, to my great satisfaction.

Matt Munro

This is what psychologists (or Festinger anyway) call social comaprison theory. In essence it's not absolute status that makes us happy, but relative inequality that makes us unhappy. It's at least partly based on implicit learning and early imprinting, so unlikely that people could be educated to ignore it. Government and business have a huge interest in maintaining it as it's the principle worker motivation in capitalist structures. The orthodox alternative is Marxism, all equally poor, so all equally (un)happy.

Luis Enrique

Some versions of this argument I dislike; they smack of academics / self righteous types wanting to feel good about themselves by characterizing Porsche owning stock brokers as shallow, status obsessed people. I think this downplays the simple direct pleasure some people get from owning Porsches.

I don't deny the importance of relative judgments and peer effects, I just prefer a more generous interpretation. I think people tend to ask themselves "how satisfied am I with my life? - am I doing as well as could be expected?" so comparisons with other people help us form realistic expectations about our own lives.

This by no means implies that "as I as rich as them?" is the only or most important dimension of our self-evaluations, relative to our peer groups, and I am rather puzzled why some people whom I'd expect not to do with judge themselves by what car they drive using this to explain the behavior of other people.


O'Carolan? Are you mostly using the DADGAD tuning or that Irish 'open C'? Richard Thompson's DADGAD version of 'Banish Misfortune' is well worth learning (not O'Carolan, but one that fits the 'harp music played on an axe' hole very well.

Back to your post. At the risk of sounding like a troll, are you arguing for a change in culture?


Kevin Carson

Another reason high aggregate economic activity may not be associated with increases in subjective well-being:

The larger the per capita GDP, the more of it is proportionally made up of broken window effects, tolls to privileged gatekeepers, and higher "tail to tooth" ratios.

Leopold Kohr observed that the taller a skyscraper, the greater the percentage of floor space taken up by stairwells, elevator shafts, ducts, etc. If it gets high enough, additional floors will add no net floor space at all.

And according to Ivan Illich, "radical monopolies" raise the threshold of subsistence and make comfortable poverty less feasible: things like subsidized professional licensing, housing "safety" codes that outlaw self-built structures, and similar monopolies, all erect "entry barriers" for people who want to translate their own skills into use-value. Subsidies to sprawl and monoculture suburbs force people to be dependent on cars, whereas someone living in affordable housing within easy walking or bike distance of work and shopping would have a better quality of life with much lower expenses.

Kevin Carson

Duh, strike that "subsidized" before "professional licensing." And the skyscraper illustration was supposed to be a metaphor.

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