Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Economics Rules the World

A Reversal In the Index of Happy - The linked article reports on recent studies showing that women are less happy than they used to be. More on this later. Let's start with a different topic. Why is this story in the business section? Because economics, exemplified by Freakonomics, has taken over all the social sciences. Economics has become a methodology for analyzing human choice in any field: 1) Spot an anomaly, a decision humans make that seems quirky, odd, unexpected. Better yet, spot a hidden anomaly - a choice people make all the time that's a logically poor decision, or a choice routinely made for a misunderstood reason. 2) Formulate a theory that explains the choice in terms of the cost or benefit to the decision maker - economists will now define this broadly to include a psychic cost or benefit if they can find a way to measure it. 3) Find, or develop, data that you can analyze with regression analyses and other mathmetical tools to test your theory. Everything is economics - why did you give $10 to the beggar on the street (who might, and I stress the word might, be an able bodied con man, an addict who will use the money to feed his habit, a dangerous psychotic who will stalk you) instead of giving it to a reputable food bank that turns 90% of donation dollars into food reaching the truly needy? Why did you go to services this weekend instead of praying alone from the mountaintop? Who are you voting for in November 2008? It's all economics now. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. If a cost/benefit analysis, broadly defined and undertaken with mathmetical tools, can shed light on any area of human behaviour, then let the sunshine in. If I'm a political scientist, sociologist, psychologist, etc. - I may feel like my turf has been invaded, but my defense is to do a better job than the economist. I can use the same analytical tools, but my background should help me understand more about the real costs and benefits in my field, formulate a more refined theory, a more inventive way to gather data.

The linked NY Times story on the happy index has some highlights that might not belong in the business section. Women don't like spending time with their parents because they are doing chores with Mom while the men watch TV. Women spend the same amount of time working as in previous generations, but because it is more often a combination of in-home work and work at a paying job, the to-do list is twice as long, the frustration and anxiety are greater and women are less happy than they used to be. Men are happier. Bigger TVs, more channels, sharper picture - this generation has it all over the old timers. High school girls are just as unhappy as their mothers were in high school. Success in academics and sports can't overcome the time and anxiety spent on the desperate effort to be a hottie. High school boys are, you guessed it, happier than their fathers. See above - Bigger TVs, more channels, sharper picture and, for the high school boy, add near porn on free cable and high school girls that still work at being hotties. OK, the stuff about the TVs isn't all in the story, but I'm sensing a trend here. In fact the e-Times has retitled the story, "He's Happy, She's Less So". Freakonomics, why don't women just watch more TV? What is the psychic benefit that drives them to do all the work while the men veg out?


Jayne said...

Women will only do 100% of the housework if they choose to. I was lucky enough to marry a grown-up who wasn't under the impression I was his mommy and enjoyed housework any more than he did.

And I have a bitchin' TV.

Michael J. Hassett said...

Thanks jayne. Glad to hear you are bucking the trend on housework, hope the same is true on the happiness index.

mhass30 said...

It looks like Freakonomics is on it, they linked to the same article today.