Daniel Frank

Wiki Contributions


Increasing Demand for Progress Beyond Desire

Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

This fascinating thread on the EA forum provides some really interesting data on the relationship between GDP growth and happiness.

I think certain types of innovation clearly cause an immediate increase in human welfare (ie medical advances, longevity increases, ways to decrease various forms of risk that lead to more safety), but other than these particular categories of goods, I think we reached a point of saturation where better material goods are of negligible marginal welfare value. Despite this, changes to social dynamics (ie things that cause less socialization, increase greater inequality, increase status desires like instagram) can cause a loss of welfare. My model is that pursuing progress in material goods may lead to social costs. Specifically, if the increase in material innovation/decrease in costs provides negligible welfare value but the social impact provides real  costs, people will feel worse off (and be right!).

I want people to aspire to be wealthier so we can have more demand for progress and subsequently, more progress. It's very tricky to think of ways to increase one's wealth that isn't then lost to relative status games. IE if you provide everyone with an extra $20,000 per year, I suspect it will increase aggregate costs (lost to cost disease) by $20,000 per capita and leave the overwhelming majority of people in very similar positions.

I think its very challenging to think of subsidies to welfare that aren't immediately then lost through status competitions (and are actually feasible to implement). 

I love Stubborn Attachments and think its point about Wealth Plus is true. Unfortunately, Stubborn Attachments does not attempt to grapple with what is included in Wealth Plus and what policies we should pursue to increase it. There is a lot of evidence in support of what actions people can take to improve their quality of life; unfortunately, for various reasons, it is very challenging for governments to come up with policies that improve human welfare.

I think it would be worthwhile for more people in this community to brainstorm possible ways to connect progress with perceptible benefits in welfare. The only one I can think of is connecting wealth/gdp to hours worked. I think in a future where these cycles are reinforcing, there will be much more demand for progress.