Judging the Nations: Wealth and Happiness Are Not Enough

blog.supplysideliberal.com tumblr_mejabdMaDi1r57lmx.png

Here is a link to my 8th column on Quartz: “Emotional Indicator: Obama the libertarian? Americans say they’d be happy if government got out of their way.”

The title of this post is the original working title of the column. 

In early drafts, I related what I say in the Quartz column to Jonathan Haidt’s six moral tastes in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Here is a New York Times book review by William Saletan, and here is a good passage from Jonathan Haidt summarizing his theory, chosen by Bill Vallicella, in Bill’s post “Jonathan Haidt on Why Working Class People Vote Conservative.”

There is a key chunk of text making the link to Jonathan Haidt’s theory that was appropriately cut for being too wonkish, but that I think you might find valuable

  1. for making that connection and 
  2. for more carefully stating the key findings about people’s preferences in hypothetical policy choices from my paper with Daniel Benjamin, Ori Heffetz and Nichole Szembrot

Here it is:

The most important boon people want for the nation as a whole is freedom. In the words we used for the choices we gave them, the #1, #2, #10, #13, #18 and #23 things people want for the nation are

  • freedom from injustice, corruption, and abuse of power in your nation
  • people having many options and possibilities in their lives and the freedom to choose among them;
  • freedom of speech and people’s ability to take part in the political process and community life;
  • the amount of freedom in society;
  • people’s ability to dream and pursue their dreams; and
  • people’s freedom from emotional abuse or harassment.

The next most important boons people want for the nation are goodness, truth, loyalty, respect and justice. On our list, the #3, #6, #8, #17, #19 and #21 most highly-valued aspects of the good society are

  • people being good, moral people and living according to their personal values;
  • people’s freedom from being lied to, deceived or betrayed
  • the morality, ethics, and goodness of other people in your nation; and
  • people having people around them who think well of them and treat them with respect
  • the quality of people’s family relationships
  • your nation being a just society.

The exact picture of “goodness” and “justice” might differ from one person to the next, but it is clear that they represent more than just money and happiness.  University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt,  in his brilliant book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion argues that morality comes in six flavors (“The righteous mind is like a tongue with six tastes.”):

  1. liberty vs. oppression,
  2. fairness vs, cheating,
  3. sanctity vs. degradation,
  4. loyalty vs. betrayal,
  5. authority vs subversion, and 
  6. care vs. harm.

The first five of Haidt’s flavors of morality are well represented above.  The fourth flavor of morality, care vs. harm, is the one many authors focus on, to the exclusion of the others. It is the bread and butter aspects of people’s lives. In our findings, care vs. harm is reflected in 11 of the top 25 (numbers 4, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 16, 18, 22, 24, 25), including “the overall well-being of people and their families” in your nation, people’s health, financial security, and freedom from pain; “people having people they can turn to in time of need” and a “sense of security about life and the future in general” and balance, as reflected in the items “people’s mental health and emotional stability,” “how much people enjoy their lives” and “how peaceful, calm and harmonious people’s lives are.”

In addition to all of these, people want meaning, as reflected by #5 and #14 on our list: “people’s sense that they are making a difference, actively contributing to the well-being of other people, and making the world a better place, and “people’s sense that their lives are meaningful and have value.”  In addition to his discussion of key dimensions of morality, in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and ReligionJonathan Haidt emphasizes the importance of meaning—in particular, the importance of feeling one is a part of a larger whole. One of his central metaphors is “We are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee.” That is, Haidt believes that perhaps 90% of the time we are out for ourselves, however gently, but perhaps 10% of the time we are out for a higher cause (like the general good of everyone in our group) to the deepest level of our beings. A sense of “meaning” often comes from making that connection to something greater than ourselves.  

You can see my other posts on happiness in the happiness sub-blog linked at my sidebar, and here: