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photo: Benjamin Dr Daniel Benjamin
Associate Professor of Economics, University of Southern California

Understanding the effect of policy on national wellbeing

March 2017
Despite dozens of years of research, we still know precious little about what policies increase national wellbeing.Response
While there is much research correlates of happiness or life satisfaction, very little of the research convincingly establishes causal evidence.Agree

In order to find out what raises national wellbeing, we need to have thousands of randomised controlled trials in all major areas of national policy.Response
Randomized controlled trials would be ideal scientifically, but they are not feasible or ethical for many important areas of national policy. More plausibly, I think we need well-being researchers to focus more on finding persuasive natural experiments (as in much contemporary research in economics).Disagree

Wellbeing Effects of Anonymous Donation of Eggs and Sperm

February 2017
Donating gametes (eggs, sperm) via clinics as anonymous donors is one of the highest return-to-effort things individuals can do to increase overall wellbeing.Response
I would be shocked if the statement were true. I don't see any reason to think that (in general, on average across people) donating gametes increases well-being, and I can think of reasons why it at least for some people, it would reduce well-being. For example, it may violate some people's religious beliefs, or make them feel uncomfortable to know that they may have children they will never meet. In any case, I am sure that other low-effort things that would improve well-being by more for most people, such as reading some basic financial advice to invest in well-diversified index funds. (By well-being, I mean a person's reasoned preferences.)Disagree strongly

The right of a child to know who their donor was when they turn 18 outweighs (in an overall wellbeing sense) the possibility that this right-to-know leads to a shortage of donors and reduces the number of donor-conceived children.Response
I suspect that only some children want to know who their donor was, and I suspect that for most of the children who do want to know, the frustration they experience by not knowing is not especially great. However, I suspect that most would-be parents who cannot find enough donors experience an enormous amount of frustration. That being said, I am not that certain about any of my suppositions in this response, nor am I at all sure how many children there are who want to know who their donor was vs. how many would-be parents there are. (In this case, I inferred from the question that the well-being I was meant to consider is social well-being, which I am thinking about essentially as utilitarian.)Disagree

Organisational structures on workers' wellbeing

January 2017
Employees in more hierarchical organisations have higher levels of wellbeing than those of flatter organisations.Response
I have in mind well-being as defined by what people prefer. On the one hand, people in flatter organizations have more autonomy, which is generally good for well-being. But hierarchical organizations may have a clearer mission, and the resulting sense of purpose can be good for well-being. There is variation across people in how much they like authority. People at the top of a hierarchy have power and control, which is generally good for well-being, while people at the bottom of a hierarchy may lack those aspects of well-being.Neither agree nor disagree

Tilting the tax and subsidy mix in favour of more hierarchical organisations (in a revenue neutral manner) would probably improve the wellbeing of employees.Response
If anything, I would expect markets to provide too much hierarchy, since managers generally prefer hierarchy over flatness in an organization. That is, markets left to themselves probably underweight the well-being of employees. Subsidizing hierarchy would probably move markets further in the direction preferred by managers. (If employees were made better off by this shift, then it would already be the benchmark in the absence of subsidies.)Disagree

Wellbeing and Public Holidays

December 2016
Do you think that populations on average have higher wellbeing during major festive periods like Christmas?Response
Festive periods such as Christmas are occasions for spending more time with family and friends, which is an important contributor to self-reported happiness. And many people look forward to these periods, suggesting that they are enjoyable.Agree

Do you think on balance that average wellbeing would rise if there were more mandatory public holidays in your country?Response
More mandatory public holidays would probably make people happier during those periods, but since people would work less, overall economic output would be lower and therefore consumption of material goods would be lower. I am not sure whether the net effect would be to increase or decrease wellbeing.Neither agree nor disagree