Last night’s debate on happiness

It was Jeffrey Sachs and Betsey Stevenson against myself and Will Wilkinson on the topic of whether America is failing in the pursuit of happiness.  The Economist magazine was the sponsor and it was held in Gotham Hall in New York, which yes could have been out of a Batman movie.

As I had expected, Will proved to be the world’s best debating partner, or at least in the top two (my previous debate partner was Randall Kroszner, for a year in high school).

The initial tally of sentiment was about 67-33 in favor of the Sachs-Stevenson position that America is indeed failing at the pursuit of happiness.  By the end of the debate there was a slight margin in favor of the Cowen-Wilkinson position.  The crowd turned, I believe, in part because Sachs pursued attacks on the current administration rather than focusing on the defined topic at hand.  He was rendered shrill by the unholy madness of something or other, as Brad DeLong would put it.  Will and I don’t like current policy either, but we looked happy.  We were happy.  We are happy.  We also had a long array of facts and citations from the happiness literature and some pointed rebuttals to the so-called Easterlin paradox.

Many loyal MR readers were there, so of course your impressions are invited, even if you don’t usually leave comments.  Who else is to tell this story if not you?  Expect to see reports on Will’s blog and by Felix Salmon as well.

Addendum: Here is Will, Tyrone may weigh in soon.


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