Paul Bloom in The New Yorker on discounting

And also on my Stubborn Attachments, here is part of his discussion:

Cowen, to my mind, glosses over the problem of diminishing returns. Suppose that our prosperity increases a hundredfold. Life would be better, but would our happiness also increase by a multiple of a hundred? After a certain point, it might make sense to worry less about growth. Perhaps the most privileged of us are close to that point now. But these things can be hard to judge. The Babylonian kings might have thought that they were living the best possible lives, not realizing that, in the future, even everyday schmoes would be wiser and more pain-free, living longer, eating better, and travelling more.

I agree with the “everyday schmoes” point, if only because we die at what are still fairly young ages, or may suffer from mental health problems along the way, not to mention pain, as mentioned.  But let us say society is at the point where most people live to the possible maximum, mental health problems have been cured, and pain is fixed too.  In this unlikely society, human rights would matter much more.  If happiness really is broadly fixed, we can welcome the ascent of deontology.  One implication of this is that if you fight poverty in poorer countries, you are making some form of Kantianism more true along the way.  Think of deontology as a luxury good, or alternatively if everything is doomed to end tomorrow you also should respect rights more, because there are fewer welfare gains from violating them.  So I suppose that is a U-shaped function for deontology with respect to wealth, at least if the far left side of the x axis is expressed in drastic enough terms.

Via Barry Brolley.


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