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Sunday, 13 July 2008


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Here you go :

Hey Duffy,

I like that PJ O'Rourke analogy of the 'no chickens'. Puts things in perspective a little. I come across people in Mr X's position all the time - it's not an easy life. But no, they aren't starving. Though they often feel cut off from society - it costs money to do most things these days.

I read a book by Richard Layard on Happiness, looking at the issue from an economic perspective. His point is that happiness is relative to your peer group; if friends, family and workmates get two holidays a year and you don't, then you will probably feel you are missing out or are disadvantaged in some way. And in our modern consumerist society, we are constantly reminded of the rewards for earning more money; so for those 'pinched' who are not starving but can't afford any flashy designer goods, they could be forgiven for feeling a little depressed.

The other interesting point Richard Layard made was that not only does our happiness depend on how our salaries compare to out peers, but it also applied to wage rises. I think it was a survey done by psychologists at Harvard who found this very interesting observation. They interviewed a range of people, asking them which society they would rather live in;

Society A: You earn £100,000 per year, your peers earn £150,000

Society B: You earn £25,000 a year, your peers earn £18,000.

Apparently the majority preferred option B; to earn less than they would in society A, but to earn more relative to others.

Laban, see "Additional" above and thanks for the link to the incomparable Dalrymple.

Don, I'm not sure about this concept of 'happiness'. I notice Layard's definition: "By happiness I mean feeling good – enjoying life and feeling it is wonderful. And by unhappiness I mean feeling bad and wishing things were different." I haven't read the whole of his lecture but I assume he is concentrating on economic happiness, and even that can be very difficult to get a handle on. Some people are, to use an old expression, content with their (economic) lot at whatever point in the scale they have reached. Others are constantly bedevilled by envy of others who are higher up the scale, and I suspect there is no cure for them because always there will be some one richer than they are.

Also, of course, there exists a 'happiness/unhappiness' ratio in other important aspects of one's life in which economics plays no part.

Poverty is measured by a given percentage (I think today is 60%) over the average income. Not only that average keeps growing, but also the percentage grows too, following our increasing sensibilities on the matter. So it is very possible that every day there is more 'poor' people and that at the same time they live better every day. Not long ago, I read that 70% of the poor families in USA had a car.
About the question of happiness, was Goethe who said that it was a matter for the low orders ?

I should have mentioned the Layard book loks at it mostly from an economic perspective. I suppose the point I was going to make (but got sidetracked and forgot) is that if Mr X lived near some 'no chickens' folk then he would probably feel quite content with his lot - he isn't starving, and even has a small margin for error.

But you are right of course, some are able to rise above the aspirational consumerist culture and be happy with their lot. But I imagine it's hard for most like Mr X to see this , and especially if they are young and impressionable.


I’m sure you remember that the Marxists were (are) often accused of bening dedicated to serving “humanity,” it's people they hate.

With that in mind you are failing to make a proper distinction. The “poor” whom our support will really enhance may left wing causes. And the there are those with excessively diminished economic and financial assets who are irrelevant to any discussion of poverty.

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