Widgets Magazine

Arthur Brooks speaks on the relationship between happiness and economics

The Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) invited Arthur Brooks, head of the American Enterprise Institute, to campus this week to speak about the relationship between happiness and a capitalist society.

Brooks opened by telling the audience he believes that the greatest mistranslation of all time is “Money is the source of all evil.” In reality, Brooks said, this phrase from the book of Paul means “the love of money is the source of all evil.” Brooks asserted that it is not money that makes America unhappy but instead the pursuit of “exogenous” rather than “endogenous” goals.

When asked what comprises the most meaningful life, Brooks responded “relationships, people and love.”
A devout Christian, Brooks also places a heavy emphasis on faith. Brooks discovered that the practice of philanthropy, a fundamental tenet of traditional Christianity, garners more wealth.

“The more you give to charity, the richer you get,” Brooks said.

When his studies first uncovered this result, he thought that his dataset was wrong — it sounded counterintuitive. However, according to Brooks, those who give gain leader status amongst their peers, have a lower concentration of stress hormones and thus are more capable of solving problems.

According to Brooks, capitalism and philanthropic philosophy are not contradictory. He believes that free enterprise provides the most efficient avenue to happiness for the greatest number of people. While many believe that capitalism bestows the majority of its benefits on the rich, Brooks contests this notion.

“Capitalism is great for the poor,” Brooks said. “However, [capitalism] is very dangerous for the rich.”
According to Brooks, as people can easily fall into the common trap of adoring money.

Addressing the college-aged crowd, Brooks voiced concern about the reduction in mobility amongst young Americans. According to Brooks, millennials are half as likely to change classes as members of his own generation, which suggests to him that they lack the skills and the will to chase opportunity wherever it presents itself. This death of both physical and economic mobility, he theorized, lies at the heart of the populism that has generated turmoil in the 2016 election season.

Brooks said that America needs to train its next generation with the skills that they will need to find employment.

Finally, Brooks discussed the elements of his own life that have brought him the greatest happiness. He described the memorable times spent with his children and wife, promising that he can recall every detail of his trips to the beach and the Christmas hunting excursions that he takes with his son. However, Brooks said that he remembered almost nothing about things that he owned or wanted in his youth, which he takes as anecdotal evidence of the essentiality of pursuing intrinsically valuable goals rather than hoarding possessions.

Brooks reflected that his own role as an economist is to figure out and tell people how they can live their lives in a way that will make them the happiest.

 

Contact Josh Kazdan at jkazadan ‘at’ stanford.edu.