A Recipe for Increasing Human Happiness

Reading Michael Madison's Useful Models, he quotes from the Lone Gunman, quoting The Truth About Markets/Culture and Prosperity (UK/US title respectively) [evil tracking javascript code removed]:

I once debated the relationship between the social sciences with some anthropologists. We adjourned to the pub, and someone bought a round of drinks: the discussion naturally turned to the reasons why. For the economists, the explanation was obvious: the practice of buying rounds minimized transaction costs, reducing the number of exchanges between the patrons and the bar staff. The anthropologists saw it as an example of ritual gift exchange and described the many tribes that had developed similar customs. I proposed a test between the competing hypotheses: did you feel cheated or victorious if you bought more rounds than had been bought for you? Unfortunately, the economists and the anthropologists gave different answers to that question.

It seems to me that the lesson from this passage is that human happiness is maximized when economists and anthropologists drink together. Is the result generalizable? Should they marry?

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4 Responses to A Recipe for Increasing Human Happiness

  1. John Flood says:

    I’m with the anthropologists on this. People are conscious of gifts, of receiving and giving, and how these bonds of reciprocity build over time. The economist view would see this particular situation as something in that particular moment without any durability beyond the immediate interaction. The anthropologist is aware that relationships take time to build and require maintenance and sustenance. The giving and receiving therefore is a form of nurturing, which in effect says “you mean something to me” and vice versa. Transaction costs don’t quite get to that state. Guanxi is another form of this. Although you may simplify it through economic analysis, like the London Tube map, you won’t explain its significance to the members of that group.

    Conversely, vendettas and feuds are the flipside of this, which we’d rather do without. But some Albanian vendettas have endured over 100 years!

  2. alan says:

    I’m with the anthropologists on this.

    But you’re reacting to a story about anthros told by an economist!!!

  3. Jeff Lipshaw says:

    As to marrying, only if they promise not to breed.

  4. Noni Mausa says:

    A gift and a transaction register in very different parts of the brain. Interesting Scientific American article here: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=this-is-your-brain-on-sho

    in part it says:

    Researchers discovered that when the product first flashed on the screen it activated the nucleus accumbens, a section near the middle of the brain that has been implicated in the brain’s reward center, effectively appraising the item. When the price appeared, the scientists noticed activity in the mesial prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain known for higher executive functions […} Finally, the response of the insula (a lateral section of the brain’s cortex known to activate during responses to negative stimuli) depended on the purchasing decision–activity there increased when a participant nixed a purchase.

    It seems to me that, in addition to the social pleasure of receiving a gift, any gift, the gift also comes free of the wet-blanket participation of the thinking prefrontal cortex and the viscerally judgmental insula.

    It certainly feels like that from the inside, anyway.


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