My Recent Reading, 8/20
Russ Roberts and David McRaney
I finished two books recently. One is Russ Roberts’ Wild Problems. He discusses life dilemmas that are not easily solved using cost-benefit analysis. For example, the decision to have children. On that issue, Rob Henderson writes,
Most people think of happiness as something that results from living a good life, while psychologists consider happiness to be a combination of high positive emotion and low negative emotion.
And this may be one reason why people are confused when they see headlines like “Having Children Doesn’t Make People Happy.” Under ordinary people’s definitions, having children likely does increase happiness (doing good). But for researchers, having children reduces happiness (feeling good).
My guess is that Russ Roberts would not insist that having children is doing good. He tends to emphasize the ambiguity involved in such choices. But I think he would agree that framing the choice as doing good or not doing good is probably wiser than framing it as feeling good or not feeling good.
David McRaney’s latest book is How Minds Change. A theme of the book is that it is difficult to reason people out of their beliefs. The examples of beliefs that get the most focus are oddball ones, such as the belief that the moon landing in 1969 was faked.
My main takeaway is that you change someone’s mind by changing their heart. A change of heart that enables you to switch from believing X to believing Not X comes from becoming comfortable enough among people who believe Not X to give up your attachment to the group that believes X.
You often complain about the concept of an average man 'representative agent', who doesn't actually exist, because people are really different from each other.
Likewise, the trouble with these survey questions is that the embedded premise is error: there is no 'you' as a representative agent in your own life through time.
One can call this "time inconsistent preferences" or one can just say that you don't really know who you're going to be and what you're going to want in the future. This is mildly true even for simple aging, but for after one has kids (or grandchildren) it is a true discontinuity.
It's completely foolish and misguided to compare the before and after - they are fundamentally incommensurable. There is no 'you' spanning the before and after of having children. There is a new you who is born along with your child.
This implies that you might have to marry someone or be a fictive kin to change their mind.