Welfare as Happiness
59 Pages Posted: 2 May 2009 Last revised: 14 Aug 2012
Date Written: August 10, 2009
Perhaps the most important goal of law and policy is improving people’s lives. But what constitutes improvement? What is quality of life, and how can it be measured? In previous articles, we have used insights from the new field of hedonic psychology to analyze central questions in civil and criminal justice, and we now apply those insights to a broader inquiry: how can the law make life better? The leading accounts of human welfare in law, economics, and philosophy are preference-satisfaction - getting what one wants - and objective list approaches - possessing an enumerated set of capabilities. This Article argues against both major views and in favor of a third, defining welfare as subjective well-being. As a result, we advocate the replacement of cost-benefit analysis (CBA, the tool of the preference-based approach) with well-being analysis (WBA). Like its sibling CBA, WBA compares the costs and benefits associated with enacting some law or policy. But while CBA requires monetizing costs and benefits to make them commensurable, WBA simply considers their direct effects on reported well-being. Groundbreaking new research in hedonic psychology makes this possible, and we discuss how it can be accomplished.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation