Economics focus: Democracy, happiness and the meaning of life

ECONOMISTS are often accused of taking a desiccated view of human motivation. According to standard theory people are rational maximisers of “utility”—which is the name economists give to whatever it is that people maximise. As it stands, this is hard to disagree with, though not especially revealing. In looser formulations, economists tend to assume that people are mainly out to improve their material standard of living. Demeaning as this idea may be to the human spirit, there is a lot of evidence, based on the way people behave when confronted with choices, to support it. The trouble is, there is also evidence to suggest that money doesn’t make you happier—or not much happier, anyway.