Hasta la victoria siempre

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Miracolul" chinezesc - Partea a II-a

Vom vedea in continuare ca datele prezentate in studiul "The China Puzzle: Falling Happiness in a Rising Economy", despre care am scris la 22 ianuarie 2009, sunt confirmate de alte trei studii. Intr-adevar, populatia Chinei a inregistrat cresteri semnificative in domeniul material, insa fericirea si satisfactia de viata au scazut dramatic.

La 11 ianuarie 2005, Gallup a publicat rezultatele unui sondaj efectuat pe 15,000 chinezi in urma a peste 3600 ore de interviuri. Datele studiului "Chinese Far Wealthier Than a Decade Ago -- but Are They Happier?" sunt concludente:

Relevanta studiului:
"Gallup recently completed our fourth comprehensive nationwide survey of the People's Republic of China -- nearly 3,600 hour-long, in-person, in-home interviews conducted across both urban and rural areas of the country. Findings from the latest survey will be presented in coming weeks exclusively to Gallup Poll On Demand subscribers. This ambitious project dates back to 1994, when Gallup conducted the first-ever nationwide survey of China's citizens using strict, probability-based sampling procedures. Similarly exhaustive hour-long surveys were conducted in 1997 and 1999.
Gallup has now interviewed more than 15,000 Chinese adults across every province and autonomous administrative unit in the country -- from rural areas of inner Mongolia to urban Guangzhou; from Heilongjiang on the border with Russian Siberia to tropical Hainan Island in the Gulf of Tonkin; in Tibet (Xizang) and in predominantly Muslim Xinjiang on the border with Afghanistan."

Imbogatirea chinezilor
"A Decade of Rapidly Rising Living Standards, Particularly in Urban Areas
As the current survey's findings document, the change in the living standards of China's people over the last decade is nothing short of astonishing -- surely the most dramatic transformation ever witnessed by more than a fifth of mankind over such a brief period. Nationwide, average reported household incomes are now nearly 2 1/2 times what respondents reported in 1994.
The bulk of this dramatic income growth occurred among China's urban residents, who are now, on average, three times as affluent as their rural counterparts. But even rural incomes -- which have stagnated in recent years -- are nearly double what they were a little over a decade ago. This dramatic rise in affluence has been accompanied by a remarkable degree of change in the everyday lives of China's 1.3 billion people.
In Gallup's initial 1994 nationwide survey, only a minority (40%) of Chinese households had a color television set, just one in four owned a refrigerator, 1 in 10 had a landline telephone, and only 3% owned a mobile phone. Video compact disc players? They had only recently been invented. Our latest survey indicates that color televisions and landline phones have become the norm rather than the exception in Chinese homes -- 82% of households have the former, 63% the latter. Nearly half (48%) of China's roughly 400 million households now own at least one mobile phone. Even more remarkable is that at least half (52%) of all Chinese households now own a VCD player -- double the percentage that owned a refrigerator in 1994."

Intr-adevar, din 1994 pana in 2004, perioada acoperita de sondajele Gallup, veniturile din zona rurala, cea urbana si cele nationale au crescut constant si relevant, dupa cum reiese din graficul de mai jos:


Scaderea satisfactiei de viata
"despite impressive growth in average household income, the ratio of Chinese expressing satisfaction to those expressing dissatisfaction has actually eroded somewhat over time", noteaza cei de la Gallup, si isi demonstreaza spusele prin graficul de mai jos:

Comparand cele doua grafice, se observa traiectoria in crestere constanta a veniturilor pentru toate categoriile sociale ale Chinei, in timp ce satisfactia de viata are, din 1997 pana in 2004, o traiectorie descrescatoare. De pilda, in 1994, doar 2% se considerau foarte nefericiti, in 1997 procentul se tripleaza la 7%, pentru ca in 1999 si 2004 sa ajunga la 8%. Procentul celor destul de nemultumiti creste de la 12% in 1994, la 20%, 22% si 29%. Desi e adavart ca procentul celor foarte multumiti creste din 1994 in 1997 de la 9% la 19%, e la fel de adevarat ca pe masura ce veniturile cresc, procentul scade de la 19% la 12%.

Zonele mai putin avute, la fel de multimite precum cele mai bogate
Un alt aspect menit sa nege relevanta factorilor materiali pentru fericirea populatiei este acela ca fericirea din zonele mai sarace, rurale, este identica cu cea din zonele mai avute, urbane.

"It is interesting to note that there is no significant difference between the self-reported satisfaction of China's urban and rural residents, notwithstanding the enormous (and growing) gap in affluence between China's cities and its countryside. The proportion of rural residents describing themselves as "satisfied" is statistically equal to the percentage among their city-dwelling counterparts -- a pattern that has persisted across all four waves of Gallup's survey."

Un alt studiu sociologic efectuat de Gallup, publicat de aceasta data in 23 noiembrie 2007 si intitulat "Chinese Consumers Trying Hard to Make Ends Meet", demonstreaza ca pe masura ce veniturile cresc, oamenii sunt tot mai nemultumiti de banii pe care ii au, caci aspiratiile materiale cresc direct proportional si ceea ce odinioara era considerat lux, devine nevoie.

Relevanta studiului
"Results are based on face-to-face interviews with more than 3,500 adults per year in China, aged 18 and older, conducted in 1997, 2004, and 2006. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls."

Aspiratii materiale crescute
"Beyond the measure of self-reported household income, Gallup Polls in China ask consumers about their household expenditures in areas ranging from food and rent to medical costs. There is also a summary question regarding how much income their families need for their basic requirements. The latter question measures not what Chinese consumers might wish for or dream about, but rather simply what they deem necessary to live their lives. Here the data are importantly revealing, as these increases often dwarf the growth in reported household income. While household incomes are up 72% since 1997, the average household's financial requirement "just to get by" has more than doubled in nine years. Together, the data reveal what is for many an important gap between household resources and household needs, a gap between how much money is available and how much is perceived as necessary."

Asadar, desi familia obisnuita din China si-a vazut veniturile crescute cu peste 70%, chinezii considera ca doar pentru a se descurca si a cumpara bunurile necesare trebuie sa cheltuiasca de doua ori mai mult decat in urma cu 9 ani. Evident, dupa cum am arat si cu alte ocazii, luxul de odinioara, caruia majoritatea populatiei nu ii ducea lipsa, s-a transformat in obisnuinta si necesitate, astfel incat desi veniturile au crescut, fericirea si satisfactia nici pe departe.

Dupa cum scrie pe saitul Gallup: "While rural Chinese household incomes averaged about 11,500 RMB in 2006, these rural dwellers feel they need 22% more than that "just to get by." These findings suggest rural Chinese have greatly redefined what they feel they absolutely must have, which now likely includes a color TV and a mobile phone. Products that rural Chinese once deemed luxuries are now seen as requirements. As a result, what people believe they need to get by is increasing at a rate faster than incomes."

In concluzie, "The net result may be that, despite the apparent gap between income and requirements, Chinese consumers may recognize that they now possess a good deal more than they did a decade ago. They're neither thrilled nor particularly content with the income levels they've achieved. And yet their household glass, while not completely full, is certainly not empty. Nevertheless, it's apparent that many Chinese consumers are feeling a tighter economic pinch as they try to match their resources with their changing requirements."

Adica imbogatirea i-a facut pe chinezi sa se simta mai saraci si mai presati de "nevoile zilnice".

Un al treilea studiu efectuat de Gallup, publicat la 22 februarie 2005, insumeaza perfect rezultatele primelor doua. Intitulat "Keeping Up With the Zhangs: China's Affluents on Buying Spree", studiul arata ca nici bogatii Chinei nu sdunt mai fericiti si ca si in cazul lor luxul s-a tranformat in necesitate: obiecte ale caror posesie nu le sporeste fericirea, dar a caror lipsa le sporeste nefericirea.

"Despite their comparatively high incomes, affluent Chinese are not necessarily satisfied with either their lives or their current earnings. In 1997, 24% of those making 30,000 RMB or more annually indicated they were "very satisfied" with the way things were going in their lives. In 2004, that percentage had dropped to only 16%. As incomes have increased and the size of the upper-income group has grown, their satisfaction has dropped. It appears increased affluence has simply gone hand in hand with greater expectations and requirements. While the "new affluents" may have more now, they are clearly not more content. This trend among affluent Chinese is consistent with the satisfaction numbers for the country as whole, which also show satisfaction decreasing as income increases (see "Chinese Far Wealthier Than a Decade Ago -- but Are They Happier?" in Related Items).
Their satisfaction hasn't grown, but the well-to-do Chinese have managed to acquire the consumer goods that represent "the good life." The typical affluent household already has what the rest of China wants: phones, refrigerators, washing machines, and color televisions. They're also well on their way to having what others may simply dream about: microwaves, stereos, computers, and air conditioners.
While Chinese affluents have already acquired quite a bit, they're still planning to buy more. Many are adding to or upgrading what they already own. Even though ownership of a color television is already universal among the relatively well-to-do, about one in three (34%) in this group plan to buy another color set in the next few years. An even larger percentage (42%) plans to buy a mobile phone. These figures may reflect a desire among affluents to stay "current," as well as a belief that attractive product enhancements (such as picture phones instead of "plain vanilla" handhelds) will soon become available. Thus, there's little evidence of product saturation, and the upscale Chinese household remains a crucially important target audience for marketers of all sorts of manufactured goods. They have the means, and they have the desire."

Din nou si din nou reiese in mod clar acelas lucru: bogatia materiala nu e capabila sa sporeasca fericirea, ci doar sa ii faca pe oameni sa se simta saraci si in nevoie oricat de mult ar acumula. Este clar deci ca accentul pus pe dezvoltarea economica si goana dupa bani nu e o cale de urmat atunci cand cautam fericirea, ce nu poate fi gasita cu adevarat in aspectele non-pecuniare ale vietii.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Miracolul" chinezesc - Partea I

China este o tara ce a cunoscut o imbogatire relativ rapida, astfel incat cazul ei e de interes pentru cercetatorii relatiei bani-fericire. Daca sustinatorii ipotezei conform careia banii in plus sporesc fericirea, atunci ne-am astepta ca starea de satisfactie a chinezilor sa fi crescut in ultimele doua-trei decenii. Evident insa, asa ceva nu s-a intamplat, ba chiar fericirea a scazut dramatic in toate categoriile sociale. Motivul? Cresterea inegalitatilor de venit. Iata cum liberalizarea economiei si aparitia capitalismului a dus in practica, din nou, la aceeasi situatie cu care suntem deja familiari: veniturile cresc, dar intr-un context in care fericirea in cel mai bun caz stagneaza.

In acest sens sta marturie studiul "The China Puzzle: Falling Happiness in a Rising Economy", publicat in Journal of Happiness Studies, 10 aprilie 2008 si scris de patru cercetatori, Hilke Brockmann, Jan Delhey, Christian Welzel and Hao Yuan.

Prezentarea studiului:
"In 1978, the Chinese government launched a massive reform program to fight poverty and to liberalize the economy. Since then, China experienced one of the most astounding and enduring growth periods in the history of humankind. Over the last 30 years, the economy has grown at an average annual rate of more than 8%, fundamentally improving the living conditions of many of the 1.3 billion Chinese. The average nominal income of the rural population more than tripled, jumping from 686 YUAN in 1990 to 2,253 YUAN in 2000 (The National Bureau of Statistics of China 2001), thereby pulling millions of Chinese out of poverty. Rural poverty declined from some 80% in 1978 to 13% in 2000, the number of “officially” poor declined from more than 323 million in 1980 to 47 million in 2000. In urban China, the average nominal income quadrupled within one decade, from 1,510 YUAN in 1990 to 6,280 YUAN in 2000 (The National Bureau of Statistics of China 2001).
Every key social indicator for China points towards the most rapid improvement in living standards in recorded history.
In stark contrast to this objective progress, subjective well-being, measured by self-reported ratings of people’s life satisfaction and happiness, has declined considerably. The percentage of Chinese who described themselves as very happy plummeted from 28% in 1990 to 12% in 2000. Measured on a scale from 1 (low) to 10 (high), life satisfaction fell from an average of 7.3 to 6.5. Most significantly, life satisfaction fell in both urban and rural China and in every income group."

Asadar, in ciuda unei cresteri economice spectaculoase, de care au profitat paturi largi ale populatiei, procentul chinezilor fericiti a scazut de la 28% in 1990 la 12% in 2000, atat in zona rurala cat si cea urbana si pentru fiecare categorie de venituri.

Situatie ce contrazice pana si faimosul paradox al lui easterlin, conform caruia fericirea stagneaza in ciuda cresterii veniturilor: vedem acum ca fericirea poate chiar scadea in aceleasi circumstante.

Explicatiile fenomenului:
Cercetatorii propun trei factori care ar putea explica situatia: anomia sociala, lipsa democratiei politice si inegalitatile de venit.

Anomia sociala
"As Durkheim (1933) argued, rapid social changes easily overwhelm people’s mental capacities and result in disorientation, depression, and anomic attitudes that lead to a diminution of overall happiness. Merton (1938) emphasized that capitalistic and meritocratic norms might contribute to anomic attitudes and mass depression, given the permanent pressure and stress that economic competition and a social obsession with achievement puts on people.
The anomic effects could be even more detrimental in societies like China, in which rising competition and capitalism fundamentally question the collectivist and egalitarian traditions inherited from Confucianism and Communism.

China’s groundbreaking economic reforms changed the life of the urban population dramatically. The country’s cities began to grow rapidly and continue to do so. Millions leave the countryside to find a job. Motorways and high-speed trains increase personal mobility, and mobile phones and Internet quickly become widespread among a well-educated population. Mass consumption changes traditional life-styles. Capitalism catapults the Chinese into modernity in the period of a few years—after decades or even centuries of stagnation. The insecurity nurtured by these rapid transformations makes the urban population particularly vulnerable to anomie, one would suggest.

Feelings of powerlessness have been identified as one of the important dimensions of anomic attitudes. In direct opposition to personal efficacy, powerlessness implies the belief that fate cannot be controlled by a person’s own actions. Various studies found that massive transformations of the social environment can have a negative influence on the feeling of control one has over one’s life."

Pe scurt, climatul din capitalism, imbibat de consumerism si competitie, combinat cu o trecere brusca de la o viata relativ simpla material insa cu un stil de viata mai putin acerb si pretentios ar fi putut contribui in sine la scaderea fericirii chinezilor.

Lipsa democratiei politice:
"Apart from economic and social factors, many studies indicate that institutions and political structures have meaningful effects on life satisfaction. Frey and Kirchgässner (2002), for example, find that people tend to be happier when living in a democratic environment. Likewise, Inglehart (1997) observes that levels of life satisfaction are systematically higher in more democratic societies. If Inglehart and Welzel (2005) are correct and value change follows indeed the logic of Maslow’s (1943) need hierarchy, then democracy (or lack thereof) should have a greater impact on people’s life satisfaction on higher levels of material need satisfaction. [...] Applying these findings to China, democracy should become an important concern for the Chinese population as the country becomes more prosperous. Unfortunately, China is not a free country, as the annual Freedom House reports say. On a scale running from 1 (free) to 7 (unfree), China is scored 7 on political rights, and 6 on civil liberties since 1999 (before 1999, it was scored 7 on both dimensions). Thus, the continuing denial of democracy in China may contribute to a widespread disaffection from the system, causing a decrease in people’s life satisfaction.

Another source of growing political dissatisfaction might be the decline of effective and trustworthy governance. Helliwell (2003) found that corruption and the absence of rule of law are associated with lower life satisfaction at the national level. Corruption in China has become more rampant during the market transition (Gong 1994) as many high-ranking officials take advantage of their power for personal gain: they trade inside information, forgive debts and taxes, and grant illegal loans for real estate deals (Deng and Cordilia 1999; Gong 1994). Thus, one would expect that distrust in the political system has grown over time and increasingly depressed life satisfaction."

Slaba participare a populatiei la viata social-politica a societatii, impreuna cu cresterea coruptiei la nivel inalt, sunt alti posibili factori ce au aparut ori s-au mentinut in ciuda cresterii economiei in capitalismul economiei chineze din ultimele trei decenii.

Inegalitatile socio economice:
"As pointed out by Merton und Kitt (1950), relative deprivation is a concept belonging to the wider realm of reference group theory. The basic idea of the latter is that people compare themselves with other individuals or groups when evaluating their own situation (Hyman 1968; Kelly 1968; Merton and Kitt 1950). Relative deprivation, then, refers to a situation in which people perceive themselves to be disadvantaged in relation to others. In ‘The American Soldier’, Stouffer et al. (1949) found that soldiers’ feelings of dissatisfaction were less related to the actual degree of hardship they experienced than to the situation of the unit or group to which they compared themselves. The concept of ‘relative deprivation’ was introduced to explain these findings. Consequently, happiness might carry a strong relative component, and if so, it is a reflection of social utility rather than economic utility. This is in line with Easterlin’s (1974) claim that a generalized augmentation in income will not increase happiness in a given population, simply because one’s relative income—relative to fellow citizens—does not improve (see also Easterlin 1995, 2005).

The depressing effect of relative deprivation on happiness has been demonstrated in numerous studies. Clark and Oswald (1996), for instance, find that British workers are less satisfied with their jobs when the income level of their reference group is higher. Psychologists and behavioral economists have shown in experiments that people avoid outcomes through which they end up having less than the majority, even if they improve their situation drastically in absolute terms (Frank 1997; Smith et al. 1989; Tversky and Griffin 1991). Although people tend to be happier if they think they outclass others, negative experiences seem to be more salient than positive ones: relative disadvantage makes people unhappier than relative advantage makes them happy (Delhey and Kohler 2006; Surowiecki 2004).

In order to understand why life satisfaction fell in China, we employ a new version of relative deprivation theory, the concept of ‘frustrated achievers’ proposed by Graham and Pettinato (2002). These authors find low levels of happiness throughout almost all income groups in transition economies such as Peru and Russia, even in times of economic growth. This phenomenon reflects a rapid change in the shape of a society’s income distribution to the effect that inequality becomes increasingly skewed towards the upper income groups (‘top-driven inequality’). As a result, the proportion of the population falling below the country’s mean income becomes bigger, worsening most people’s relative position despite absolute gains.

This phenomenon may be particularly pronounced in China in which the political hierarchy has been the sole standard of social ranking for decades (Li 2002; Nee 1989; Zhou 2000). In economic terms, egalitarianism dominated and wages were usually kept at an average subsistence level without much variation among workers. Differences in income and other material resources existed but were usually small (Szelenyi 1978; Zhou 2000). The situation has changed dramatically since China reformed its economy in 1978. The move towards private ownership and a market-based economy brought profound changes in property rights and the distribution of resources. Economic inequality increased markedly. During the 1990s, the Gini coefficient of income inequality skyrocketed from .28 to .43, with some estimates as high as .48, a level which is comparable to some of the most unequal countries in Asia and Latin America. As Li (2002) pointed out, only a small group of elites and entrepreneurs benefited massively from the boom, heading away from the rest of the population. Unthinkable during Communism, today more than 300,000 Chinese have a net wealth worth over $1 million, excluding property, according to a report from Merrill Lynch. Mainland millionaires control some $530 billion in assets, Boston Consulting Group estimates.3 Moreover, the income gap between urban and rural areas has also been growing (Ravallion and Chen 2007). To a large extent, the countryside lives in the shadow of the prospering economy of the cities."

Asadar, inegalitatile economice au crescut semnificativ in China "liberalizata", iar cum satisfactia oamenilor legata de venit provine in special din comparatiile sociale decat din valoarea venitului absolut, e de asteptat ca fericirea generala sa stagneze sau chiar sa scada.

Rezultatele studiului:
"This pattern can be explained by a top-heavy biased income inequality, placing a growing proportion of the population below the rising national income mean. Rising relative deprivation turns these people into ‘frustrated achievers’—people who have achieved higher incomes in absolute terms, but who are dissatisfied when it comes to their income position relative to the winners. Our analysis uncovers two consequences of this pattern: (1) financial dissatisfaction rises and (2) becomes a stronger factor in depressing life satisfaction. A fast-paced commodification of a growing number of areas of life makes financial dissatisfaction the strongest depressor of subjective well-being.

The depressive effects of anomie and political disaffection are less pronounced. This is particularly true for political disaffection, which we found to be unrelated to life satisfaction in urban areas, once other factors are controlled for (similarly for Hong Kong, see Wong et al. 2006). Moreover, political disaffection has not increased, but on the contrary decreased over time, at least in urban regions. In a similar vein, anomic feelings have become less consequential for subjective well-being in both urban and rural areas, even though they remain an important depressor of life satisfaction."

Asadar, conform celor patru autori, cresterea inegalitatilor sociale este motivul nemultumirii masive a chinezilor, ceea ce demonstreaza din nou ca sistemul capitalist e incapabil de a creste fericirea populatiei deoarece oamenii sunt mai preocupati de venitul relativ decat de cel absolut. O societate inegala, chiar daca prospera, este deci inferioara uneia mai putin abundenta material--fara a se cobori sub pragul saraciei--dar in care se pastreaza egalitarismul.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Luxul, transformat in necesitate


La data de 14 decembrie 2006, PewResearchCenter a facut publice rezultatele unui sondaj intitulat "Luxury or Necessity? Things We Can't Live Without: The List Has Grown in the Past Decade". Ceea ce rezulta este ca pe masura ce bogatia materiala creste, populatia isi cumpara tot mai multe obiecte, care in scurt timp din obiecte de lux devin necesitati. Adica din obiecte de care te puteai lipsi, ajung obiecte fara de care viata nu mai poate fi traita in conditii normale. Iata cum dezvoltarea economica impinsa la infinit se transforma intr-o reteta pentru dezastru si nefericire: transformand tot mai multe lucruri in necesitati, viata devine tot mai dependenta de aspecte exterioare, consumerismul, poluarea si risipa cresc, pe cand resursele naturale scad vertiginos. Sa urmarim cateva dintre concluziile studiului PEW.
Prezentare generala a studiului
"The Pew survey asked the "Luxury or Necessity?" question about 14 different consumer products designed to help make everyday life more productive, more convenient, more comfortable, more efficient or more entertaining. It was conducted by telephone from October 18 through November 9, 2006 among a randomlyselected nationally-representative sample of 2,000 adults.
Survey respondents placed the 14 items on a very broad range along the “necessity” scale -- with a high of 91% describing a car as a necessity and a low of 3% saying the same about an iPod.
But one pattern was consistent: wherever there has been a significant change in the past decade in the public’s judgment about these items, it’s always been in the direction of necessity. And on those items for which there are longer term survey trends dating back to 1973, this march toward necessity has tended to accelerate in the past ten years."

Traiectoria e deci clara: din ce in ce mai multe obiecte, fara de care o mare parte a populatiei traia acum aproximativ 50 de ani fara sa le simta lipsa se transforma in necesitati.

Exemple concrete
"As Americans navigate increasingly crowded lives, the number of things they say they can’t live without has multiplied in the past decade, according to a new Pew Research Center survey that asks whether a broad array of everyday consumer products are luxuries or necessities. Some of these goods, such as home computers, are relatively recent information era innovations that have been rapidly transformed in the public’s eyes from luxury toward necessity.
But other items – such as microwave ovens, dishwashers, air conditioning for the home and car, and clothes dryers – have also made substantial leaps in the past decade even though they’ve been fixtures on the consumer landscape for far longer.
For example, the percentage of American adults who describe microwave ovens as a necessity rather than a luxury has more than doubled in the past decade, to 68%. Home air conditioning is now considered a necessity by seven-in-ten adults, up from half (51%) in 1996. And more than eight-in-ten (83%) now think of a clothes dryer as a necessity, up from six-in-ten (62%) who said the same a
decade ago in a survey conducted by the Washington Post, the Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University."

Asadar, numarul americanilor pentru care cuptorul cu microunde a devenit o necesitate a crescut cu 68% in 10 ani; aerul conditionat pentru casa si masina a devenit necesitate pentru 70% fata de 51% acum 10 ani.
Cazul calculatoarelor si telefoanelor mobile
"The two most ubiquitous products of the information era – home computers and cell phones – are currently situated in the middle of the pack, with the public evenly divided about their status. Computers are deemed a necessity by 51% of the adult public, and cell phones by 49%. But both of these products are making a swift climb up the necessity scale. A decade ago, just 26% of adults considered the home computer a necessity, and back in 1983, when computers were still a novelty, just 4% felt that way. Meantime, cell phones were still so exotic in 1996 that they weren’t even placed on the survey."
Cresterea venitului, direct proportionala cu a dependentei
O exemplificare relevanta este cea legata de calcularea veniturilor diverselor categorii sociale. Dupa cum era de asteptat, PEW a decoperit ca cu cat venitul propriu este mai mare, cu atat oamenii sunt mai dependenti de obiecte: "When it comes to income levels, the story is different. Here, the pattern tends to play out in one direction only: the more income a person has, the more likely he or she is to view goods and gadgets as necessities rather than luxuries. Overall, some 45% of adults with family incomes of $100,000 and above rate at least 10 of these 14 items as necessities, while just 15% of adults with incomes below $30,000 do the same. In short, the more money you have, the more things you need."
Ca o completare la constatarea de mai sus, se pare ca oamenii din zonele rurale sunt ceva mai putin dependenti de obiecte, alegand o viata mai simpla: `Out in the country, a simpler life: Rural residents are less likely than those who live either in the city or the suburbs to view these 14 items as necessities. Of people living in rural areas, fully a third say just 0 to 5 of these items are necessities, compared with 23% of those in cities and 24% of those in suburbs. This difference holds even after controlling for income and internet use."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Dr. John F. Helliway confirma slaba relatie dintre bogatie si satisfactie

John F. Helliwell este profesor emerit de economie la University of British Columbia. In studiul sau „HOW’S LIFE? COMBINING INDIVIDUAL AND NATIONAL VARIABLES TO EXPLAIN SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING”, Helliwell foloseste trei randuri de sondaje la scara mondiala, efectuate de World Values Survey, pentru a afla ce factori influenteaza satisfactia, multumirea si fericirea oamenilor din majoritatea tarilor dezvoltate si in curs de dezvoltare.

Datele folosite de Helliwell
„This paper analyzes measures of subjective well-being drawn from three successive waves of the World Values Survey (WVS, Inglehart et al 2000). (...) The first wave of the WVS survey provides data for the current research from 18 industrial countries, all of which were members of the OECD. The 1990-91 second wave provides data from 38 countries and the 1995-97 third wave provides data for 30 countries, excluding many of the previously surveyed OECD countries.”

Impactul venitului asupra satisfactiei, nesemnificativ peste pragul saraciei
„Theory and some previous research suggest that the effects of individual and national incomes may be non-linear in nature, with smaller well-being effects attached to increases in income beyond levels sets by each individual’s or society’s expectations and habits (Offer 2000). Habituation effects are hard to establish with the WVS data, since there is no way to tell how the family incomes reported relate to recent or normal levels. To search for non-linearity of the individual relative income variable, the equation includes the decile value (where the range is from .1 to 1, and the mean is 0.5) and the decile value squared. In equation 1, both take significant coefficients, with signs that imply diminishing returns to higher relative incomes. For an individual to move from the fourth to the fifth decile in the distribution of family incomesraises well-being by +0.10 (=1.91*.1-.96*.09), while to move from the ninth to the tenth decile isassociated with an increase in well-being of only 0.01 (=1.91*.1-.96*.19). This is despite the fact that for most countries the move from the ninth to the tenth decile involves a much largerabsolute and relative increase in income than to move from the fourth to the fifth decile. Thus there are sharply decreasing well-being effects from higher incomes relative to those elsewhere in the same country”.

Asadar se verifica efectul de „diminishing returns” (adica beneficii din ce in ce mai mici) avut de imbogatire fata de satisfactia de viata. Helliwell demonstreaza ca trecerea unui individ dintr-o zona sub-mediocra cantitativ a venitului spre cea medie sporeste relativ semnificativ satisfactia, insa trecerea din a doua cea mai inalta categorie de venituri spre cea mai inalta are efecte aproape zero, chiar daca aceasta trecere presupune detinerea unui venit cu mult mai mare decat cel necesar atingerii unui nivel mediu. Concluzie la care se ajunge, prin alte metode, si ulterior in studiu: „As noted earlier in the paper, increases in individual incomes, relative to others in the same country, are matched by continuing increases in subjective well-being in the poorer countries, but not in the OECD countries, where average incomes are much higher.”

Dupa cum spune John Hellwell intr-un alt articol, „(...) as people and countries grow richer, each extra dollar of income buys less and less additional happiness. A $100 rise in average income in Jamaica, for example, has three times the impact on measured happiness as a $100 increase in the U.S. Moreover, other economists, including John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia, have shown that nonmonetary factors like working conditions appear to have a much bigger impact on happiness than income. “What we really care about is how big the effect of income is on well-being,” Helliwell says. “The answer is it’s small relative to other things.” Sursa aici.
Intorcandu-ne la studiul lui Helliwell de la care am plecat,

Lipsa coruptiei si increderea intre oameni, reteta fericirii la nivel de natiuni
„As can be seen, the well-being effects of living in higher income countries are small and insignificant, and do not show any evidence of subsequent increase once GDP per capita exceeds half that in the United States in the mid 1990s. Yet it remains the case that on average, subjective well-being is much higher in OECD than in non-OECD countries, and the OECD countries are also much richer. Why this apparent paradox? The reasoning is the similar to that in the case of education. A reduced-form equation shows that subjective well-being is higher in the richer countries, but both education and income effects fall out in the full model, which includes health, social connections, and the quality of government, all of which are higher in the richer countries. Those who have the highest levels of subjective well-being are not those who live in the richest countries, but those who live where social and political institutions are effect, where mutual trust is high, and corruption is low.”

Deci eficienta institutionala, coeziunea sociala si lipsa coruptiei contribuie decisiv la sporirea satisfactiei cetatenilor, si nu nivelul PIB-ului, care odata ce a atins un nivel de doua ori mai mic decat al SUA, nu mai are practic nicio relevanta.
Iata deci cum din nou se confirma ca un accent pus pe dezvoltarea economica, odata depasit pragul saraciei pentru toti cetatenii, nu se mai justifica, punct in care cu totul alte aspecte sociale, non-pecuniare, trebuie sa devina prioritare, precum educatia si coeziunea sociala.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Mariajul si educatia, nu bogatia, sporesc durata vietii

Daca in recenta postare "Sunt familiile bogate (mai) fericite?" (29.12.2008) aratam ca bogatia nu garanteaza o viata de familie mai implinita si fericita decat a celor cu resurse financiare mult mai modeste, azi vom afla ca educatia si casatoria sunt doi factori care contribuie esential la sporirea duratei vietii, nu venitul. Astfel, din nou se constata ca aspectele non-pecuniare au o influenta determinanta asupra unui aspect cheie al calitatii vietii, longevitatea, nu acumularea averilor.

Mariajul, nu venitul, sporeste viata
Aceasta este teza sustinuta de cercetatorii Jonathan Gardner si Andrew Oswald in lucrarea "How is mortality affected by money, marriage, and stress?", publicata in 2004 in revista academica Journal of Health Economics.
Citez din introducerea si concluzia articolului:

"It is believed that the length of a person’s life depends on a mixture of economic and social factors. Yet the relative importance of these is still debated. We provide recent British evidence that marriage has a strong positive effect on longevity. Economics matters less. After controlling for health at the start of the 1990s, we cannot find reliable evidence that income affects the probability of death in the subsequent decade. [...]
prolong life.
The paper explores these issues by using recent longitudinal data from the British Household Panel Survey. Panel data have the crucial advantage that it is possible to control for health at the start of the period. Our study has the additional advantage of being able to
control for a rich set of health controls, which include measures of psychosocial distress.
We focus on individuals aged over 40 at the beginning of the 1990s and estimate equations for the probability of death over the subsequent decade. Hence, our study ignores mortality in the young and our discussion is only germane to the mortality experiences of the middle-aged and elderly. The focus of our paper is then threefold: (1) to explore whether money or marriage keeps people alive; (2) to examine the relationship between stress levels and later mortality; and (3) to examine whether stress levels can help explain the effects of income and marriage upon longevity.
The findings seem of interest. To our surprise, we can detect only minor effects from economics, with income playing little role once we enter suitable controls for initial health status. Marriage, by contrast, has a large effect on mortality risk, even after controlling for a set of health controls (including measures of psychological distress).[...]

This paper’s results suggest that marriage has a more important effect on longevity than income does. For men, the effect of being married is positive and substantial. For example, it approximately offsets the large negative consequences of smoking. For women, the influence of marriage is smaller, at half the size of the smoking effect."

Educatia sporeste longevitatea
Intr-un articol cuprinzator scris de Gina Kolata si aparut in The New York Times la 3 ianuarie 2007, intitulat "A Surprising Secret to a Long Life: Stay in School", cuprinde numeroase afirmatii ale unor cercetatori recunoscuti, toti fiind de acord ca educatia sporeste semnificativ durata vietii, spre diferenta de avere.
Cateva citate in acest sens:

"James Smith, a health economist at the RAND Corporation, has heard a variety of hypotheses about what it takes to live a long life — money, lack of stress, a loving family, lots of friends. But he has been a skeptic. [...] The one social factor that researchers agree is consistently linked to longer lives in every country where it has been studied is education. It is more important than race; it obliterates any effects of income.Year after year, in study after study, says Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, education “keeps coming up.” And, health economists say, those factors that are popularly believed to be crucial — money and health insurance, for example, pale in comparison.

Dr. Smith explains: “Giving people more Social Security income, or less for that matter, will not really affect people’s health. It is a good thing to do for other reasons but not for health.”Health insurance, too, he says, “is vastly overrated in the policy debate.” Instead, Dr. Smith and others say, what may make the biggest difference is keeping young people in school. A few extra years of school is associated with extra years of life and vastly improved health decades later, in old age.

“If you were to ask me what affects health and longevity,” says Michael Grossman, a health economist at the City University of New York, “I would put education at the top of my list.”

Explicatia legaturii dintre educatie si longevitate
"Dr. Lleras-Muney, assistant professor at Princeton, and others point to one plausible explanation — as a group, less educated people are less able to plan for the future and to delay gratification. If true, that may, for example, explain the differences in smoking rates between more educated people and less educated ones. Smokers are at least twice as likely to die at any age as people who never smoked, says Samuel Preston, a demographer at the University of Pennsylvania. And not only are poorly educated people more likely to smoke but, he says, “everybody knows that smoking can be deadly,” and that includes the poorly educated.
But education, Dr. Smith at RAND finds, may somehow teach people to delay gratification. For example, he reported that in one large federal study of middle-aged people, those with less education were less able to think ahead. “Most of adherence is unpleasant,” Dr. Smith says. “You have to be willing to do something that is not pleasant now and you have to stay with it and think about the future.”He deplores the dictums to live in the moment or to live for today. That advice, Dr. Smith says, is “the worst thing for your health.”"

Asadar, se pare ca educatia indelungata ii invata pe oameni sa acorde ratiunii un respect mai mare decat in mod obisnuit si sa se ghideze astfel mai atent in concordata cu recomandarile stiintei. Oamenii educati sunt capabili sa se controleze mai bine si sa evite comportamentele periculoase precum fumatul.

Alte trei studii confirma concluziile de mai sus
In studiul "Widening educational disparities in all-cause mortality: An analysis of Austrian data with international comparisons", aparut in Vienna Yearbook of Population Research 2007, pp. 93-105, Franz Schwarz de la Academia Austriaca de Stiinte argumenteaza la randul sau ca educatia sporeste longevitatea:

"The current study confirms that an inverse relationship exists between education and mortality and shows that in Austria the relative gap in all-cause mortality widened between 1981/82 and 1991/91. Whereas, in relative terms, the declines in death rates over the 1980s turned out to be greater with increasing educational
level, the absolute decline in the rates was almost equal for all levels.
Schartz indica la randul sau fumatul, un obicei nesanatos mai des intalnit in randul celor cu o educatie deficitara: "In Austria, smoking prevalence increased between 1986 and 1995, by 33.7% among females and by 9.6% among males. Indicators of smoking among females (prevalence and cigarettes per day) are approaching those of males (Haidinger, Waldhort and Vutuc 1998). It is likely that those who are less educated represent a disproportionate segment of this increase."

Totusi, ar putea continua un critic, dieferentele dintre cei cu o educatie inalta si cei lipsiti de ea nu pot fi explicate prin aceea ca primii au venituri, de obicei, mai mari si astfel beneficiaza de servicii medicale superioare? Nu, raspunde autorul, explicand ca

"Equal access to national health-care systems may improve health among the disadvantaged. However, Pamuk (1985) demonstrated that, in England, social inequalities in mortality have been increasing despite the introduction of a National Health Service in 1948. Likewise, the US Social Security Act that established Medicare and Medicaid in the US in 1965 could not prevent increasing social disparities in mortality, either (Feldman et al. 1989). In Austria,
virtually everyone has a basic right to utilise the facilities made available by the Austrian health system. This means that everybody is entitled to preventative examinations, medical treatment, free medicine, dental treatment, nursing care at home or as an in-patient, payment of ambulance costs, etc. Regardless of these positive health-care conditions, the differentials have increased."

Asadar, desi in tari precum Austria vasta majoritate a populatiei are acces la ingrijiri medicale gratuite, diferenta dde durata a vietii intre cei educati si ceilalti continua sa creasca, ceea ce sugereaza ca nu accesul la sistemul de sanatate influenteaza aceasta diferenta, exact cum afirma Dr. James Smith mai sus.

In studiul "Estonia 1989–2000: enormous increase in mortality differences by education", aparut in International Journal of Epidemiology 2003;32:1081-1087, cercetatorii Mall Leinsalu, Denny Vågerö si Anton E Kunst demonstreaza ca beneficiarii unei educatii iesc mai mult decat restul.

"Educational differences in mortality increased tremendously from 1989 to 2000: over the 10-year period life expectancy improved considerably for graduates, and worsened for those with the lowest education. In 2000, male graduates aged 25 could expect to live 13.1 years longer than corresponding men with the lowest education; among women the difference was 8.6 years. Large differences were observed in all selected causes of death in 1989 and in 2000 and the trends were invariably much more favourable for the higher educated. Educational differences in total mortality increased in all age groups."

In sfarsit, studiul "The Gap Gets Bigger: Changes In Mortality And Life Expectancy, By Education, 1981–2000", publicat de Ellen R. Meara, Seth Richards si David M. Cutler in Health Affairs, 27, no. 2 (2008): 350-360, arata ca:

"Despite increased attention and substantial dollars directed to groups with low socioeconomic status, within race and gender groups, the educational gap in life expectancy is rising, mainly because of rising differentials among the elderly. With the exception of black males, all recent gains in life expectancy at age twenty-five have occurred among better-educated groups, raising educational differentials in life expectancy by 30 percent. Differential trends in smoking-related diseases explain at least 20 percent of this trend."

Liderul studiului, Ellen R. Meara, explica pentru AFP motivele acestei diferente intre durata de viata a oamenilor educati si a restului societatii:
"
The reasons for such longevity appear to be that more educated people have better access to both information about disease and medical advances."Quite literally, why are the better educated living longer? They're less likely to die of diseases," said Meara. [...]

"The diseases contributing most to the growing education gap in mortality include diseases of the heart, lung and other cancers, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, all of which share tobacco use as a major risk factor," the study said. "Beyond the differential change in smoking, there is the national trend toward increased obesity," it said. "As with smoking, obesity is more common among the less-educated than among the better-educated. Further, recent research suggests that obesity might contribute to nearly as many deaths as tobacco does.""

Concluziile trase de Meara sunt confirmate de un alt cercetator, Ahmedin Jemal, al carui studiu arata ca "better-educated and wealthier groups have been more likely to adopt more healthful behaviors. For example, the fraction of U.S. women without high school degrees who smoked fell from 37 percent to 25 percent from 1974 to 2004. For college graduates, it fell from 26 percent to 9 percent, a much steeper decline." Sursa aici.
Astfel, cei educati au un stil de viata mai echilibrat, cunosc mai bine si au capacitatea de a evita comportamentele si obiceiurile daunatoare sanatatii, precum fumatul, sedentarismul si regimurile alimentare nesanatoase ce duc la obezitate.

IN CONCLUZIE: Se verifica din nou ca averea nu este unul din factorii ce influenteaza decisiv aspectele cheie ale bunastarii umane, precum longevitatea. Aspecte mult mai putin legate in mod necesar de bogatie, precum casatoria si educatia, au un impact mult mai consistent asupra duratei vietii. Este important de subliniat ca educatia are acest efect pozitiv nu pentru ca ar presupune castiguri materiale mai mari sau privilegii in accesul la serviciile medicale, ci pentru ca sporeste controlul rational asupra comportamentului uman, si ajuta la evitarea obiceiurilor nesanatoase.

Aceasta concluzie este favorabila miscarii downshifting deoarece arata ca nu goana dupa bani, ci acordarea atentiei aspectelor familiale si celor legate de educatie si cultura trebuie sa primeze, obiective presupuse si urmarite de miscarea simplitatii voluntare.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ierarhizarea nevoilor si paradoxul fericirii

Stavros A. Drakopoulos este profesor de economie la Universitatea din Atena. Totodata, el este si autorul articolului "The paradox of happiness: towards an alternative explanation", aparut in revista academica Journal of Happiness Studies (2008) 9:303–315.
Aici Drakopoulos aduce o noua explicatie realitatii cunoscute drept "paradoxul fericirii" sau "paradoxul lui Easterlin", paradox ce consta in faptul ca odata ce un nivel material de baza este asigurat, fericirea nu sporeste odata cu venitul peste aceasta limita relativ modesta.

Voi prezenta intai, folosindu-ma de textul profesorului grec, descoperirile facute de cercetatori legate de validitatea acestui paradox, apoi explicatiile date de-a lungul timpului in incercarea de a-l deslusi, iar in final prezint rezolvarea oferita de Drakopoulos. Subliniez ca nu voi include in citate si referintele bibliografice date de autor, pe care cititorul le poate gasi in textul originar spre care am dat link mai sus.

Paradoxul fericirii: venitul creste, fericirea stagneaza
"One of the first studies, which identified the paradox was Easterlin (1974). It is based on post WWII US time series data and shows that
although real per capita income has risen dramatically, there is no definite trend on self-reported happiness level.
This finding also holds for more recent studies. More specifically, many studies indicate that there has been no improvement in happiness in the US for over almost half a century although real income per capita more than doubled. Similar results hold for many European countries. There is no trend in a period where real income per capita rises within all these countries from 25 to 50%. The findings for Japan are even more strange given the tremendous rise in real income.
Although Japanese income increased by almost five times, there was no improvement in mean subjective well-being."

Tari relativ sarace, la fel de fericite ca altele mult mai avute
"The empirical evidence for less developed countries is more in line with the theoretical expectations. A survey of 22 countries indicates that the higher the gross national product, the lower the correlation between happiness and income. Indicatively, in this survey, Nigeria and Israel report the same level of happiness in spite of the considerable difference in GDP per capita. Furthermore, the Philippines report slightly higher levels of happiness than Italy although the former’s per capital income is substantially lower than the later. As a further evidence from another work, Chile and Germany report the same level of happiness while Germany’s income per head is three times higher than Chile’s. More recent data froma world survey of country data shows that additional income provides more happiness at low levels of development. In support of these findings, the strongest correlation at the micro-level between happiness and income that has been found so far is in the poor areas of Calcutta, India. It should also be noted that many of the above empirical results concerning the paradox have also been tested for reliability by various econometric methods."

Banii sporesc fericirea pana la un nivel material modest
"This is also supported by the fact that for US data there is a positive correlation between income and happiness up to the average income level of US $10000. Relative to this, the US population who felt ‘‘very happy’’ peaked in 1957 and has decreased since then, although real income has increased continuously. Furthermore, many cross-sectional empirical studies indicate that more developed
countries do not report higher happiness levels once GDP per capita exceeds half that in the US in mid-1990s."

Posibile explicatii ale paradoxului lui Easterlin
1. Odata cu venitul in crestere, cresc si pretentiile
"More specifically, it is argued that aspirations change over the life cycle roughly in proportion to income and this means that they have offsetting effects on happiness levels. According to this outlook, happiness level has a positive relationship with current income
but a negative one with aspirations about future income.
Moreover, aspirations are based on past income. Given that material aspirations change over life cycle in proportion to income, it is likely that happiness level remain constant while income rises. The main
example of this approach is the work of Easterlin but it also draws from work in psychology. Similar to this approach is the idea that individuals as consumers’ are constantly exposed to idealized advertising images, which leads them to compare and evaluate their lives with reference to those images. This exposure combined with materialistic consumer desires, often raises consumers’ expectations and might result in consumer discontent."

2. Societatea de consum deterioreaza coeziunea sociala
"Other researchers have pointed out that social capital (trusting people, friendship) affects happiness. The deterioration of social capital in many advanced countries might be a crucial factor for the paradox of happiness. Similar to this line of explanation is the idea of relational goods. The main argument here is that the lack of relational goods such as close personal relationships, might be common in advanced countries and this may reduce overall well-being. This approach also draws from current work in psychology. [...]
For Phelps the paradox of happiness in the US is attributed to a decline in the percentage of altruists in the population. This is because altruists are more likely to report themselves happy than people with other personality attributes. Finally, Elster argues that emotions are very important in the decision process. The relation between emotions and choice must be understood better in order to analyze observable choices made by individuals and which affect happiness levels."

3. Inegalitatea sociala
"Another approach towards tackling the paradox of happiness has to do with traditional economic concepts, which if incorporated, might be able to explain the issue. Two of these are: the idea of relative income or relative consumption hypothesis, and the level of
inequality. The idea of relative income is quite important in economics and has been used in many theoretical contexts. The main thrust of the relative income argument is that individuals do not pay much attention to their absolute income but to their position relative to other people’s incomes. Thus, raising everybody’s income does not increase general happiness. This is because in comparison to others, income has not improved.
The idea of inequality as an explanation is based on the concept of diminishing marginal utility of money: an extra dollar provides much more utility to a poor than to a rich person. This implies that if there is a transfer of money from the rich to the poor, average happiness increases. Thus, the more equally income is distributed, the higher the level of happiness level in a country."

Ipoteza lui Drakopoulos: ierarhizarea valorilor
"The conceptual basis of hierarchical choice is that human needs are of varying importance and that they are hierarchical. Agents have non-Archimedian preferences when they are characterized by primary and secondary needs. Primary needs must reach a given
level of satisfaction first before the secondary ones are considered. In other words, preferences are hierarchical in the sense that higher priority choice variables must reach certain levels before lower priority choice variables are considered. [...]
One potential difficulty with the empirical dimension of the hierarchical system might be the definition of basic needs. However, it has been maintained that needs lower in the hierarchy are likely to be common among individuals of different cultures and that needs
higher in the hierarchy are likely to be common among individuals of the same culture. Furthermore, a number of widely accepted
economic formulations have explicitly or implicitly assumed the feasibility of basic needs distinction. [...] In addition, a whole body of theoretical and empirical literature on linear expenditure systems
employs concepts such as ‘‘basic needs’’, ‘‘necessary goods’’ and ‘‘subsistence expenditure’’.
The above formulation of happiness can be used as an additional explanation of the observed curvilinear relation between income and happiness: income has strong impact on happiness but after a given level, the effect becomes much weaker. [...] As Ruut Veenhoven states: ‘‘To a great extent happiness depends on the gratification of
innate bio-psychological needs which do not adjust to circumstances’’. [...]
After a discussion of the characteristics of the hierarchical system and its relationship with the concept of happiness, the paper argued that this system of choice implies that income might be very important
variable in providing happiness up to a certain level. After that level has been reached, it ceases to do so and other variables become important. "

Altfel spus, banii aduc intr-adevar fericirea atata timp cat subiectul iese din saracia lucie si isi poate permite sa plateasca pentru bunurile de baza, printre care se numara adapostul, hrana, apa, imbracamintea. Acestea stau la baza ierarhiei nevoilor si ele trebuiesc satisfacute cu prioritate, inainte oricaror alte nevoie sau dorintelor. Fiind nevoi de baza, ele nu sunt supuse efectelor corozive data de adaptarea hedonica sau de comparatiile inter-sociale, caci fiecare om are aceleasi nevoi de baza.
Odata acest prag al saraciei trecut, omul se indreapta catre satisfacerea altor "variabile", asa cum le numeste Drakopoulos, sau pur si simplu "nevoi secundare" si intre care include "social aspiration, emotions, social stimuli, goal completion and meaning, freedom and social capital. These variables may or may not affect income." Acestea pot sau nu sa depinda de bani si, oricum, satisfacerea lor este mai putin stringenta decat cea a nevoilor primare.
Autorul subliniaza in repetate randuri ca ipoteza lui nu se vrea exclusiva, ea poate functiona in combinatie cu altele dintre cele enumerate mai sus.

Ce am retinut asadar din prezenta expunere?
1. studii diverse sustin realitatea "paradoxului fericirii", a starii de fapt ca odata trecut un nivel material modest, banii nu mai sporesc relevant fericirea.
2. paradoxul fericirii poate fi explicat in diverse moduri, fara a insemna ca unele explicatii le exclud pe altele. Printre acestea se numara cresterea aspiratiilor, scaderea coeziunii si apropierii dintre oameni in societatile de consum, inegalitatile sociale etc.
3. o noua explicatie este cea ca nevoile noastre pot fi ierarhizate, banii fiind importanti pentru satisfacerea celor primare, dar din ce in ce mai putin importanti in privinta celor secundare.
4. toti oamenii au aceleasi nevoi de baza.

Ca implicatie politica, aceste concluzii pot fi folosite pentru a sustine egalitarismul: veniturile consistente in plus peste pragul saraciei sa fie descurajate, din moment ce oricum nu sporesc in mod credibil fericirea. In felul acesta stopam si risipa, poluarea, munca in exces si oferim tuturor mai mult timp liber in care se pot indeletnici de activitati pozitive pentru fericirea personala, precum sportul, relatiile interumane, cultura, voluntariatul etc.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Adam Smith Frankenstein

Romanul "Frankenstein; sau un Prometeus modern", publicat de Mary Shelley in 1818, nareaza povestea omului de stiinta Victor Frankenstein care ambitionandu-se sa creeze un om artificial, sfarseste prin a crea un monstru. Romanul este in mod obisnuit interpretat ca o critica a inconstientei creatorului, celui obsedat de a pune in practica o idee fara a se gandi suficient la potentialele consecinte ale acestui act, ce se pot intoarce chiar impotriva sa.
Adam Smith (1723-1790) a furnizat in lucrarea sa "Avuţia naţiunilor, cercetare asupra naturii şi cauzelor ei" una dintre argumentarile considerate printre cele mai convingatoare in apararea comertului liber si capitalismului, introducand in teoria economica inclusiv conceptul de "mana invizibila".
Ceea ce vom afla in aceasta postare este ca, precum Frankenstein, Smith a dat nastere unui monstru pe care el insusi l-ar fi renegat. Vom vedea ca in ciuda unor valori etice sanatoase adoptate de Smith, sistemul capitalist a dus in practica la realitati diametral opuse. Si ca desi Adam Smith insusi ar fi fost un critic acerb al consumerismului, capitalismul sau s-a transformat exact intr-un monstru materialisto-consumerist, caruia vietile oamenilor ii cad tot mai des prada.

In acest sens, ma voi folosi de studiul "Adam Smith and Consumerism’s Role in Happiness: Modern Society Re-examined", scris de Dr. Michael Busch si publicat in revista academica Major Themes in Economics, Spring 2008. Aici Busch incepe prin a expune neajunsurile, uneori grotesti, ale consumerismului propagat de capitalismul modern, apoi prezinta filosofia etica a lui Adam Smith, pentru ca in final sa arate numeroasele puncte de divergenta dintre consumerism si propria teorie morala a lui Smith. Sa-l urmarim punct cu punct.

Monstruozitatile consumerismului
1. Consumerismul inseamna munca in exces
"Perhaps the most basic reason to consume is necessity. People have
biological needs for food, water, and shelter. In modern American
society, necessity is not the only, or even primary, reason for
consumption. In 1965, a U.S. Senate subcommittee estimated that
Americans would have an average work week of fourteen to twenty-two hours in 2000 because of productivity gains if consumption stayed constant (De Graaf et al 2001, 41). Instead, in 2006, the average full-time worker in America worked 8.54 hours each weekday and averaged more than 40 hours of work in a week (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2007). The extra hours worked indicate that Americans value additional consumption over additional leisure time."

2. Consumerismul, o creatie artificiala si impusa
"Producers can and do use advertising and salesmanship to inspire new desires in the consumer. The average child can view up to 200
commercials in a normal day’s worth of television consumption (De
Graaf et al 2001, 53).
When the desires are created by the producers, satisfying each
consumer desire does little to satisfy the individual in the long run.
Instead, satisfying each desire provides the producers with the revenue to create more consumer desires that the producers will in turn satisfy with new products. Increased consumption, then, contributes little to increased satisfaction or even higher utility over time among consumers. The means used to encourage consumer desires may even have a detrimental effect on the consumer’s overall satisfaction. For example, many children’s commercials are designed to undermine the child-parent relationship in that they encourage children to convince their parents to purchase products for them (Ibid, 54).
In addition to television advertising, high schools have become an
important shaping ground for teenagers as consumers. Home economics courses, which once taught the skills needed for home production, now focus primarily on how to consume, such as buying furniture for a house or consumption-based leisure activities (Spring 2003 186). Among teenagers, consumerism has been found to be the biggest force linking them to each other (Ibid, 188). Since most teenagers have all of their immediate needs provided by their parents, their consumption is even more easily influenced by created desires than the average consumer’s."

3. Consumerism exacerbeaza lacomia si lipsa de satisfactie
"As the consumer’s desires grow, the number of goods seen as
necessary also grows. In 2000, approximately half of Americans believed they could not afford everything they needed. The results were not bunched at the lowest income quintile, as 33% of people in the highest income quintile said they could not afford all their needs (Hamilton 2005, 63). The figures suggest large variances in the definition of needs among consumers, both over time and in a given society. The trend of perceived unmet needs held true for both British and Australian consumers, so it is not exclusive to Americans.
When asked about individual goods such as vacations, new clothes, or meals at restaurants, the vast majority of consumers said they could afford such goods (Ibid 64). The perceived difference between meeting general needs and purchasing particular goods suggests that people’s definition of necessity is expanding."

4. Consumerismul, mentinut de inegalitatile socio-economice
"In a similar vein, many goods are purchased as status symbols. In
older cultures, status symbols such as noble titles would have been
granted by the state or social institution (Silver 2002, 43). The American government and society has few notable titles or symbols to give to its most successful members to serve as the basis for an aristocracy. Instead, Americans purchase their own symbols to convey status. “Because the society sets great store by ability to produce a high living standard, it evaluates people by the products they possess” (Galbraith 1984, 128).
Consumption for status works to show one’s status only because
American society measures its members primarily by economic means. [...]
Despite the long-run fruitlessness of status consumption, it remains
one of the most enduring consumer desires in America. A study of
American and French automobile advertising from 1955 to 1991 found
that Americans were more persuaded than the French by appeals to the status the automobile would convey as opposed to the intrinsic value of the automobile itself (Silver 2002, 135). Automobiles are a highly visible good to others, so their common use as a status good naturally follows in a consumerist society. What is striking, though, is that the American consumers were willing to sacrifice performance from consumption in order to improve their social status.[...]
As an example, consider leisure activities. Prior to the 20 century, the average American spent most of his or her leisure time engaged in family, church, and community related activities. Early in the 20 century, socially-based activities were mostly supplanted by leisure activities based on consumption, such as viewing a film or playing with recreational products (Spring 2003, 96)."

5. Consumerismul isi propune sa fie o piedica in calea fericirii
"The problem with consumerism is that it makes the pursuit of
happiness more difficult. While each individual good provides
momentary satisfaction, the goal of consumerism is to keep the consumer wanting to purchase more goods. As a General Motors research director said, “The whole object of research is to keep everyone reasonably dissatisfied with what he has in order to keep the factory busy making new things” (Spring 2003, 52). GM, along with many other manufacturers, encouraged planned obsolescence, the practice of designing goods to encourage frequent replacements. The practice is especially prevalent in the clothing industry, where a shift in fashion can make an entire wardrobe of clothing functionally worthless to a trend-conscious consumer (Ibid, 55)."

Adam Smith, teorie etica si eudaimonista
Dreptate, bunavointa si prudenta
"Among all the moral rules developed by societies, Smith identifies
three basic virtues that underlie happiness. The three major virtues, in Smith’s view, are justice, beneficence, and prudence. Justice is the prevention or remedy of acts that cause “real and positive hurt to some particular persons, from motives which are naturally disapproved of” (Ibid, 79).
Beneficence is the free gift of items or services of value to another
human being. For the gift to be beneficent, the recipient cannot actively suffer harm if the gift is not given (Ibid, 78). [...]
Both justice and beneficence are considered public virtues because
their effects are only felt when a person is in a community or a public
space. Without other people, both justice and beneficence would be
impossible to practice. On the other hand, prudence is a private virtue because it primarily affects the individual practicing it, though it can still have effects on others.
Prudence, according to Smith, is the “care of the health, of the
fortune, of the rank and reputation of the individual, the objects upon which his comfort and happiness in this life are supposed principally to depend” (Ibid, 212). The virtue is primarily concerned with protecting the individual’s status, as opposed to improving it. While improvement is not unwanted, “We suffer more … when we fall from a better to a worse situation than we ever enjoy when we rise from a worse to a better” (Ibid). The prudent choice is for the individual to secure what he or she has before trying to gain further improvement and for the individual to be relatively risk-averse."

Scaderea cantitatii de munca
"In relation to production and consumption, the prudent person is not lazy and is a steady worker. Prudence causes the individual to live within his means, so, over time, the prudent person will slowly accumulate wealth. While the wealth in itself will provide little satisfaction, the resulting increased economic security will allow the prudent person to work a little less as he ages. The prudent person will feel increased satisfaction as he ages from increased leisure time, due to the increase both in absolute terms and in comparison to his previous situation (Ibid, 215)."

Linistea interioara si multumirea cu ce ai
"The goal of security gained through prudence is the maintenance of
the prudent person’s tranquility. Tranquility depends on how well people have “accommodated themselves to whatever becomes their permanent situation” (Ibid, 149). While the prospect of change, for better or worse, makes a person anxious about the future, acceptance of one’s current situation calms the mind. Smith attributes much of the misery in human life to overestimating the importance of changing one’s current situation (Ibid)."

Conflictul dintre valorile promovate de Adam Smith si consumerismul capitalist
1. Consumerismul submineaza notiunea de dreptate
"Justice is undermined by consumerism due to the isolating effects
consumerism has on the community. As Jerry Evensky argues, in Smith’s ethics, “justice must be enforced not by institutions and police, but by self-government – that is, by citizens who share and adhere to a common, mature standard of civic ethics” (2005, 129). Justice, in practice, is based on a set on general rules of conduct that people follow that are based on their observations of other people, accumulated over time. The rules should be fairly uniform over a group of people who interact because they would share many common observations. Consumerism reduces the time people spend interacting with each other, which will make Smith’s justice less uniform over the group.
Another related, and more serious, problem consumerism creates for
both justice and beneficence is alienation among consumers. Alienation, to Smith, occurs when self-interest is used in situations where virtue is more appropriate. Alienation results when a person never learns how to make moral choices (Fitzgibbons 1997, 97). Since the person never learns morality, the person is forced to always use self-interest because he or she cannot exercise virtue. Children’s advertising fosters alienation by encouraging children’s self-interested pursuit of consumption. A child raised on commercials, along with a stronger desire to consume, will be
correspondingly less beneficent and, as a child, will have fewer
opportunities to practice beneficence or justice. In turn, as an adult, the person will have more difficulty exercising the virtues and being a moral person.

2. Consumerismul, inamicul prudentei si linistii interioare
"While beneficence and justice are made more difficult because of
consumerism, prudence is more directly affected. The prudent person only lives within his income. Modern consumerism, however, encourages people to consume on credit. The value of consumer credit increased 1100% from 1945 to 1960 and has continued to expand ever since (Cohen 2003, 123). Credit comes at the cost of future consumption, so consumers with large debt loads will be unable to enjoy the gradual increase in both consumption and leisure the prudent person would gain over time.
In turn, debt is likely to reduce a consumer’s tranquility because the consumer must now be concerned with increasing his income to be able to pay off debts and still attempt to maintain his current standard of living.
The prudent person should not be concerned with status consumption. [...]

3. Consumerismul, adversar al bunavointei
"In contrast, the purpose of status consumption is to demonstrate one’s superiority to others. Buying more expensive or fashionable goods than others is a crude display of wealth. Smith rejects both vanity and attempts to be superior to others on the grounds that “the pleasures of vanity and superiority are seldom consistent with perfect tranquility” (Smith 1982, 150). An individual concerned with status must constantly attempt to defend his relative status through constantly increased status consumption, so such an individual would not be able to be tranquil."

IN CONCLUZIE:
"While modern consumerism has made continuous consumption into the primary road to happiness, Smith’s ethics offer the vastly different picture of happiness found in prudence and tranquility. By embracing Smith’s virtues and focusing more on tranquility, people could become happier at less cost and exertion than they go through now because so much of their labor is spent to acquire goods for status consumption or because of want-creation. [...]
As Smith wrote, The pleasures of vanity and superiority are seldom consistent with perfect tranquility, the principle and foundation of all real and satisfactory enjoyment. Neither is it always certain that, in the splendid situation which we aim at, those real and satisfactory pleasures can be enjoyed with the same security as in the humble one which we are so very eager to abandon (Ibid, 150)."

Citind studiul lui Michael Busch, putem trage la randul nostru doua concluzii:
1. capitalismul consumerist din prezent este o realitate pe care insusi "parintele" capitalismului liberal ar fi renegat-o. Acest sistem este la fel de odios si respingator precum un copil care ajunge sa-si agreseze propriul parinte si sa dispretuiasca insusi valorile parintelui sau. El este o rusine pentru Adam Smith, ce ar mai putea fi pentru noi?

2. adversarii ideologiilor egalitariste sustin uneori, pe buna dreptate pana la un punct, ca sisteme sociale precum marxismul ar fi pur utopice pentru puse in practica, au ajuns sa manifeste trasaturi fata de care insusi creatorul lor s-ar fi opus. Cultul personalitatii si concentrarea puterii in mainile unui singur om, de pilda, pot fi vazutein contradictie cu conceptul de dictatura a proletariatului, cu democratia populara, in care deciziile economice si politice sunt larg influentate de deciziile muncitorilor. De acum avem in arsenalul argumentativ o noua arma: daca marxismul este utopic pentru ca inca nu a fost pus in aplicare decat pana la un punct, atunci si capitalismul este la fel de utopic, din acelas motiv. Discutia despre preferabilitatea uneia dintre cele doua teorii trebuie asadar mutata in alt plan.