With all the emphasis on income and consumption inequality, it’s timely that an economist reminds us that these are not the only measure of well being. There is declining inequality in mortality rates and growing inequality in leisure time, although the distribution of leisure time is probably inversely related to to the distribution of income. After all, if you want one of those high income jobs, you’d better be prepared for a 70 hour work week!
I know too many people, involuntarily unemployed or retired, who would not choose to return to the world of full time work. They think this would not improve their overall well being.
It is important to remember that none of our economic data captures well being. Some researchers are trying to measure happiness, but it’s not clear that happiness equates to well being.
Well being is very subjective. The foundation of Austrian economics is that people act to improve their well being. This may or may not have anything to do with wealth, income, consumption, happiness, or status. We also know, from the behavioral sciences, that we are not terribly good at translating our desires for well being into appropriate actions. Our mental processes are flawed in well known ways. And few of us pursue well being in an organized and thoughtful way. There is plenty of room for improvement, but it may not be in the ways we expect.