Home > Congestion Pricing, David Brooks, Happiness, Jonah Lehrer, Matthew Yglesias, Traffic > Greater is Happiness is Worth Paying For

Greater is Happiness is Worth Paying For

If I told you about a policy that generates needed tax revenue, makes the economy more efficient, saves you substantial amounts of time, and greatly increases your happiness, and all comes at a low personal cost you’d probably think it is a no brainer, right? Well it is – and it’s congestion pricing. I pushed this a while back; now Matthew Yglesias and Jonah Lehrer are advocating the policy – both pieces are in response to David Brooks’ most recent column.  


The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.


Brooks doesn’t pivot from this into any real policy specifics. But the upshot of the commuting point is very clear—we should charge people a fee to drive on crowded roads at peak hours. If you look at it in strict dollars and cents terms, the policy looks great. A relatively small fee can eliminate large economic losses due to congestion, and then the fee can finance useful public services or reductions in other taxes. But when you add in the fact that commuting time makes people miserable, you can see that the social gains from congestion pricing in our most-trafficked metro areas would be extremely large.


Of course, as Brooks notes, that time in traffic is torture, and the big house isn’t worth it. According to the calculations of Frey and Stutzer, a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office. Another study, led by Daniel Kahneman and the economist Alan Krueger, surveyed nine hundred working women in Texas and found that commuting was, by far, the least pleasurable part of their day. 

I don’t want to overstate the benefits of a policy like this but it’s discouraging that policies like these that command strong support from policy experts still can’t find champions from many politicians.
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