The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain Since 1950

Barry Schwartz writes:

The view that choice is essential to collective welfare seems compelling. Adding further options can’t make anyone worse off and will surely make some better off. It’s what economists call ‘Pareto efficient’. And increasing wealth is what makes more of these options real for more and more citizens. The Challenge of Affluence is a frontal assault on this view. Avner Offer is an economic historian who has long been concerned with figuring out what matters most to quality of life. And what the book tells us is that it’s not what economists think it is. Offer makes the powerful argument that not only has our unprecedented affluence failed to make us better off, it may actually have made us worse off; not only does affluence fail to solve the most basic human problems, it creates new ones. We have wasted too much time listening to economists.

(LRB 8 March 2007)

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