Lucretius on Positional Goods
Why is it so delightful to discover what seemed to be new wine in old bottles? I don’t know, but, for me at least, it is. Take the idea that we judge our happiness relative to others’. While discussing economic history, Greg Clark summarizes this idea in passing:
There has been much discussion of the appropriate interpretation of the failure of higher income to produce greater happiness over time and across countries. The key problem here is the ample evidence that our happiness depends not on our absolute level of well-being, but instead on how we are doing relative to our reference group.
That’s from A Farewell to Alms, by the way, one of my new favorite books. I don’t agree with much of it, but in spirit and style and method, it is a wonderfully engaging read.
Now let’s turn back the clock to around 60 B.C.E. and listen to Lucretius (via Anthony Esolen’s translation):
How sweet, to watch from the shore the wind-whipped ocean
Toss someone else’s ship in a mighty struggle;
Not that the man’s distress is a cause for mirth—
Your freedom from those troubles is what’s sweet;
And sweet, to see great lines of soldiers marshaled
in the plains of war, when you are free from peril;
[composed and posted with ecto]