Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Economists Agree

In a recent post I wrote about honesty and wondered what life would be like if everyone were honest all of the time. Last night, while reading Tim Hartford's The Undercover Economist, I came across this passage:
...we will discover that a world of truth leads to a perfectly efficient economy, one in which it is impossible to make someone better off without making someone else worse off.
Just replace "perfectly efficient economy" with "happiness" and we sound alike! Not that I'm advocating "making someone else worse off", but that probably is likely to happen in the short term for the person on the harsh end of the social honesty. In the long term everyone benefits through "efficiency".

That efficiency may manifest itself as free time you aren't spending in a dying friendship or relationship. It may be reduced stress and mental anguish that has been removed from your life.

And again, I'm not saying that it's practical to be honest all the time. As Kelly pointed out in the comments, sometimes thoughts aren't rational. What do we do then? Would spending some time trying to be internally honest with ourselves help to figure out why we have these irrational thoughts?

Maybe happiness and efficiency go hand in hand. In a world where everyone is acting in their best social interest, and their thoughts are rational, won't being entirely honest with everyone make you happier? I realize we should care about other people, but we certainly can't be expected to always compromise our own best interests to keep other people happy, can we?

I suspect that too often people focus on the short term effects, and overlook that the long term result is often better for everyone involved. I know that efficiency in other areas of my life make me happy (ie. work), so can't it work that way socially?

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