Does people’s life satisfaction adapt to material improvements? In a recent paper (gated), Galiani, Gertler and Undurraga find that it does, even in a case of very poor people receiving a really basic service (housing). In a large-scale experiment, some poor households in El Salvador, Mexico and Uruguay were randomly selected to receive a ready-made small house. Receiving such housing increased the share of households reporting to be “satsfied” or “very satisfied” with the quality of their life by around around 40 %, from 0.53 to 0.73, thus confirming that it was something these households really needed. What about the effect in the long term? Eight months later, more than half of the gain had disappeared, highly consistent with the hedonic treadmill hypothesis.
I have started listening to a new podcast called What’s The Point, produced by Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight team. The show “is a short weekly conversation (tag line: “Big Data. Small Interviews.”) that highlights data’s growing influence and brings in the people who are using it in surprising ways.” I have enjoyed the first few episodes and will continue to listen to the show on a regular basis. In the second episode, the guest was astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and when talking about his multiple interests and obligations, he said something I liked very much about having too much to do: “When something is out of balance you can get quite innovative in your attempts to resolve that fact.” Anyway, the podcast is recommended.
Books finished in July: (Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)
Reamde: A Novel (2012) by Neal Stephenson. Not what I expected from the author of Cryptonomicon and the Baroque cycle. It starts off promisingly with modern, hot topics like a bitcoinlike virtual currency, the mmorpg T’Rain and its gold farmers, and ransomware, but quickly develops into a simple action story packed full of unbelievable coincidences, with a conflict between evil, largely unidimensional Muslims and others. Disappointing.
The Book of Daniel: A Novel (1971) by E. L. Doctorow. Novel based on the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were put on trial for espionage and executed for treason in 1953. In the book they are called Paul and Rochelle Isaacson, and the story is told through their son Daniel. From his viewpoint, the pair, and particularly the father, come off as self-righteous and somewhat narrow-minded, though harmless, and likely innocent. According to Wikipedia, in the real world the children also believed in their parents’ innocence for a long time, though were convinced otherwise in the end. Finished the book a few days after the death of E. L. Doctorow. Interesting to learn about the people executed for espionage against the US in recent times, but I would not really recommend the book. (Trivia: The story ends in Disneyland, where CoryDoctorow‘s novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom takes place, but apparently the two are not related.)