Currently, economists' models of the evolutionary selection of utility function parameters are generally based on two assumptions. First, it is assumed that utility parameters must serve Darwinian fitness, in the sense that individuals who maximize utility are also maximizing their biological survivability. Second, it is assumed that utility parameters accurately reflect well-being, in the sense that individuals who maximize utility also maximize their happiness. However, there is a large literature in anthropology, biology, and psychology suggesting that these two assumptions may not be warranted. Focusing on utility and happiness, the paper uses models of cultural selection to show that there is no guarantee that our evolved preference must be the preferences that maximize our happiness. Instead, there are plausible mechanisms of cultural selection that will allow immiserating preferences to persist in steady state equilibrium. These mechanisms are generally related to the concept of social achievement: those who achieve more in society will have a greater influence on the utility parameters of the next generation, and this influence is independent of the achievers' well-being. Thus, a preference is more likely to survive if it satisfies some mix of achievement goals and happiness goals, rather than just happiness goals alone.
Journal of Bioeconomics – Springer Journals
Published: Dec 26, 2004
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