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Ronnie Schöb

Ronnie Schöb is Full Professor of International Public Economies at the School of Business and Economics, Freie Universität, Berlin.

Titles by This Author

The Economics of Well-Being

Can money buy happiness? Is income a reliable measure for life satisfaction? In the West after World War II, happiness seemed inextricably connected to prosperity. Beginning in the 1960s, however, other values began to gain ground: peace, political participation, civil rights, environmentalism. “Happiness economics”—a somewhat incongruous-sounding branch of what has been called “the dismal science”—has taken up the puzzle of what makes people happy, conducting elaborate surveys in which people are asked to quantify their satisfaction with “life in general.” In this book, three economists explore the happiness-prosperity connection, investigating how economists measure life satisfaction and well-being.

The authors examine the evolution of happiness research, considering the famous “Easterlin Paradox,” which found that people’s average life satisfaction didn’t seem to depend on their income. But they question whether happiness research can measure what needs to be measured. They argue that we should not assess people’s well-being on a “happiness scale,” because that necessarily obscures true social progress. Instead, rising income should be understood as increasing opportunities and alleviating scarcity. Economic growth helps societies to sustain freedom and to finance social welfare programs. In this respect, high income may not buy happiness with life in general, but it gives individuals the opportunity to be healthier, better educated, better clothed, and better fed, to live longer, and to live well.

In 2000, the average driver in US metropolitan areas endured 27 hours of traffic delays, a rise from 7 hours in 1980. In many other countries, traffic delays are considerably worse than in the United States, and in developing countries urban traffic congestion is increasing with alarming rapidity. For fifty years, economists have been advocating congestion pricing as the way to deal with urban traffic congestion; but today, even after some successes, congestion pricing is encountering considerable political resistance. The authors of Alleviating Urban Traffic Congestion advocate active consideration of more microscopic policies that attack the problem at the scale at which actual policy decisions are made. Microscopic models, rather than macroscopic models that are too simplified and too aggregated, they argue, will lead to the analysis of a wider and more creative range of policies, at least some of which should work well and be politically acceptable.

After developing the themes of the book, the authors illustrate them by examining some areas of urban transport policy that have been neglected by the macroscopic approach. These include downtown parking policy, the encouragement of bicycling, the staggering of work hours by dominant employers, and the use by medium-sized cities of a "multimode" ticket that charges cars entering the city center a toll equal to the transit fare. The reorientation of urban transport analysis that they advocate will by no means eliminate traffic delays but should speed up the adoption of a richer, more flexible, and ultimately more effective set of policies to alleviate urban traffic congestion.