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On measuring and maximising what matters
29 September 2019
Effective altruists want to do as much good as possible. But how should we measure how much good different outcomes do? So far, effective altruists have tended to use income and standardised health metrics (QALYs and DALYs) as the measures of what matters. This talk is primarily a plea for subjective well-being (SWB) – individuals’ ratings of their happiness and life satisfaction – to be taken seriously. I argue that SWB scores should replace (or, at the very least, supplement) the current measures of the good. I then set out the implications of this methodological change. I show that, if we use SWB data, mental health emerges as a large, overlooked problem. However, questions remain about what the top priority is on the SWB approach: is it mental health, poverty, physical health, or even something else? More broadly, there needs to be a systematic evaluation of what the priorities are. I close by highlighting directions for further research.