Back to the Whiny Law Professor!

So much has come in, knitting the various themes of: self-pity among the rich; the elements of mutual social connection (tax, public service); how a country looks from outside; what constitutes "satisfaction," and the rest.

A few installments here. First, on the "those wacky foreigners!" front, an item from the BBC last year on how the Whiny Law Professor's continental counterparts view the tax issue:

I know, I know, Germany is not America. One of my maxims as an editor and occasional writing-teacher is that any sentence about American politics or society that begins with the words,  "In Sweden, they... " should instantly be cut. Same rule applies with Germany. Notwithstanding my friend Tom Geoghegan's wonderful book on the theme of "In Germany, they...."   Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?. Still...

Now, back to some all-American views, on the universal question of how money relates to happiness. From another reader:

>>1. I am in the U.S. military; I would prefer that you not use my name.  I am enjoying your thread on the poor wealthy.  They are to be pitied - for their lack of imagination.....

  My wife doesn't like it when I make this argument, but it's basically true:  We have a roof over our heads.  We have food.  We have drinkable water.  We have clothes to keep us warm.  No one is actively trying to kill us.  Therefore, we have no real problems.  Everything after that is gravy.

  2. The focus of your thread is on money - in my experience, good health is far more valuable than money.<<

After the jump, several more on the relationship among health, money, happiness, experience, service, and so on.

From a reader in the American South:

>>I am what I consider middle class. I am the sole provider for my wife and two young kids. I take home about half the whiny professor's salary, and I expect my fixed expenses are quite a bit lower than his, since I live in an unextravegant suburb of Atlanta.  My mortgage is less than $1000 per month, I expect my children to pay for a large part of their own college tuition at state schools (or get a scholarship), I don't belong to a golf or social club, and I paid off my wife's school loans a few years ago -- I didn't have any myself, and even if I had, the principal would probably be less than $10,000, since I graduated from a state school 20 years ago. I drive a 15 year old car that cost me less than $16,000 when new, and my wife drives a 7 year old minivan that we hope to keep at least until the kids reach high school (another 7 years).

And yet I have no doubt that we are the wealthiest family in our neighborhood. I do not aspire to reach some next level because I know that all the money I am saving by sending my kids to a public school, driving an old car, living in a modest house, etc., will set me up to accumulate more wealth in the long run. I know I've got it good, and I don't complain that it isn't better. It's ironic that I probably *feel* wealthier than the professor and his doctor wife.

Also, it's worth listening to the first act of last week's This American Life, wherein Adam Davidson talks to some whiny Wall Streeters.<<

Also with reading tips, a reader in the Pacific Northwest:

>>Caught the latest post about wealth and framing effects. Perhaps the best treatment of this (and many other issues) I've seen is in Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling On Happiness, which is marketed a bit like a self-help book but really isn't.

His main points:
   * making more than about $40,000/year does little to improve happiness (this should probably be greater in, say, NYC, but the main point stands)
   * most people value friends, family, and social connections more than additional money about $40K/year 
   * your sex life probably matters more than your job, and many people mis-optimize in this area
   * making your work meaningful is important.

Discussions of his surveys and methodologies are within; I find the book compelling. He says that you should beware the framing effects inherent in humans and that most people, when asked how much money they need to be satisfied, give an answer about 20% greater than whatever they have. 

I consciously think about this book when considering my own choices.<<

More ahead. Our friend the law professor had no idea what an educational figure he would prove to be.