Paradox and Perception: Measuring Quality of Life in Latin America

In This Review

Paradox and Perception: Measuring Quality of Life in Latin America
Edited by Carol Graham and Eduardo Lora
Brookings Institution Press, 2009
200 pp. $24.95
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A growing literature on the economics of happiness has used behavioral psychology to enrich traditional theories of growth and welfare and produce broader measurements of quality of life. Global surveys now shed light on age-old questions about "the good life," even if, as Graham and Lora are careful to point out, there are many methodological imperfections. Chapter authors are similarly careful to qualify their findings as inputs that should inform policy debates but not necessarily drive policy choices. The book gives fascinating explanations for the oft-observed "reform fatigue" in Latin America and for the enduring pull of populism. There is some good news, too: Latin Americans appreciate quality education, as measured by international standards. It also finds that the poor are sometimes happier than their low incomes would suggest, perhaps because of their low expectations and lack of information -- paradoxical perceptions that these social scientists would not want policymakers to abuse.