WMU News

Luxury, excess and happiness explored by visiting scholar

March 10, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- In this era of excess, when is enough, enough? Are millionaires really happier than the rest of us?

Those questions will be explored Wednesday, March 22, at Western Michigan University by a Cornell University economist visiting campus as part of the University's Visiting Scholars and Artists Program.

Dr. Robert Frank, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Economics, Ethics and Public Policy at Cornell, will present two free public presentations on money and happiness and the nation's present fascination with excessive consumption and dollars.

Frank's first seminar, "Past Behavior as a Frame of Reference," is set for noon in Room 2302 of Friedmann Hall. In that talk, he will explore the finding that excessive consumption doesn't bring happiness to those who suddenly win millions of dollars. His second presentation, "Luxury Fever: Money and Happiness in an Era of Excess," at 3 p.m. in Room 3508 of Knauss Hall, will examine evidence that, beyond a certain point, people with more money and material things aren't necessarily happier than others.

"As far as neuroscientists are able to measure, citizens from a society in which everyone has a $100,000 car and 10,000-square-foot house are no happier than citizens from a society in which everyone has a $30,000 car and a 3,000-square-foot-house," says Frank. "In fact most people would apparently be happier if the same resources that are currently used to support more expensive cars and larger houses were used instead to support more time with family and friends, more time for exercise, a shorter and less stressful commute to work, safer and cleaner public spaces, and greater safety and autonomy in the workplace."

Frank's presentation is based on research he conducted while writing his forthcoming book,

"Luxury Fever: Money and Happiness in an Era of Excess." He is the author of numerous books, including "Choosing your Own Pond" and "Microeconomics and Behavior." He also is the co-author of "The Winner-Take-All Society," which was chosen as the New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a Business Week Top Ten Book in 1995.

In addition, he has two other forthcoming books, "What Price the Moral High Ground?" written with support from the Alfred P. Sloan and Russell Sage Foundations, and "Principles of Economics," written with Ben S. Bernanke.

Frank earned a bachelor's degree from Georgia Tech as well as a master's degree in statistics and a doctoral degree in economics from the University of California at Berkeley. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal prior to pursuing his master's and doctoral degrees.

Frank's visit is sponsored by the Department of Economics. For more information, contact Dr. William Kern, associate professor of economics, at (616) 387-5549.

The Visiting Scholars and Artists Program was established in 1960 and has supported some 500 visits by scholars and artists representing more than 65 academic disciplines. The chairperson of the committee that oversees the program is Dr. James M. Hillenbrand, professor of speech pathology and audiology.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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