living social science.

Update (4/15/15): I’ve since heard that this idea emerged in a class at Price’s undergraduate institution, Seattle Pacific University (also where I became a Sociology major thanks to a class taught by another Price). In other words, having students consider how social science can inform their own lives and future decision-making as part of classes could have a tremendous impact on how they carry that knowledge into the world. Something academics should take seriously and cultivate.

– – –

I have long been fascinated by quests to live out proscriptions (whether Oprah’s adviceThe Bible, or the myriad other things people decide to do and blog about for a year). When I read today’s headline about the CEO who was raising his lowest paid worker’s salary to $70,000, I was anything but fascinated. But tonight, a friend’s Facebook post inspired me to actually read the article.

Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity Payments isn’t only raising his employee’s salaries, he’s also lowering his own from 1 million to just $70,000. What inspired him to pull the lowest up and his own down?

Social science, specifically the Kahneman and Deaton (2010) paper on income and well-being.

Yes, Price is concerned about inequality in general and sees it as an issue that business leaders should care about, but he got the specific number – the $70-75,000 sweet spot – from social science.

It made me think, if we were to craft a year of living based on social science, what would you do?

3 thoughts on “living social science.”

  1. The study says that “satisfaction” keeps going up with income, but emotional well-being (positive affect, not blue, not stressed) flatten out at about $80,000. I’m not sure I’d draw the policy conclusion he drew. For one thing, if EVERYONE is making at least $70,000 a year, wouldn’t there be an inflation effect as, right now, the goods you can buy with $70,000 are partly based only other people making less (and thus keeping prices down). Which, by the way, is NOT to say that I am against increased equality, just that the extrapolations he drew seem to miss some of the data and side effects.

    As to crafting a year of living around social science, I think I’d have to feel less intimated by the question before I could answer. I do think I could use social science to refine the question, e.g. is my goal the maximization of my own personal individualized satisfaction, or do I want to consider how to live so as to contribute to some other goal, perhaps social justice or collective well-being?


    1. OW, my intuition tells me that you are correct about the inflationary effect of rising incomes. That said, it is unlikely that inflation would grow as fast as incomes because some of the income will be diverted to innovation rather than production of the same materials. Also, Price lowering his own salary makes a key distinction between this and other efforts — if CEO pay truncates at the higher end, then that will likely depress inflation.


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