Category Archives: Yew-Kwang Ng

Yew‐Kwang Ng

I have also no difficulties saying that my welfare level is positive, zero, or negative. When I am neither enjoying nor suffering, my welfare is zero. Thus, the value of my welfare is a fully cardinal quantity unique up to a proportionate transformation. I am also sure that I am not bestowed by God or evolution to have this special ability of perceiving the full cardinality (both intensity and the origin) of both my welfare and preference levels. In fact, from my daily experience, observation, and conversation, I know that all people (including ordinalist economists) have this ability, except that economists heavily brainwashed by ordinalism deny it despite actually possessing it. This denial is quite incredible. If your preference is really purely ordinal, you can only say that you prefer your present situation (A) to that plus an ant bite (B) and also prefer the latter to being bodily thrown into a pool of sulphuric acid (C). You cannot say that your preference of A over B is less than your preference of B over C. Can you really believe that!

Yew‐Kwang Ng, ‘A Case for Happiness, Cardinalism, and Interpersonal Comparability’, The Economic Journal, vol. 107, no. 445 (November, 1997), p. 1852

Yew-Kwang Ng

[W]hile the problem of interpersonal comparability of utility is a tricky one, it is not insoluble in principle. It is conceivable that, perhaps several hundred (or a thousand) years from now, neurology may have advanced to the stage where the level of happiness can be accurately correlated to some cerebral reaction that can be measured by a ‘eudaimonometer’. Hence the definition of social welfare [in terms of the sum total of individual happiness] is an objective definition, although the objects are the subjective feelings of individuals.

Yew-Kwang Ng, Welfare Economics: Towards a More Complete Analysis, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 2004, p. 4

Yew-Kwang Ng

One way to see the unacceptability of welfare-independent rights is to ask the question ‘why Right X?’ to a very ultimate level. If the answer is ‘Right X because Y’, then one should ask ‘Why Y?’ For example, if the answer to ‘why free speech?’ is that people enjoy free speech, it is already not welfare-independent. If the answer is free speech deters dictatorship’, then we should ask, ‘Why is it desirable to deter dictatorship?’ If one presses hard enough with such questions, most people will eventually come up with a welfare-related answer.

Yew-Kwang Ng, ‘Welfarism and Utilitarianism: A Rehabilitation’, Utilitas, vol. 2, no. 2 (November, 1990), p. 180

Yew-Kwang Ng

I am against the insistence on the purely ordinal measurability of happiness only. In fact, I am not only certain that I am happier now than when I was 30-something, I am also absolutely sure that I am now at least 3 times happier than then. It is difficult to be sure that my happiness now is exactly 3.5 or 4.3 times my happiness then. However, I am pretty sure that it is more than 3 times.

Yew-Kwang Ng, ‘Happiness Studies: Ways to Improve Comparability and Some Public Policy Implications’, The Economic Record, vol. 84, no. 265 (June, 2008), p. 256

Yew-Kwang Ng

[T]he real per capita income of the world now is about 7-8 times that of a century ago. If we proceed along an environmentally responsible path of growth, our great grandchildren in a century will have a real per capita income 5-6 times higher than our level now. Is it worth the risk of environmental disaster to disregard environmental protection now to try to grow a little faster? If this faster growth could be sustained, our great grandchildren would enjoy a real per capita income 7-8 times (instead of 5-6 times) higher than our level now. However, they may live in an environmentally horrible world or may well not have a chance to be born at all! The correct choice is obvious.

Yew-Kwang Ng, ‘Happiness Studies: Ways to Improve Comparability and Some Public Policy Implications’, The Economic Record, vol. 84, no. 265 (June, 2008), pp. 261-262

Yew-Kwang Ng and Siang Ng

With adequate safeguards and cautious preparation, genetic engineering could be used to relieve suffering and increase happiness by quantum leaps. Our short-term prospect here would be the eradication of many genetic handicaps. The medium-term prospect could be the reduction of the proportion of the neurotic and depressed personality. The longer-term prospect might be the dramatic enhancement of our capacity for enjoyment. All these have to be done with extreme caution. The reason we should be very cautious is not so much to avoid sacrificing our current welfare (which is relative small in comparison to that in the future with brain stimulation and genetic engineering) but to avoid destroying our future.

Yew-Kwang Ng and Siang Ng, The Road to Happiness, chap. 7, sect. 1

Yew-Kwang Ng

Consider Mr. C. He believes that, in the presence of uncertainty, the appropriate thing to do is to maximize the expected welfare. (Welfare is used interchangeably with net happiness. For simplicity, consider only choices that do not affect the welfare of others.) Suppose you put C in the privacy of a hotel room with an attractive, young, and willing lady. C can choose to go to bed with her or not to. C knows that the former choice involves a small but not negligible risk of contracting AIDS. He also calculates that the expected welfare of this choice is negative. Nevertheless, he agrees that, provided the lady is beautiful enough, he will choose to go to bed with her. This choice of C, though irrational (at least from the expected welfare point of view), is far from atypical. Rather, I am confident that it applies to at least 70% of adult males (the present writer included).

Yew-Kwang Ng, ‘Happiness, Life Satisfaction, or Subjective Well Being?’

Yew-Kwang Ng

I myself regard enjoyment and suffering (defined more broadly to include milder pain and discomfort) as not only the most important, but ultimately the only important things. Freedom, knowledge, and so on are all important but only because they ultimately promote net welfare (enjoyment minus suffering). Even if they do not completely agree with this strong view regarding enjoyment and suffering, most people will accept that enjoyment and suffering are the most important considerations. Given their importance, the amount of scientific research devoted to them is dismally inadequate. The neglect is partly due to the methodological blunder, which prevents the publication of important results on things that are difficult to measure precisely.

Yew-Kwang Ng, ‘The Case for and Difficulties in Using “Demand Areas” to Measure Changes in Well-Being’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 13, no. 1 (1991), p. 30