This chapter argues that the concept of personal autonomy helps explain the gap between economic growth and people’s well-being, which lags behind in many countries, and even slightly declines in the USA. The arguments, based on a variety of specific evidence drawn from psychology, and especially self-determination theory, from economics and sociology, run as follows. First, people’s well-being has been negatively affected by the deterioration of their autonomy, which is a basic psychological need, and by the compensatory need for financial success and status. Secondly, some important factors that appear to promote economic growth in the advanced countries, and especially in the USA, also hamper the development of people’s personal autonomy. Conventional explanations of the income/well-being gap based on social comparison, rising expectations, and deteriorated social relationships can thus be integrated and strengthened.
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