Gross Global Happiness and the World Cup


Dean Karlan, a Yale economist, has calculated a score for each World Cup team, based on its population, poverty level and interest in soccer. He argues a Nigeria championship would bring the most aggregate happiness.

We at like to think that happiness will be generated in games other than the final that decides the champion. There will even be happiness generated in games where the rooted-for team loses. Aside from the favorites (I don’t want to distract you with names), most teams and their supporters, while perhaps harboring nationalistic delusions (see USA on USA’s chances), are prepared to be happy about a single win, especially if it is over a rival team/country, or even a draw. And, further, will experience joy, if not convulsions of delight, from joining throngs of their friends and countrymen watching dramas unfold and games played beautifully.

The US bandwagon, for example, has pinned its hysteria on defying early odds to emerge, alive and well, from the Group of Death. We shall see. Even in America, where passion for soccer is diluted by the multitude of options afforded by (national and personal) relative wealth, there has been much rejoicing. And some gnashing of recently flossed teeth.


Karlan’s thesis suggests that a nation’s poverty leaves its populace few options for its passions, which naturally cleave to a game as widely accessible as football. And while such devotion leaves these fans more vulnerable to the agonies of defeat, they may well derive rapturous levels of joy from victories. In a game universally watched in groups (groups with a strong common bond, no less), the joy of one fan combines with the joy of others in exponential orders. It is hard to imagine the sheer magnitude of joy that could be created by certain victories.

It’s un-American of me, though certainly in line with Karlan’s utilitarian principles, but I like to think less of which champion will create the most happiness and more about the gross global happiness created by the all World Cup games.

An important question is whether the immense pain created simultaneously must be netted out of the happiness, or, as we like to think, is it additive? Maybe even requisite?