Lynn Stout, a law professor at UCLA, has written a very interesting happy society book, Cultivating Conscience. I will blog it over the next few days.
Her main point is that law, and many other social science and social policy disciplines, have been infiltrated by the idea that people are like the imaginary homo economicus - selfish profit-maximizers who only care about others or about society only if they rationally calculate that their self interest is involved. Stout says that law, especially, has been driven by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s, theory that law should be made from the perspective of the "bad man" who does not care about others or the common good.
Stout argues, though, that most people are, in fact, driven by conscience, not a relentless rational selfishness. She demonstrates this through many psychological and economic experiments. She also argues that the major areas of law only make sense if we assume that most people are, in fact, "good men."
This leads me to see that when making social policy for the happy society, we can not ignore homo economicus. As Stout points out, some people are primarily self-interested profit maximizers, to the point of cheating and exploiting others. Some are just psychopaths, and others have taken too many classes in which they were told that rational people ought to be selfish. But most people are conscientious. Most people are at least "passive altruists."
Social policy, therefore, should be built to contain and discourage homo economicus.