Austin, Annie (2014). 'Practical reason in hard times: the effects of economic crisis on the kinds of lives people in the UK have reason to value' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.
An important critique of the capabilities approach is that it is subject to the same problem of adaptation to deprivation as subjective approaches to well-being: if well-being is defined as the capability to live the kind of life one has reason to value, but what one values is conditioned by external circumstances and subject to adaptation, then evaluations of well-being based on achievement of (conditioned) agency goals is problematic. This paper empirically examines the effects of constrained external circumstances on the kinds of lives people value: using data from the European Social Survey, I investigate the effects of the recent economic crisis in the UK on the kinds of lives people have reason to value. I address three hypotheses: first, that hard economic times do affect the kinds of lives people in the UK have reason to value; second, that the effects of hard times on conceptions of value will be observed to the largest extent among the economically vulnerable; and third, that a generation effect will be observed, whereby the strongest adaptation will be among those in their formative years during hard times. Using an Exploratory Structural Equation Modelling (ESEM) approach, I show that hard economic times do cause adaptation in the kinds of lives that people in the UK have reason to value, with particularly large effects among the economically vulnerable and the youngest generation. The implications for policy are discussed. With regard to the capabilities approach more generally, it is concluded that definitions of capability should include conceptions of value: this strategy accounts for adaptation and its effects on people's capability to lead flourishing human lives.