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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

DAVOS, Switzerland — At the head table Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch and the evening's host, was surrounded by dignitaries and leading experts on a controversial science: measuring happiness.

  • Up for debate was whether governments should seek to make their citizens happy, and whether they could satisfactorily measure their success in doing so.

Axios listened intently from a corner table, accompanied by a delightful Italian red:

  • First up was Dan Gilbert, a psychologist from Harvard, who said of course you can trust people to tell you whether they're happy — indeed, the most basic human interactions depend on it.
  • Next came Robert Shiller, a Yale economist and the evening's skeptic. He said happiness oscillates based on temporary circumstances, and joked he'd be happier upon the arrival of desert (pistachio ice cream with mango sorbet).
  • Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister, reflected on why his people are so happy: social mobility, environmental conservation, national culture, good governance.
  • Aleksander Kwaśniewski, a former Polish president, warned as "the only one in this room who was a member of the Communist Party" that happiness as ideology can be dangerous.
  • Jan-Emmanuel De Neve of Oxford noted that several leaders have recently set happiness as their objective —nearly all of them women.

The bottom line: Perhaps it was the wine, but I stepped out into the Alpine air convinced that in Davoses to come, there will be less about GDP and more about happiness.

Go deeper

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
27 mins ago - Sports

College basketball is back

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new season of college basketball begins Wednesday, and the goal is clear: March Madness must be played.

Why it matters: On March 12, 2020, the lights went out on college basketball, depriving teams like Baylor (who won our tournament simulation), Dayton, San Diego State and Florida State of perhaps their best chance to win a national championship.

34 mins ago - World

Scoop: Israeli military prepares for possibility Trump will strike Iran

Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a cabinet meeting. Photo: Abir Sultan/POOL/AFP via Getty

The Israel Defense Forces have in recent weeks been instructed to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. will conduct a military strike against Iran before President Trump leaves office, senior Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: The Israeli government instructed the IDF to undertake the preparations not because of any intelligence or assessment that Trump will order such a strike, but because senior Israeli officials anticipate “a very sensitive period” ahead of Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20.

Wall Street bets it all on a vaccine

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

It's the time of year when Wall Street shops are rolling out predictions for where they see the stock market headed in the coming year. There's one common theme: Widespread distribution of a vaccine is the reason to be bullish.

Why it matters: Analysts say vaccines will help the economy heal, corporate profits rebound and stock market continue its upward trajectory.