Saturday, March 27, 2010

Happiness versus Freedom

Thought provoking piece in the London Times, The End of Government that points out quite a bit of attention has been focused on government providing services that make people happy instead of focusing on freedom. Part of the recommended piece:

When the crisis in the public finances is over, should the Government buy everyone a garden? Or an allotment, at least? There is a close correlation between having a garden and being happy. By asking two Nobel laureates, Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, to think about how to encode well-being in policy, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, has raised this fundamental question: what is the end of government? Precisely, is it a function of the State to promote the happiness of its citizens? The politicians, philosophers and clerics who assembled in Rennes yesterday to discuss the idea certainly think so.

They are not alone. There has been a surge in the economics of happiness in the United States and Britain too ever since, in 1974, Richard Easterlin pointed out that people in advanced capitalist societies were getting richer but no happier. In Britain, Richard Layard and Andrew Oswald have written in a similar vein and the psychologist Oliver James has gone one step farther by claiming that getting rich is liable to make us ill.

The implication for policy is that, once basic needs are met, governments should abandon a narrow focus on economic growth or gross domestic product (GDP). They should, instead, define collective wellbeing and seek policies that promote happiness. The Department for Children, Schools and Families recently introduced wellbeing classes. David Cameron has expressed some interest in GWB (gross wellbeing).

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