Paul Ormerod - Happiness, Economics and Public Policy
Institute of Economic Affairs | 2007 | ISBN: 0255366000 | Pages: 144 | PDF | 1.49 MB
The authors of this monograph have done a brilliant job of ‘unpicking’ the tangled web of the economics of happiness.
It appears that ‘happiness economics’ is becoming influential in political circles. Politicians are running around promising to look after our gross national wellbeing instead of just looking after gross national product. But it is difficult to think of any subject within economics that is built on such insecure foundations. Furthermore, the translation of the economic ideas into political practice seems specifically oriented towards no purpose other than providing further excuses for interference in the lives of indi viduals by the political class.
First, let us consider the politics. It is clearly a misconception that governments through the ages have acted to try to maximise gross national product. For most of time, in most countries, gross national product has not been measurable in real time. Ironically, in the UK and the USA, it has only been during the postwar period that gross national product has been observable, yet policies have been followed that reduced growth below its potential by increasing regulation and taxes. The share of national income taken in taxes in nearly all developed countries is significantly above that which would allow economic welfare to be maximised. Politicians have never tried to maximise gross national product – and, if they have, they have not been very good at it. There is a foreword straightforward cause of this phenomenon, of course. In general, politicians follow the courses of action that are most likely to get them elected. In the political market, vested interests and median voters are king. It may increase the happiness of politicians to tell us that they are going to maximise our wellbeing, but it is a task that is beyond their capacity.
The economics of happiness seems just as shaky as the politics. The proponents of the use of happiness measures argue that happiness has not risen with national income. People become happier, it is said, only when they are better off relative to others. We are therefore in a futile race to become happier, in effect, at the expense of others. On average, happiness does not increase with incomes.
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