In an increasingly desperate search for a new ideological paradigm, many of those who tend to favour central planning and state intervention have jumped on the bandwagon of 'happiness' or 'wellbeing' economics. Governments – and society at large – shouldn’t worry overly about the overall state of the economy and the level of national income. The focus should be on how satisfied and contented the population is.
Far better, they argue, to measure the impact of policies on whether they lead us to give more positive answers in a series of government surveys. A squadron of clipboard-wielding bureaucrats will seek to find out if we’re feeling happier about ourselves, getting on okay with our spouses, and generally feeling less stressed and more positive about the world than previously. The idea is that government policies can be measured as successes or failures based on these sort of metrics.
Advocates of happiness economics produce some deeply counter-intuitive results and arrive at some rather puzzling conclusions. So bizarre, in fact, that you might well question whether the measurements of happiness really mean anything at all. Last year, the New Economics Foundation published its Happy Planet Index.
This purported to prove, amongst other things, that Burma is a happier place than Sweden. This will surely come as a bit of a shock to both the Burmese and the Swedes – certainly very few of the latter seem eager to relocate from Stockholm to build a new, more fulfilling life for themselves in Naypyidaw. What exact policies the New Economics Foundation thinks the Scandinavians should adopt in order to make themselves more like Burma remains unclear.
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