New research released today, on the most miserable day of the year*, shows the government’s strategy of measuring and explicitly promoting happiness over other objectives is counter-productive and a waste of money.
The report, “…and the Pursuit of Happiness: Wellbeing and the Role of Government ”, examines the flaws in attempts to measure happiness. It suggests that:
- The government should not be trying to measure or maximise happiness as an explicit policy goal.
- There is no evidence that more equal societies lead to increases in happiness.
- Contrary to widespread belief, the evidence suggests that happiness is in fact related to income and economic growth. The so-called Easterlin paradox (the idea that wellbeing does not increase with income) is shown to be fake.
- Attempts to promote “wellbeing at work” through regulation are likely to be counter-productive in so far as increases in employment regulation increase unemployment. There is a strong link between unemployment and loss of wellbeing. In general, more intrusive and bigger government leads to a loss in wellbeing. One study finds that increasing government spending by one third would cause a reduction in happiness of 5%-6%.
- Smaller government tends to make people happier. Public spending cuts could actually be the key to making Britain a happier place.
Commenting on the report, Mark Littlewood, Director General at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said:
"Governments have shown how hopeless and inefficient they are at attempting to run the basics of our economy. They seem to find it nearly impossible, for example, to resist racking up colossal debts. To trust them with something far more intimate, complicated and confusing as happiness would be inviting disaster. We need our government to do less, not more – and to stick to the very simple and straightforward tasks which they are just about capable of. All of us are better advised to pursue our own dreams, hopes and goals than to entrust such personal and intimate things to David Cameron."
Commenting on the report, its editor, Prof Philip Booth, Editorial Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said:
“The government is spending money on collecting happiness statistics in order to pro