Happy-Face Statism

Photo Credit: Dancing TunaFor the last decade, some social scientists have been arguing that “happiness measurements” should replace or supplement established economic standards to judge a society’s “success.” Many environmentalists also support the idea as a way of putting lipstick on policies that could slow down economic growth. And now, the idea is deemed ready to leave the ivory tower for implementation as government policy.

One can understand the appeal for the ruling elite and their camp followers of consultants and lobbyists. If government assumes the power to promote happiness, officials would have to “consult with experts” to figure out criteria by which a society’s “gross happiness index” could be measured. (As we will see below, that process has already started.) Once these standards were determined, a new bureaucracy would have to be established—let’s call it HAA, the Happiness Advancement Administration—to promote happiness goals and enforce happiness regulations. One could even imagine a presidential debate, in which the challenger looks into the camera and earnestly asks, “Has your government made you happier today than you were four years ago?”

We have already started down Happiness Road. Bhutan recently established a National Happiness Commission, chaired by the prime minster, which must give all legislation a happiness seal of approval before it can become law.

One could shrug off Bhutan’s law as a consequence of the altitude. But the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution in 2011 calling on all member states to promulgate national standards of happiness. The resolution states that “gross domestic product . . . does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people in a country” and that “sustainable development” and a “more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth” will best encourage the “happiness and well-being of all peoples.” Sounds like a prescription for wealth redistribution and rationalizing reduced prosperity to me.

An article published in National Affairs reported that “the twenty-seven nations of the European Union also plan to move ‘beyond GDP,’ complementing their official measures of economic output with measures of well-being drawn from happiness literature.” What better way to divert our attention from declining standards of living than to have government and the media trumpet proud claims of improved collective happiness?

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