Clive Hamilton has been doing his best trying to make us feel unhappy… because we spend too much it seems.
I recall some years ago Hamilton agonizing about a decision to buy a new winter coat! That’s how “happy” he wants us to become: agonizing over such things as a coat to that would make us feel warmer in winter.
The Financial Times has an interesting piece on latest happiness research that should make us all happy. It suggests what sad Clive has been telling us is basically bullshit and the unhappiness industry may have been looking under the wrong rock.
…..contrary to the assertions of pessimists, newly released data, recently published in an article with colleagues from Jacobs University Bremen and the University of Michigan, shows that today’s world is a happier one. From 1981 to the present, more than 350,000 people from 90 countries were asked about their happiness and their satisfaction with life as a whole. Among the 52 countries for which at least a decade of data is available, reported well-being rose in 40 cases, and fell in only 12. The average percentage of people who said they were “very happy” increased by almost seven points.
How is it that the world is getting happier? In the words of Thucydides, the secret of happiness is freedom. In each survey respondents were also asked to rate their sense of free choice in life. In all but three countries where perceived freedom rose, subjective well-being rose also. A chart, produced by the authors, shows how these increases in free choice and subjective well-being are strikingly related.
The piece notes we need to show some caution when calling in the big guns of government.
….the results may engender caution towards attempts to engineer happiness through public policy. The happy countries include social democracies such as Sweden and Denmark, and more laisser faire economies such as Australia and the US. What they have in common are not their policies but institutions: democracy, rule of law and social tolerance. People are largely capable of engineering their own happiness when given the means to do so.
….the link from free choice to rising happiness suggests that the appropriate benchmark of development is not income per capita, but individual freedoms and capabilities. This is the human development perspective associated with Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate. While income and well being are closely correlated at early stages of development, once the threat of starvation recedes, social and political freedom appears to be as important.
Bingo! If this study is to be believed questions regarding “fairness”/inequality are being wrongly defined and premised by the unhappiness industry.
“Fairness” really defines and relates to such things like determining if state institutions such as courts and the legal system treat people fairly and are uncorrupted.
Material possessions my not may make us long –term happy: they never really have to any large extent, but having the freedoms to be left alone and the certainty that our institutions treat us fairly plays the central role in human happiness (including things such as family and friends).
Seeing Clive’s World could only be introduced with fewer freedoms the study suggests that living in Clive’s World would actually make us unhappier therefore having the opposite effect. In fact it (Clive’s World) would tend to become progressively more oppressive which is pretty much what we have found through history.
It was never about the money, Clive, it’s the “freedom thing”.
Naked capitalism blog has further discussion. (note to all social democrats: Naked capitalism is a social democrat friendly site)