Clive and his coat of many colors.

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.

It continues:

….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)

20 thoughts on “Clive and his coat of many colors.

  1. I recently saw a news article showing a nice correlation between economic prosperity and happiness (comparing nations’ happiness levels).
    Unfortunately it was a yahoo article and has since expired.

    Great to see the researchers in this study focus on “free choice” as a variable.
    I imagine this variable would often get overlooked in many happiness studies.

  2. “Clive’s World” sounds like the perfect title for a dystopian novel. Most of us can imagine what a nightmare it would be to live in a country run by Clive and the Greenstapo. Here is a picture of the leader thinking of new ways to make his people happy:

    http://www.btinternet.com/~acbarrett/zippy.htm

    Actually, it would be a fascinating experiment, for those on the outside looking in, to let Clive and his ilk run a country. The one certainty would be that sales of Guy Fawkes masks would go through the roof as the happiness index went south.

  3. The NY Times ran the front page article on the correlation between prosperity and happiness some months ago; the research is at the Wharton Business School, UPenn. World-wide, happiness research was launched by the APA presidency of Martin Seligman, in an effort to find out why, and help ameliorate, the explosion of clinical depression in industrialized nations.

    The early research shows a very definite correlation between human freedom, prosperity, and psychological optimism. Much of the pessimism leading to depression appears to be the result of unintended teachings (parents, school teachers, media, negative spouses!).

    What is beginning to become evident from happiness research is that the correlation between freedom, optimism, and national prosperity is overwhelmingly positive. Specifically, every socialist nation in the world ranks in the lowest category by human rights, prosperity, and human happiness. A noted American libertarian, Will Wilkinson–who blogs at ‘Fly Bottle’–is a happiness researcher at the libertarian Cato Institute.

  4. . Specifically, every socialist nation in the world ranks in the lowest category by human rights, prosperity, and human happiness.

    Sure, are you saying the Europeans, so socialist oriented as they are, rank in the lowest category of happiness? Don’t some European countries rank amongst the highest?

  5. No, I don’t think you could actually categorize those European nations as socialists in the true sense of the word. I think we as libertarians throw around that terms too easily. Europe is a very interventionist place but they are not socialists in the way say Yugoslavia was or the way Chavez is taking Venezuela.

    Interventionism is not socialism.

  6. Thanks JC,

    Good to see at least one libertarian acknowledging that “socialist” is bandied about too much. Socialism is about State ownership not State Intervention.

  7. Nope. European soft socialism is still socialism. Socialism is certainly concerned with the ownership of property. This gives the socialist elite the ability to 1) as the socialists like to say, ‘own the means of production’ in order to redistribute wealth and fund ‘public’ programs, and 2) tell people what to do as they are always on public property and can’t effectively own private property which they alone can control.

    European soft-socialism simply bypasses the middleman by having a soft-socialist government that 1) takes your money directly through tax, and 2) denies you control over your own life through passing lots of laws.

    Ownership of property and the ‘means of production’ just means ownership of your life as all of these things are inextricably linked. Socialism is simply where the state/government/collective claims it owns a portion of your life.

    The effect of both types of socialism is identical. You call this interventionism, but a rose by any other name………

  8. I’d have to disagree, Mick.

    Let’s take Sweden. Sweden is top heavy interventionist welfare state with heavy levels of personal taxation. They have also been relatively free traders and tax corporations at lower levels than the EU. They also socially liberal. Their institutions such as the parliament and the courts are relatively fair and for the most part the citizens trust their institutions to a high degree.

    By and large the Swedes are a successful country even if they have fallen off the per cap leagues from the 70’s onwards primarily because of their welfare stupidity.

    However I couldn’t classify them as socialist in the same way as I would see Tito’s Yugoslavia, Chavez or how say Bob Brown would run and ruin this country if he by some quirk of misfortune ever became leader.

    This is why i think it is important in some way to qualify the difference between socialism and interventionism.

    I am not saying interventionists have any redeeming features by way.

    For another example.. I see Rudd as an interventionist whereas Kim Ill Carr is a socialist. There are differences.

  9. The effect of both types of socialism is identical.

    Sure, that explains why European socialism has brought the same outcomes as Cuba, N. Korea, and the USSR. Bollocks.

  10. Sure, are you saying the Europeans, so socialist oriented as they are, rank in the lowest category of happiness? Don’t some European countries rank amongst the highest?

    Happiness surveys are difficult to make conclusive results from, but certainly not worthless. Stuff like this suggests to me that being western helps a lot to being happy. Basically that equates to being wealthy, free, productive, somewhat selfish, individualist, and living in peace. These are, of course, the primary reasons I support liberal democracy i.e. promotes freedom, creates wealth, creativity, rewards productive achievement and avoids conflict.

    I don’t think the nations that are in top percentile of happiness are there because there is a generous social safety net, or their society is particularly egalitarian, or political correctness rules the day, or there are government funded cultural activities, or they have an inefficient, subjective but ‘socially fair’ form of civil law underpinning their justice system.

    Now, I do believe that ‘community’ can have something to do with it, but my views probably aren’t very politically correct. I’d say the reason the Scandinavian nations are up there is because they are particularly homogenous societies with a strong work ethic, a beautiful shared common culture and shared positive values. Even though the lefties claim it’s because of their soft-socialism I think it’s more because of the reasons I’ve listed. The more they adopt socialism the more they will go the way of France, lose those things I’ve listed and become less happy.

  11. They have also been relatively free traders and tax corporations at lower levels than the EU. They also socially liberal. Their institutions such as the parliament and the courts are relatively fair……

    So they’re not very socialist then? Or even very ‘interventionist’? I’d say this might have something to do with explaining this:

    Sure, that explains why European socialism has brought the same outcomes as Cuba, N. Korea, and the USSR.

    Generally I’ve noticed France is not as high in the happiness surveys (though this isn’t always the case – happiness surveys tend to move around a bit). Why do you think this is the case when it’s creed is liberté, égalité and fraternité?

  12. So they’re not very socialist then? Or even very ‘interventionist’? I’d say this might have something to do with explaining this:

    I think tend more on the interventionist side.

    Generally I’ve noticed France is not as high in the happiness surveys (though this isn’t always the case – happiness surveys tend to move around a bit). Why do you think this is the case when it’s creed is liberté, égalité and fraternité?

    The French seem a less dynamic society. They’re basically stasist hoping the world world will simply stop going round the sun. i recall once that 3/4’s of French grads would much prefer to work in the government sector. i find this to be an astonishing number in so many ways, but it isn’t much surprising when you think about it. I had high hopes the new French prez would be a Maggie Thatcher and make some deep reforms but he gutted out in the end. All he seems to be interested in is his new wife… and who could blame him as Carla isn’t a bad looking sort.

  13. Now, I do believe that ‘community’ can have something to do with it, but my views probably aren’t very politically correct. I’d say the reason the Scandinavian nations are up there is because they are particularly homogenous societies with a strong work ethic, a beautiful shared common culture and shared positive values.

    Good, you’ve stopped making sweeping generalisations. I never said that happiness arising from socialist oriented solutions although I can perceive how at the fringes of society welfare to help the down and out is very important. Apart from that I have real problems with most welfare systems.

    As for France I don’t know about happiness values because I don’t place much faith in the research methods. From what I can gather though France does seem to have gone too far down that pot holed road. However, one cannot then argue that this is an argument why socialism does not encourage happiness. At this point just an interesting anomaly.

    For whatever reasons people think are the keys to happiness the one they most often overlook is the deterministic one: our genes. Bloody genes, they can even predispose our political and philosophical leanings.

    You are right about the community aspect, that certainly helps. That raises the spectre of a libertarian dystopia: do as you will, think as you will, let’s all be different and have different values, now where are those antidepressants?

    Of course it won’t be like that but as an old friend of mine once said, after reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason: take any argument and you can turn it on its head. That’s very true for simple arguments, and simple arguments about human behavior, particularly when people try to invoke singular explanations for human behavior and qualities, are very susceptible to that trap.

  14. That raises the spectre of a libertarian dystopia: do as you will, think as you will, let’s all be different and have different values, now where are those antidepressants?

    Libertarianism puts in place the essential values for civil society: life, liberty, property (and maybe a little bit of privacy). These are enshrined as the highest values and have to be held by everybody. They are also the only values that are essential and need to be universally accepted, but they must be universally accepted.

    Libertarians like myself maintain that things like culture, society, community etc will evolve out of this free and open society. In fact, this is the best way to ‘grow’ a community.

    The real point I think you’re raising is what will this society look like? This is an interesting question that I’m not sure I have all the answers to. I think places like Hong Kong are one form of libertarianish society. I like them but I also like a society bound by their love of a common culture and ‘non-essential’ values. In other words, where a lot of the people share similar personal preferences for common reasons, and have common goals etc. I think these societies would evolve as well as the more colourful ones. And this is the society that I’d move location to be join.

    take any argument and you can turn it on its head.

    I don’t believe this. I think we can deduce things and have absolute knowledge.

  15. “… Rudd as an interventionist …”
    And Howard was an interventionist, and dear me so was Keating, and Hawke. What about Fraser? Probably. Whitlam? Even more so. Now who did we have before that, McMahon, well even though he was incompetent he’d still be an interventionist. In fact I’d say that just about every person who has ever governed any state has been an interventionist. Get used to it boys it is the nature of the (government) beast. I mean you could try and take up loopy Humphries style “independence” but I still reckon you’d be governed.
    And given that you freely admit that the vast majority of people are “happy” I’d say all you bleating about personal freedoms is pointless. Unless or course you are proposing a direct linear correlation between freedom from government “intervention” and happiness. The danger with this is that a total abstention from “intervention” would lead to a totally ecstatic populace and nothing would get done (and think of the mess it would make).

  16. “I think places like Hong Kong are one form of libertarianish society”
    Sorry but that has be one of the strangest statements I’ve ever heard. How can the addition of the suffix “ish” to a word change the fact that HK is under the control of a totalitarian dictatorship and how does the PRC relect the value you ascribe to “libertarian” political systems (i.e. liberty, property). That’s crazy talk man.

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