What Is the Happiness Lobby?

September 16, 2013

In recent years, there has been an explosion in published research into the causes and implications of happiness. The idea is that if governments attach significant value to this happiness research and data, they could formulate policies that would attempt to maximize aggregate happiness, say Iain Murray and Blake Taylor of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

  • Happiness researchers seek to understand what makes people happy and what makes them miserable.
  • The happiness lobby seeks to use this information to formulate public policy that they believe will improve society by maximizing the former -- through subsidies and other general public support -- and minimizing the latter -- through increased taxation, regulation or outright prohibition.

Can public officials make these decisions fairly? Simply put, individuals know how to augment their own happiness better than any public officials acting on their behalf.

Consider how different life is today compared to 50 years ago. Not only are we healthier and wealthier and more educated, but our society has in ways changed fundamentally for the better. American society has improved leaps and bounds in terms of extending rights and freedoms to previously disenfranchised citizens. By the happiness lobby's measure, these changes have had negligible impact on overall happiness, or have been offset by negative consequences. That is simply not credible.

As our parents, teachers and countless ancient proverbs have often reminded us, money is not something worth pursuing as a final end. The often unstated consequence to that truism is that money is an important means that allows people to achieve their goals and improve their overall wellbeing. Therefore, economic growth generally runs parallel with increased opportunities for individuals.

There is never a point where those opportunities are sufficiently available. There will always be barriers, both natural and manmade, that impede individuals' ability to pursue goals. Removing those barriers should be a higher priority than micromanaging subjective responses to happiness surveys. If individuals and policymakers focus on eliminating those barriers, the coming decades may see an even more dramatic increase in individuals' capability to pursue meaningful happiness on their own terms.

Source: Iain Murray and Blake Taylor, "What is the Happiness Lobby? Growing Body of Questionable Research Lends Support to Paternalistic Policies," Competitive Enterprise Institute, August 29, 2013.


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