Thursday, November 18, 2010

Should happiness-maximization be a goal of government?

This question has recently become a popular one in the UK, France etc. My answer to this question is 'no'. Find out why...

Below is the abstract for a paper I'm to give at the NZ Political Studies Conference in December. I can send a pdf of the paper to anyone interested. Just leave a comment with your email address, or email me directly.

Abstract: JS Mill saw the principle of utility also as a principle of justice, with implications for the actions undertaken collectively by societies. Mill’s case for the principle of utility is illogical, but nevertheless, a ‘new utilitarianism’ has arisen recently in the wake of research findings of economists and other social scientists, and this revised utilitarianism – ‘Bentham armed with data’ – seeks to draw implications for governmental actions. The so-called ‘Easterlin paradox’ finds that post-War economic growth was not accompanied by rising subjective well-being, or happiness, as found in surveys of affluent nations. The conclusion that is often drawn from this ‘paradox’ is that public policy reforms should take up the cause of happiness where markets appear to have failed. The case for happiness as a goal of government, in spite of its superficial appeal, however, is fraught with contradictions and is not made out.


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