March 21, 2005

Can we manufacture happiness?

Whilst catching up on some reading, I came across Stumbling & Mumbling's review of Richard Layard's book Happiness. Richard Layard puts forward a number of points in favour of saving us from our own greed and promoting greater equality and thus happiness within the country. Here's a sample

[Richard Layard] eludes the question: can there be enough interpersonal comparisons of well-being to make utilitarianism useful for policy purposes? Does it really follow from the claim that happiness is an objective quantity that it is interpersonally comparable? What matters for policy purposes is not happiness as measured in laboratories. It’s happiness over people’s lifetimes, as this, not momentary well-being, is the proper object of policy; it would be absurd for the government to intervene every time someone feels a little down in the dumps. In this context, it might be worth distinguishing between utilitarianism as a moral guide for individuals and utilitarianism as a political ideal. I (might) know enough about my friends and family to make interpersonal comparisons between them. It doesn’t follow that the state knows enough about its citizens to do so.

On the whole, it looks like a poor effort from the LSE Emeritus Professor. The full review can be found here.

Though I’m yet to look though them, Warwick’s own Professor Andrew Oswald has written some papers on the issue of happiness which can be found on his homepage.

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