Daily Archives: June 6, 2007

Happiness is fashionable these days. Yet should we accept the common view that the new “science” of happiness has cemented the superiority of Scandinavian social democracy over Anglo-Saxon liberalism? The answer is: No. The results are just as destructive to the pious certainties of “progressives” as to those of their opponents. Richard Layard of the London School of Economics and the UK’s House of Lords produced an elegant, brief and influential exposition of the new doctrine two years ago. That doctrine itself, as he explains, is a modern reincarnation of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism*. What is Professor Layard arguing? First, happiness is the sole goal of human activity. Second, happiness is measurable. Third, we know what makes people happy and unhappy. Finally, policy should aim at achieving the greatest happiness. We will then realise that “there is more to life than prosperity and freedom”. Happiness is the right goal, he argues, “because it is our overall motivational device”. Moreover, “unlike all other goods, it is self-evidently good”. Yet if aggregate happiness could be maximised at the expense of a minority, should we do it?

The remainder of Martin Wolf’s column can be read here (FT.com subscription required). Discussion from our guest economists is free.