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DESCRIPTIONhow to lead the good life and what government should do to help Edited by Simon Griffiths and Richard Reeves How to lead the good life and what government should do to help Edited by Simon Griffiths and Richard Reeves
Why are we are no happier than we once were? Should raising well-being be the aim of government? This book brings together celebrated academics and commentators to look for answers in the work of earlier thinkers, from JS Mill to JK Galbraith.
Richard Reeves, Liam Halligan, Will Hutton, Kevin Hickson and Marina Bianchi examine the arguments of their chosen theorists. Lord Richard Layard, the best known contemporary advocate for government action in this area, concludes by giving his own take on why government should put well-being at the centre of its agenda.
Social Market Foundation11 Tufton Street | Westminster | London SW1P 3QBPhone: 020 7222 7060 | Fax: 020 7222 0310 www.smf.co.uk
Edited by Simon Griffiths and Richard Reeves
WELL-BEINGhow to lead the good life and what
government should do to help
Edited by Simon Griffiths and Richard Reeves
How to lead the good life and what government should do to help
FiRSt publiShEd by The Social Market Foundation, July 2009iSbn: 1-904899-67-6
11 Tufton Street, london Sw1P 3QbCopyright The Social Market Foundation, 2009The moral right of the authors has been asserted. All rights reserved. without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
thE Social MaRkEt FoundationThe Foundations main activity is to commission and publish original papers by independent academic and other experts on key topics in the economic and social fields, with a view to stimulating public discussion on the performance of markets and the social framework within which they operate.
The Foundation is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee. it is independent of any political party or group and is financed by the sale of publications and by voluntary donations from individuals, organisations and companies. The views expressed in publications are those of the authors and do not represent a corporate opinion of the Foundation.
chaiRDavid lipsey (lord lipsey of Tooting bec)
MEMbERS oF thE boaRdViscount (Tom) Chandosgavyn DaviesDavid edmondsDaniel FranklinMartin ivensgraham Matherbrian Pomeroy
dESiGn and pRoductionSoapbox
About the Authors 4
Simon griffiths Preface: government and the good life 5
introduction: The new Utilitarianism
Richard Reeves 10
1 Mill: The Art of life
Richard Reeves 26
2 Keynes: economic Possibilities for our grandchildren
liam Halligan 38
3 Crosland and Happiness
Kevin Hickson 55
4 galbraith: Affluence and the end of Social Democracy?
will Hutton 69
5 Scitovsky: Satiety and Creative Consumption
Marina bianchi 78
Afterword: The greatest Happiness Principle: its Time Has Come
Richard layard 92
SoCiAl MARKeT FoUnDATion
about thE authoRS
Simon is Senior Research Fellow at the Social Market Foundation
and lecturer in Politics at goldsmiths, University of london.
Richard is Director of Demos and author of John Stuart Mill: Victorian
Firebrand (london: Atlantic books, 2007).
liam is an award-winning economics journalist. He writes a
weekly column for The Sunday Telegraph and is former economics
Correspondent for Channel 4 news.
Kevin is lecturer in Politics at the University of liverpool.
will is executive Vice-Chair of the work Foundation and a columnist
and former editor-in-Chief of The Observer.
Marina is Professor in economics at the University of Cassino, italy.
Richard was Founder-Director of the lSe Centre for economic
Performance and is a labour Peer.
pREFacE: GovERnMEnt and thE Good liFESimon Griffiths
in 961, reflecting on a long and seemingly successful life, Abdul
Rahman iii, Caliph of Cordoba, wrote:
I have now reigned above fifty years in victory or peace; beloved
by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my
allies. Riches and honours, power and pleasure, have waited
on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been
wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered
the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my
lot: they amount to fourteen.1
Two weeks of happiness in a lifetime of abundance is pretty scant.
More than 1,000 years later the Caliphs gloomy reflections are
more relevant than ever before, and are mirrored in two related
questions that run through the chapters in this book.
First, why are we no happier now than we once were (or to
use the language of the social scientists, why is subjective well-
being no higher)? even in recession, most of us in the west are far
wealthier than at any time in previous decades. between 1957 and
2006, the UKs gDP per person almost trebled in real terms, rising
from 6,960 to 19,978.2 Roughly speaking, orthodox economics
equates a rise in the level of purchasing power with an increase
in the wellbeing of a society.3 Yet, during the same period, the
proportion of people in the UK who said that they were very
happy fell from 52% to 36%.4 other surveys present a slightly less
pessimistic picture of wellbeing trends, but in almost all cases they
1 edward gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (electric book Company, 2001), Volume V, 401.
2 office of national Statistics, Time Series Data, www.statistics.gov.uk
3 Richard layard, Happiness: Lessons from a New Science (london: Penguin, 2005)
4 Mark easton, britains happiness in decline, bbC online, Tuesday, 2 May 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/
SoCiAl MARKeT FoUnDATion
show that we are no happier now than we were a generation or so
ago.5 This has become known as the paradox of progress.6
Some commentators have even argued that there is a direct
link between the pursuit of wealth and unhappiness. The quest
for ever-greater gDP by governments or for ever-greater affluence
by individuals has been compared to a sickness often dubbed
affluenza.7 And there are those who would argue that the
affluenza of bankers, taking ever higher risks, is at least in part
responsible for our current woes. These arguments are specific
examples of an older and wider critique of consumerism that
runs through RH Tawneys The Sickness of an Acquisitive Society and
Thorstein Veblens critique of conspicuous consumption.8
Second, the authors in this book ask, should increasing levels
of subjective wellbeing be the main aim of government? A survey
for the bbC found that a massive 81% of people thought that
governments prime objective should be happiness not wealth.9
This has long been the argument of utilitarians, from their founding
father, Jeremy bentham, at the turn of the nineteenth century,
to Richard layard - the author who has done most to popularise
the doctrines contemporary revival. These authors argue that
happiness is the only thing that is self-evidently good. As layard
writes: if we are asked why happiness matters, we can give no
further, external reason. it just obviously does matter.10 All other
5 The evidence is compiled in the online annex to layards Happiness, available at http://cep.lse.ac.uk/
6 Richard A. easterlin, Does economic growth improve the Human lot? in Paul A. David and Melvin w.
Reder, eds., Nations and Households in Economic Growth: Essays in Honor of Moses Abramovitz, (new York:
Academic Press, inc., 1974)
7 See John De graaf, David wann and Thomas H. naylor, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (San Fransisco:
berrett-Koehler, 2001); Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss, Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough (Crows
nest, nSw: Allen & Unwin, 2005) and, most recently, oliver James, Affluenza (london: Vermilion, 2007).
8 RH Tawney, The Sickness of an Acquisitive Society, (london: Fabian Society, 1920); Thorstein Veblen, The
Theory of the Leisure Class (originally 1899), http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/833
9 easton, britains happiness in decline
10 layard, Happiness, 113
goods - freedom, equality or health, for example are important if,
and only if, they are instrumental to happiness. This idea is rarely
taken as seriously as it is in the small Himalayan kingdom of bhutan,
which since 1972 has assessed policies according to gnH (gross
national Happiness) rather than gDP (gross Domestic Product).11
The view that happiness is the greatest good and hence,
that the happiness of the people should be the main aim
government - has long been challenged. To the philosopher
isaiah berlin, utilitarianism was part