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how 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.

    ISBN: 1-904899-68-410.00

    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




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    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

    diREctoRian Mulheirn

    dESiGn and pRoductionSoapbox

    pRintEd byReproprint

  • ConTenTS

    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 GRiFFithS

    Simon is Senior Research Fellow at the Social Market Foundation

    and lecturer in Politics at goldsmiths, University of london.

    RichaRd REEvES

    Richard is Director of Demos and author of John Stuart Mill: Victorian

    Firebrand (london: Atlantic books, 2007).

    liaM halliGan

    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 hickSon

    Kevin is lecturer in Politics at the University of liverpool.

    Will hutton

    will is executive Vice-Chair of the work Foundation and a columnist

    and former editor-in-Chief of The Observer.

    MaRina bianchi

    Marina is Professor in economics at the University of Cassino, italy.

    RichaRd layaRd

    Richard was Founder-Director of the lSe Centre for economic

    Performance and is a labour Peer.

  • well-being


    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

  • well-being


    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