James Leroy Wilson's blog

Monday, October 31, 2005

Happiness and Public Policy

Coming to my attention via Dappled Things, a blog by Cato's Wil Wilkinson: Happiness & Public Policy. It's been around since 2004. I've been missing out, and I'm adding it to the sidebar.

What role does the State play in the individual being happy - "feeling good?" It seems to me that happiness has three components, which may vary from person to person:

1. Virtue - living according to one's values.
2. Having what you want - even a virtuous man would rather be with his wife then be in a concentration camp. And although he would rather be poor than have ill-gotten riches, all things being equal he'd rather be rich than poor.
3. Expecting the just reward for one's actions - going to work and expecting to be paid; buying a home and expecting that no neither roving gangs of arsonists nor a marauding army will set it on fire. When external, material conditions are dominated by either lawlessness or onerous and arbitrary regulations and taxes, the more fear and frustration in life, the less happy one would be.

Virtue may be the most important, as it is the one thing within a person's control, the one thing the individual can have regardless of the circumstances. But virtue is expressed through how we spend our time and money. I suspect that within any income group, those who feel greater control - freedom - will be happier. That low-income people living in modest homes that they own are happier than low-income people in subsidized or public housing. Self-employed people are probably happier than those who make the same income working for a corporation or the government. The more "in control" of one's own material well-being, as opposed to being at the mercy of others, the "happier" he will be.

That's why, for all their shortcomings, nations with [relatively speaking] free markets and the rule of law attract immigrants. People are free to live according to their values, they have the opportunity to get rich, and they enjoy the protection of the rule of law.

1 comment:

  1. It is hard to measure happiness, and I fear that some people find happiness in having as little personal sovereignty as possible. They would rather be "secure" or taken care of than free. Moreover, the same people tend to belive that they have little or no influence over their life outcomes.

    I hope that these kinds of people are vastly outnumbered by those who like having, or seeming to have, control over their own destinies.