An interesting op-ed in today's FT cites new data from Jacobs University Bremen and the University of Michigan , which finds that, contrary to the views of happiness economists, freedom is actually the key to happiness:
"From 1981 to now, more than 350,000 people from 90 countries were
asked about their happiness and satisfaction with life. Among the 52
countries for which at least a decade of data is available, well-being
rose in 40 cases and fell in only 12. The average percentage of people
who said they were "very happy" increased by almost seven points.
is it that the world is getting happier? In the words of Thucydides,
the secret of happiness is freedom. In each survey respondents were
also asked to rate their sense of free choice in life. In all but three
countries where perceived freedom rose, subjective well-being rose
also. A chart, produced by the authors, shows how these increases in
free choice and subjective well-being are strikingly related....
"In the space of two decades, several countries that were members of the
Soviet bloc have become members of the European Union, with new freedom
to travel, work and live. Not only has the proportion claiming to be
"very happy" risen in every country except Serbia and Belarus, but this
trend has been wholly driven by the younger generation. Among eastern
Europeans aged 15-24, the proportion saying they were "very happy" was
9 per cent at the start of the 1990s, roughly the same as other age
groups. By 2006 this proportion had more than doubled, and steady rises
were evident among those in their 30s and 40s....
"So if the world is becoming happier, what are the implications? First,
that the expansion of political and social freedoms is vindicated.
Second, the results may engender caution towards attempts to engineer
happiness through public policy. The happy countries include social
democracies such as Sweden and Denmark, and more laissez-faire
economies such as Australia and the US. What they have in common are
not their policies but institutions: democracy, rule of law and social
tolerance. People are largely capable of engineering their own
happiness when given the means to do so."
Happiness economics is really little more
than the attempt by those who are opposed to economic freedom to bring in state
control and planning by the back door. It has no proper empirical basis and few
genuine policy prescriptions emerge from it, other than the economically
illiberal measures favoured in any case by the proponents of happiness
But as this study shows, more taxes and regulations will not make us happier. Strong
democratic institutions, the rule of law, and social tolerance will.
Happiness economists should take note.
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