According to Geoff Mulgan, writing in yesterday’s Independent:
This year's election could be the first when party policies are interrogated not just for their effects on economic growth or the NHS but also for their effects on happiness.
Well, I can think of one thing that would make me happier: having less of my earnings forcibly confiscated and then wasted by self-serving bureaucrats. Oddly enough, the Lib Dems are the only party that would do anything for me in that regard – their plan being to raise the tax free personal allowance to £10,000 – although people with higher incomes (or mansions) would be penalized to make up for it. Otherwise, I don’t hold out much hope of paying less tax. Nor do I imagine that any political party will simply ‘leave me alone’. The Tories, once thought of as the party of limited government and personal responsibility, are now every bit as enthusiastically nannying as the rest of them. Apparently it’s called ‘compassionate conservatism’.
Of course, I don’t think my suggestions are quite what Geoff Mulgan had in mind when he wrote his article. On the contrary, the school of ‘happiness economics’ to which he appears to subscribe never seems to have much time for individual freedom, presuming instead that state enforced ‘equality’ is the best way to improve our general sense of well-being.
But I’ve got to say I side with US conservative Charles Murray on this one. Far from making us happier, I’d say big government drains satisfaction from our lives. I’m not talking about money or taxes here, but rather the fact that when government ‘provides’ it takes away our independence and undermines our self-reliance. It erodes families, and communities, and civic institutions. Far from encouraging solidarity and brotherly love, big government tends to atomise and dehumanize society, replacing a web of meaningful voluntary associations with distant, top-down authority.
Ultimately, America’s founding fathers had it right. Government’s job is not to implement policies that will maximize some aggregate measure of happiness, but to protect our rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". If we are to judge political parties as Geoff Mulgan suggests, then that is the criterion we should be using.