There is a new sense that governments can make people happy by giving them stuff. This is a mistake that I address in my column this week.
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson called the pursuit of happiness an unalienable right. This was a radical idea. For most of history, most people didn't think much about pursuing happiness. They were too busy just trying to survive.
Then came the liberal revolution based on the idea of individual freedom. Only then did they start thinking that happiness might be possible on earth.
Today some nations try to measure what makes their citizens happy.
The country of Bhutan got all kinds of publicity by using a measure it calls 'gross national happiness' instead of gross national product, and The New York Times says it's a 'new measure of well-being from a happy little kingdom.'
‘It's not a model that most Western societies would want to copy,' Booth said.
I didn't think so. In Bhutan, people can get locked up for criticizing the government. Yet one study ranked the United States 23rd in the list of happy places. Bhutan was higher on the list.
That's nonsense, said Coyne. It makes more sense to judge a country's ability to make its citizens happy by whether foreigners want to move there. Clearly, more people want to move to America than to Bhutan. ‘The way to think about this,' Coyne said, 'is the fact that so many people want to come to the United States indicates that they at least perceive there is the opportunity to pursue what makes them happy...'
The mainstream media claim that the way to make people happy is to have government protect them from misfortune and give them stuff. The research doesn't bear that out, says Booth.
In fact, the bigger government is, the less happy societies tend to be. There is a direct relationship, stripping everything else out, between the government allowing people more freedom and well-being increasing.
You can read the rest of my column here.