In Happiness, Economics and Public Policy, Helen Johns and Paul Ormerod analyse the economic research that underlies politicians’ growing preoccupation with measures of ‘wellbeing’. In a lucid and compelling analysis, written for economists and non-economists alike, the authors find that happiness research cannot be used to justify government intervention in the way its proponents suggest. Those who would wish governments to take into account measures of wellbeing when setting policy often point to the fact that increases in income have not led to increases in measured happiness, and thus governments should concentrate on redistribution and improving the quality of life, rather than on allowing people to benefit from economic growth. In fact, measured happiness does not appear to be related to public spending, violent crime, property crime, sexual equality, disability, life expectancy or unemployment either.
The stark fact is that, as Helen Johns and Paul Ormerod demonstrate, the difficulties in measuring society’s happiness are insurmountable, and policymakers should not claim that they can control and increase happiness through public policy decisions.