Should the Government Aim to Make Us Happy?

Session at the Festival of Economics in Bristol, November 2016. with Nick Powdthavee of Warwick Business School, Will Davies of Goldsmiths, Susan Harkness of the University of Bath, and Dani Rodrik of the Harvard Kennedy School, chaired by Chris Giles of the FT.

  1. Huge and buzzing crowd for next #economicsfest session: should the government make us happy?
    Huge and buzzing crowd for next #economicsfest session: should the government make us happy?
  2. Fundamental implication of behavioural econ: traditional rational link between benefit and preferences is not as clear #economicsfest
  3. Powdthavee: if you measure the wrong thing, you do the wrong thing. Happiness is a good thing to measure. #economicsfest
  4. Susan Harkness: economic improvement doesn't necessarily mean better off, eg. parents earning more but less contact w/ kids. #economicsfest
  5. Women's measured happiness has declined but we shouldn't want to turn the clock back on gender equality, says Susan Harkness #economicsfest
  6. Harkness: Social progress can mean less happiness: more opportunity, more choices; more chance for disappointment. #economicsfest
  7. Problem with happiness as a measurement/goal: it's relative to individual thresholds; not always linked to econ outcomes #economicsfest
  8. Hallelujah some gender #economicsfest - gender equality complicates questions of happiness policy
  9. Will Davies: drive for govt to promote happiness has led to focus on individual psychology, not on making things better. #economicsfest
  10. Dangerous combination: social happiness goals + idea of "personal responsibility" #economicsfest
  11. Powdthavee mentioned U shape of happiness over course of life: dip in mid-life, but increase afterwards. #economicsfest
  12. Rodrick cites Kahneman & Deaton: satisfaction with life correlates with income, though curve gets flatter for high incomes. #economicsfest
  13. Rodrick: Bhutan surveys citizens intensely for Gross National Happiness measure. Targets for happiness sound dystopian. #economicsfest
  14. 'In 2015, 91.2% Bhutanese people were narrowly, extensively or deeply happy.. Gross national Happiness not GDP! #economicsfest
  15. To measure life satisfaction, better to ask more specific questions (goals, income, human relationships, etc) and aggregate? #economicsfest
  16. Powdthavee: individual ratings of happiness & life satisfaction predict longevity, marriage length etc. surprisingly well. #economicsfest
  17. Moderator @ChrisGiles_ so sceptical of happiness measurements he wont let panelists speak #economicsfest
  18. Panel: on the other hand, cross-cultural comparisons of self-reported happiness are likely meaningless. #economicsfest
  19. Good for Susan Harkness pointing out that what's good for men, happiness-wise, might not be good for women #economicsfest
  20. Harkness: we can't measure the happiness people would've had if their life were different. So can't measure happiness effects #economicsfest
  21. No major fiscal decision has ever been swung by happiness measures, they're used to get people to change, says @davies_will #economicsfest
  22. Davies: Happiness research, interpreted narrowly by political system, leads to cognitive behavioural therapy in job centres. #economicsfest
  23. .@davies_will happiness misused in workfare policies to coerce job seekers into fake 'positivity' #economicsfest
  24. A question saying nobody questions GDP as measure of success - ahem, Some of us think about this a lot! #economicsfest
  25. Note: Diane Coyle is the author of "GDP: a brief but affectionate history"
  26. The basic question is why aren't we all more like Denmark? says @davies_will #economicsfest
  27. Excellent @davies_will reminds us that Denmark may b happy because of Nordic model of capitalism w strong welfare state #economicsfest 
  28. Keeping up with the Joneses is a problem when dealing with inequality of income, also translatable to happiness measures #economicsfest
  29. Happiness- reform institutions or address individual behaviour? #economicsfest