Happiness and the Size of Government
Over at Big Think, Will Wilkinson points out some highlights of a new book on happiness research. Here’s an excerpt on the connection between subjective well-being and the size of government:
What appears to be the unequivocal conclusion to be drawn from the sober, scientific part of the wellbeing literature is that larger government does not imply a happier population. Indeed, when a growing battalion of social scientists sympathetic to government interventions engage in wellbeing research and fail to find empirical evidence in favour of such interventions, it seems safe to conclude that more or larger government is not associated with better wellbeing. As Ruud Veenhoven honestly concluded againsthis own political preferences more than a decade ago, the characteristics of welfare states neither create wellbeing, nor do they make the distribution of such wellbeing more equal (Veenhoven, 2000). A further decade of research has confirmed this conclusion despite popular claims that government interventions can and do create happiness.
On the contrary, the large and growing literature finds either no consequences of government policies or direct negative effects of large government (cf. Bjørnskov et al., 2008a, 2008b). Yet even if there are no direct effects, there is reason to worry that increasing the size of the government sector and its active role in society could cause losses of happiness in the long run. As documented by Sacks, Stevenson and Wolfers in this volume, economic growth leads to happiness in the long run. Likewise, economic globalisation also tends to contribute to subjective wellbeing (see Tsai, 2009). Activist government policies and a growing public sector are likely to undermine both growth and globalisation (e.g. Fölster and Henrekson, 2001; Bergh and Henrekson,2011), and thus slow down what is already a slow trend towards more wellbeing that may be difficult to track in rich countries.
As such, the apparently popular case for an active government that creates happiness rests on very shaky foundations.
Interesting stuff to say the least. The book is published by The Institution for Economic Affairs, a British free-market think-tank. It can be download for free right here.
Image via Lifelong Happiness