Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why we should welcome David Cameron’s ‘Happiness Index’

His Grace is fully aware that this headline risks irking his readers and disappointing his communicants: there has been universal derision of the idea of measuring people's psychological and environmental wellbeing since it was announced, but only by those who obtusely misunderstand or purposely misrepresent it.

Yesterday, ConservativeHome published an article which suggested that it is all part of a ‘European plot’, which was strange coming immediately after a blanket condemnation of ‘conspiracy nutters’.

It’s clearly a touchy subject, with the Mail’s ‘Black Dog’ reporting:

The Prime Minister’s spin doctor Andy Coulson has banned No 10 staff from referring to Dave’s laughable ‘Happiness Index’.

Essex boy Coulson thinks the initiative, dreamed up by Cameron’s ‘branding’ guru Steve Hilton, is ‘airy fairy b*******’. He insists it keeps its dreary official ‘general wellbeing’ tag – in the hope that it is forgotten as quickly as most of Tory hippy Hilton’s other gimmicks.
Yet it is widely known that economic measures like wages, inflation and GDP are a wholly inadequate way of measuring much at all about a nation: according to US senator Robert Kennedy, GDP measures everything ‘except that which makes life worthwhile’.

And he has a point, for a rise in GDP is not necessarily a good thing. If thousands of people die from bird flu in one year, that gives a boost to undertakers and crematoria, and so increases GDP. Terrorism increases policing and security costs, and if we happen to go to war, the production of armaments and ammunition contributes to greater economic activity with a consequent boost to the nation’s GDP.

But these are hardly positive or beneficial contributions to the summum bonum.

There needs to be a more holistic method of measuring the ‘national mood’, and charging the Office of National Statistics with gauging ‘general wellbeing’ is a start.

And His Grace will tell you why.

And it has nothing to do with French gaîté, an EU plot or even the King of Bhutan.

He pointed out last week that the Tories began as a church party, concerned with the Church and State, in that order, before our concerns extended to the economy, free markets and many other fields which politics now touches.

The Church is concerned with the whole (or ought to be): a person’s economic situation is inseparable from their spiritual well-being. Man does not live by bread alone, but he’s a darn sight more receptive to salvation after a bit of bread and fish.

One has to go back to Locke and the inspiration for the American Declaration of Independence to understand where David Cameron is coming from:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
This ‘pursuit of happiness’ has nothing to do with job satisfaction, marital bliss, Ant & Dec or the feel-good induced by discerning the nation's favourite Abba song.

Locke’s notion of happiness is acutely linked to liberty.

It is not the task of government – least of all a Conservative government – to make people happy: it is the task of government to ensure that people are free to attain their objectives and fulfil their hopes and aspirations to make their own happiness.

As the Prime Minister has observed: "You cannot capture happiness on a spreadsheet any more than you can bottle it - and if anyone was trying to reduce the whole spectrum of human happiness into one snapshot statistic I would be the first to roll my eyes."

So let us give the man some credit for returning the Tory Party to its spiritual church roots and for seeking to measure progress not only by how the economy is growing, but by how the quality of life is improving; and that is fused with people’s sense of contentment, harmony and inner peace.

And it is not unlikely that this chimes with an EU objective, for the European Commission are acutely concerned with issues beyond the economic and always have been. What the UK was told was purely about trade was, for our continental neighbours, also about quality-of-life issues such as welfare, health, sustainability and social inclusion, which emanate from the Union’s foundation upon Roman Catholic Social Teaching.

And here’s the nexus of the matter.

The Christian religion has given Europe a scheme of values in which economic, social and penal policy have their place, but the understanding of these is inseparable from our historical roots. For through the Old Testament our spiritual roots go back to the early days of civilisation and man's search for God.

For England and for the United Kingdom, it has historically been the Protestant Reformed Religion which has provided us with our sense of ‘well-being’, for it has become inseparable from our sense of liberty. And that notion of liberty has a quite distinct theological lineage, not only from sin and the power of evil, but also in the Calvinist understanding of church governance – ‘liberty from Romish hierarchies’. According to Burke: 'To preserve that liberty inviolate, is the peculiar duty and proper trust of a member of the House of Commons.'

The ‘Happiness Index’ is ultimately a measurement of liberty. David Cameron, in his long-gone PPE days at Oxford, will have studied Locke and Mill and the philosophy of what we bequeathed to our American cousins in ‘the pursuit of happiness’. And he will know that happiness and autonomy are indivisible. Mill said: “The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way.” To be autonomous is to be able to reflect on and evaluate one’s desires, beliefs and values: we don’t just act; we choose how to act; we choose which goals to adopt, and we reflect on the reasons for our beliefs. By this, we can shape ourselves and our own lives; and if we shape ourselves according to our own values, we express our individuality.

Mill argued that ‘the free development of individuality is one of the leading essentials of well-being’. Leading our lives in our own way, making our own choices expresses and develops our thoughts, feelings and imagination. So, to be happy, we must be autonomous.

But that autonomy must be guided or ‘assisted’ towards good choices, moral choices, and Mill assumes that people will learn from their own and others’ mistakes. Autonomy which leads to bad or immoral choices will not produce happiness, so it is autonomy itself which is intrinsic to happiness.

The fons et origo of our ‘Gross National Happiness’ is a via media between Locke and Mill; between Liberalism and Toryism, and this is no bad thing for a Tory-Liberal Coalition to pursue.

But one comment in the ConservativeHome thread is worth observing:

As long as Cameron keeps paying my taxes to the EU and refuses an EU Referendum, I shall certainly be miserable.
For a nation which is itself bound by alien rules and stifling regulations cannot pretend that its people are autonomous. And as long as they are not autonomous, they are not free. And as long as they are not free, they will not be happy.

Here, Mr Cameron, lies the potential zenith of your ‘Happiness Index’ and the glory of your premiership.


Blogger Caedmon's Cat said...

When the Labour Party and the Guardianistas come to terms with the bankruptcy of their ideology and the collective chips on their shoulders, I'll be happy.

When the BBC eventually stop banging on about cuts, I'll be happy.

When the aforesaid BBC abandon their Fabian bias, I'll be happy.

When we have a referendum on our continued membership of the EU criminal cartel, I'll be happy.

When politicians habitually speak truth and honour their pledges and face up to their failures, I'll be happy.

When our taxes are reduced and I see more of the fruit of my labours, I'll be happy.

When the State no longer patronises me with terrorism scaremongering and control me and instead retreats cowering into its box, I'll be happy.

Not much to ask for, is it? (Fortunately, this does not detract from the joy of my salvation.)

30 November 2010 at 12:00  
Anonymous David T Breaker said...

The problem is that if you allow happiness or GWB to be the aim of government, with that measured as a statistic, that statistic will be manipulated to endorse certain policy measures and the government will seek to improve the GWB score by implementing these demands. Just look at how the Working Time Directive supporters try to use "quality of life" as a reason for their illiberal policy. Measuring GWB is the road to bread and circuses!

30 November 2010 at 12:12  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Cameron" and "Glory" do not belong in the same sentence.
He is not - and never will be - a Disraeli or Churchill or Thatcher.
Or even a John Major.
I predicted before the election,on this site, that he would be an awful PM.
I see no reason to revise my opinion - he will be a disaster for Britain.

30 November 2010 at 12:14  
Blogger Bryan said...

At what level does government interfere with happiness? Your local municipality has the rules which are the most restrictive of your day to day life. EU itself is merely another level of bureaucrats making choices concerning an even wider area of concern than your own nation. It is not even the top layer, as theoretically, the EU is answerable to the UN.

Of course the answer to how contrary to personal happiness any particular level of bureaucracy is, is based solely on its perceived negative influence on daily lives less how answerable that layer of government is to the will of the people it represents is perceived to be.

The UN, is totally unanswerable to the local voter, yet because it typically abstains from interfering in the operation of most 1st world countries it is perceived by most as no threat to happiness. Your local township's government is invasive throughout your very household, yet its members live down the street, it meets downtown and you can go present your concerns in person at their meetings and vote them out in the next election. They are perceived as very little threat to happiness. Now, the EU is unanswerable to the populace of any of its member states, and being in the news as pushing for issues which are against your national interest, it is perceived to be highly dangerous to personal happiness.

30 November 2010 at 12:17  
Blogger Gnostic said...

For a nation which is itself bound by alien rules and stifling regulations cannot pretend that its people are autonomous. And as long as they are not autonomous, they are not free. And as long as they are not free, they will not be happy.

I think that hits the nail squarely on the head, Your Grace.

30 November 2010 at 12:17  
Blogger john in cheshire said...

Questions that spring to mind are :
who asked for Happiness to be measured and why.
Who is paying for it; and if it's from taxes, is that an appropriate way to spend our money. I'd rather have my contribution returned to me, even if it is 2p.
What is going to be measured and why?
What is to be done with the results? if for example the result is that we're all not too unhappy, does that give the government the justification to continue doing to us what they are doing?
The whole exercise is either nonsense, or it is being done to further some other purpose. In either case, it is not needed. If Mr Cameron wants to know how happy we are, the let him use his own money in finding out.

30 November 2010 at 12:25  
Anonymous Dave B said...

After the wikileaks hoo-ha, I listened to some of Matthew Parris' Parting Shots programme.

The second programme in the series mentioned Sir Andrew Green's 'parting shot'[PDF].

"[Saudis] are aware of the rate of divorce, abortion, fatherless children, drug abuse and crime in Western societies and do not accept that we can give them lessons in how to organise a society. But, even more important to them, they see us as a Godless society."

30 November 2010 at 12:38  
Anonymous Campion said...

This is no bad idea.

Since when did any off us,in the REAL world, measure our happiness by the growth in GDP?

What makes us happy is functional families, communities, health, friendships, activities/hobbies...freedom.

We find today in a poll that 80% of people don't want mass immigration (that means around 90-95% of native Brits), we want our own culture, good schools with discipline and REAL qualifications/standards, safe streets, good manners.........

I could go on, we all could.

But will the politicians listen?

That's the big question.

Cameron is opening a Pandora's box. Lets hope he has the balls to heed us and give us what we want.

30 November 2010 at 12:39  
Anonymous Hans wildebeeste said...

Just the fact that the government is TRYING to measure happiness makes me somewhat unhappy, since it is absolutely no business of theirs.

30 November 2010 at 12:39  
Anonymous Freeborn John said...

A great post, Your Honour, and one that brought a contented smile to my face this lunchtime. :-)

30 November 2010 at 12:50  
Blogger OldSouth said...

Excellent thoughts, as always.

Allow me to recommend the recent thoughts of a Lutheran pastor on the same subject.

Pastor Peters' Thanksgiving Homily

30 November 2010 at 13:44  
Blogger Graham Davis said...

It’s all very well referring to Burke, Locke and Mill or to neglected conservative or Christian values but that misses the point. What makes people happy is the love and support of their family and their community closely followed by an income that is in line with other members of that community. Given a base level of physical wellbeing happiness is a relative value not an absolute one, so that as long as you are not poorer than your friends, family and your immediate community the chances are that you will be happy or at least not miserable or discontented.

Material wellbeing does contribute to happiness as does good health and the absence of personal trauma like bereavement or job loss and of course your inherited predisposition is also part of the mix.

In the UK we do not have a family friendly environment, we work long hours often separated from close family members. We often live in suburbs bereft of neighbourliness and we do not have the time to invest in our local community.

These deficiencies have long been recognised by marketeers who seek to persuade us by wrapping many of their products in nostalgia and tradition. The baker’s boy pushing his bike along a cobbled street tells us that this was a better, simpler era where people had time to chat and left the front door unlocked.

I doubt that those charged with compiling these statistics will even know what questions to ask. I don’t think direct questions will work; a more sophisticated psychological assessment is likely to provide more revealing data. What the government plans to do with it is another matter.

30 November 2010 at 14:04  
Anonymous Zach Johnstone said...

I had to defend these plans in a seminar today; I'd have thought the Left would have welcomed the ostensibly more qualitative attempts to gauge citizens' 'wellbeing', but apparently not (at least not at my university).

Mind you, I did then have to spend the next 20 minutes - as a minority of one - arguing against a 100% inheritance tax, so perhaps rationality wasn't the order of the day...

30 November 2010 at 14:51  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

How I am tempted by the sin of envy:

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’

That quotation goes on to state:

‘That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That when any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…’

The Constitution of the United States of Europe (the Lisbon Treaty) knows no such, nay rejects, such notions.

Ah but wait! The Declaration of Independence tells us why people tolerate the Lisbon Treaty and why we will one day be a free people:

‘Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are insufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.’

So come on you Eurocrats! Keep that freight train of abuses rooling on! More Directives; more Regulations, more Decisions – keep ‘em comin’ until the people are close to suffocation, and that day will surely come, as night follows day, when we will throw the Lisbon yoke off our necks.

30 November 2010 at 15:03  
Anonymous gladiolys said...

"Freedom is an idea that cannot be measured." - Linda Lamb, from the song "Hot Room".

30 November 2010 at 15:54  
Anonymous small zebra rug said...

Just look at how the Working Time Directive supporters try to use "quality of life" as a reason for their illiberal policy.

30 November 2010 at 16:17  
Blogger AncientBriton said...

An interesting debate Your Grace.
For the poor and destitute of our world, how about an 'Existence Index'?

30 November 2010 at 16:20  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem (to put it rather simply) is that freedom makes me happy, bossing people about and redistributing money makes the lefties happy. We can't both be happy at the same time.

I say bring back fox-hunting, let us smoke in the pub by a carbon burning open fire without a health and safety notice in sight. A better world I feel, but alas, there would be many unhappy bossy bootses out their if all this were allowed tomorrow.

30 November 2010 at 16:28  
Blogger Anabaptist said...

Happiness may be seen as relative, temporary and shifting. There is short-term happiness, but there is also long-term happiness, and the two are not necessarily compatible. My short-term happiness (or pleasure) may be inconsistent with my long-term happiness.

A good understanding of happiness sees it as a condition rather than a feeling -- equivalent to blessedness.

I doubt very much that the framers of the American Declaration of Human Rights intended the same thing by 'happiness' as is meant by many people when they use the word today. So Cranny's justification of the latest Cameron idiocy appears to me to be rather desperate.

The most significant word in 'Gross National Happiness' is gross.

30 November 2010 at 16:35  
Blogger The Heresiarch said...

There's a difference, surely, between the "pursuit of happiness" and happiness itself. It might even be said that if you're pursuing happiness, by definition you have not attained it.

Moreover, the formulation presupposes a fairly minimal state, which accords its citizens the space to pursue happiness in their own particular way, rather than happiness being something that is in the gift of the government. The promise is that the state will not impede people in their pursuit of this ideal, not that it will actively deliver happiness. To thrust happiness upon the public, whether they want it or not, is the act of an enlightened despot, a Joseph II rather than a Jefferson.

Note, too, that when the framers of the Constitution set about bestowing justiciable rights on the citizenry, the pursuit of happiness was (wisely?) omitted. Americans have a right to bear arms and to freedom of speech (lucky them) but no right to be happy.

30 November 2010 at 16:45  
Anonymous FrankSW said...

I used to work with someone who was never happy unless he had something to moan about.

How do you measure that

30 November 2010 at 17:20  
Blogger oldmaid said...


Your last couple of paragraphs says it all...the question is, will Cameron take heed?

30 November 2010 at 17:21  
Anonymous Bede said...

The completely 'autonomous individual' which, it is claimed, is a necessary state for 'happiness', is a contradiction in terms. As has been pointed out, there has to be a profound moral element. Otherwise such individuals are either deeply autistic, or confined in an asylum - or possibly master criminals or absolute dictators.

As has also been pointed out, man is a deeply social creature. So while 'autonomy', or freedom, is necessary for personal fulfilment (happiness?), it cannot be an absolute, any more than the social component can be (which leads to communism).

Circumstances can be altered for the better to make personal fulfilment ('happiness') more achieveable, and we know in a general way what happiness is. But the pursuit of 'happiness' is a will o' the wisp. Happiness comes when we are pursuing something else.

30 November 2010 at 18:02  
Anonymous Gregory Barsh, Esq. said...

I hope that the USA follows the lead of Britain and Bhutan in using Happiness as an objective when setting governmental policies and spending limited resources. It makes better then perfect sense.

Thanks, and Be Happy,

Gregory Barsh, Esq.
Chief Happiness Officer
ruHap, The Happiness Company
Follow our blog, How to be Happier, at http://ruhap.com/content/category/blog/
Twitter: ruHapIndex
Facebook: “Like” us at http://www.facebook.com/pages/RuHap-The-Happiness-Company/137275779654151

30 November 2010 at 20:09  
Blogger Owl said...

I would suggest that the persuit of happiness refers to the freedom to persue your own goals in your own way without the State defining what your goals should be and how to attain them.

A smoke and a pint with friends down the local is just one example.

Does Cameron really understand "the persuit of happiness" or "freedom" for that matter?

30 November 2010 at 22:58  
Blogger Alex said...

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1 December 2010 at 01:12  
Anonymous small zebra rug said...

everyone's view of happiness id different.. what makes me happy might not make the other person happy...

1 December 2010 at 12:26  
Blogger Unsworth said...

Your Grace,

I am not in favour of a 'Happiness Index'. Happiness is elusive at the best of times and often remarkably difficult to achieve. I would prefer to see a 'Relatively Content Index'. It would have the advantage of being more widely applicable and would provide a broader picture of the nation's well-being. It might be linkable to other government measures - such as the Retail Price Index. Thus academics might amuse themselves with drawing up the mathematical relationship of the RCI and RPI - thereby measurably increasing the size of the RCI.

1 December 2010 at 20:52  
Anonymous Oswin said...

It ain't natural 'being happy' ... smacks of something some damned foreigner might have conjured up to upset the natives; sewing seeds of disaffection and dissatifaction etc. It reminds one of the final scenes to any ''Lassie'' film, everyone smiling, all problems solved ... too bloody noxious/nauseating for words!

Owl @ 22.58 ..... right on! A pint and a smoke in one's local, without having to go OUTSIDE to smoke! I'm not interested in being 'happy' but I'm sure as hell sick to death of being enraged!

2 December 2010 at 02:52  
Blogger Arif Zulhilmi Bin Abd Rahman said...

It is hard to measure happiness as most of the people have their own definition of happiness. It gives an headache to the government.

16 December 2010 at 18:13  

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