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Happiness is not enough

By economics

happiness is not enoughIn his book Can we be happier?,  Richard Layard advocates that the central driving principle of mankind should be to maximise the  total happiness experienced by all individuals across a society.

It represents a brave attempt by a trained economist to advocate that governments change the objective of maximising GDP growth to one of looking to improve the health, wealth and quality of life of its citizens as measured by their happiness.

I don’t think the author does any favours to his idea by using the term happiness. Happiness conjures images of silliness, unthinking behaviour and short-term enjoyment. This is not what he means. In the book happiness is measured by asking people how satisfied they are with their life. Life-satisfaction, in my view is quite a different concept, in implies a contentment with one’s position in the world. The book should be retitled Can we be more satisfied with our lives?

He says:

The challenge to development economists is clear. Grinding poverty has to be eliminated. It destroys happiness and shortens lives. But it is wrong to go helter-skelter for growth. What is needed is a deliberate process whereby genuine communities are maintained or created – communities which give people the feeling of belonging and purpose.

All this is true but this will not be achieved by focussing solely on life-satisfaction. The measurement is unaspirational, unaccepting of change and self -centred. I believe a better measure of human progress is life-fulfilment.

To quote from Compete or Co-operate:

I believe there are two aims for human society that most of us can support. The first is for as many people as possible to live a sufficiently healthy and safe existence that they can achieve life fulfilling roles in their communities.  The second is to achieve an ecologically stable presence on Earth, one in which the future of humanity is secure and the natural world is protected. The pursuit of life fulfilment is a specifically human objective. It is an expression of the human requirement to have purpose and meaning in life. All humans need recognition and praise for their achievements, however small they may be. Life-fulfilment can be as elemental as bringing up a family, but it also can be gained by work, participating in sport, and providing support to others in the community.  Its outcome is directly related to the needs of society as a whole and not necessarily based on material reward or personal self-gratification.

Concentrating on maximising happiness alone will not be enough to create a successful society.



By economics

In his book Utopia for Realists Rutger Bergman despairs of the lack of inspirational leadership coming from the progressive element of society.

Utopia for RealistsThese days the left seems to have forgotten the art of Politics. Worse , many left -wing thinkers and politicians attempt to quell radical sentiments among their own rank and file in their terror of losing votes. This attitude is one I’ve begun to think of in recent years as the phenomenon of ‘underdog socialism’. .  Sadly, the underdog socialist has forgotten that the story of the left ought to be a narrative of hope and progress.

Since the 70’s neo-liberal reasoning has dominated political thinking. Despite the financial crash of 2008, progressive thinkers have presented no coherent alternative ideas that have gained general support. The only economic policy that has gained ground has resulted in a backward lurch towards the protectionist ideas of populism.

Bergman believes that progressive thinkers have failed to effectively challenge the neo-liberal economic thinking which has created tax havens, the gig economy, bloated bankers and bullshit jobs and is building a divided society which is destroying the planet. It is not sufficient to empathise with the poor or to reason and warn of the dangers ahead.  Economics provide the basic rationale for government policy. To confront the challenges ahead we need progressive thinkers to paint a coherent economic picture of the future which provides hope, motivation and encouragement to all.

American tax havens threaten democracy

By economics

Tax havens

Tax havens allow the rich and multi-nationals to avoid paying taxes, and crooks and corrupt politicians to hide their ill-gotten gains. They are pernicious regulatory authorities which act against the interests of tax payers everywhere.  In any rational world, countries would co-operate to ensure they were not allowed to operate.  The fact they exist at all signifies the degree to which the rich and multi-nationals have manage to subvert the democratic process.

However, recently some progress has been made. The US introduced the Financial Assets and Compliance Act which forced foreign financial institutions to tell the US government about any American-owned assets held on their books. Also, by signing up to a Common Reporting Standard (CRS), the rest of the world agreed to exchange information about the assets each other’s citizens held in their banks. The attraction of Jersey, Lichtenstein, and the Bahamas began to diminish. But it was a false dawn, the demise of some tax havens merely presaged the arrival of others. The US was not party to the CRS agreement and US States such as Delaware, Nevada and South Dakota have been able to create lucrative financial instruments for companies and the rich to avoid tax.  In South Dakota the rich can create trusts for their own benefit. Once two years have elapsed, no creditor or tax authority can gain access to the money held.

The US has now overtaken the Cayman Islands as the second most pernicious tax-haven in the world. Already there are huge income disparities in the US. This new form of tax avoidance will perpetuate wealth differences for generations to come, creating a new wealthy aristocracy in this supposedly classless society.  In the meantime, the Middle and Working Classes are left to labour alone to pay the taxes that support the State.

For more information about this new blow to democracy read.

GDP growth isn’t the only objective for society

By economics

GDP growth isn’t the only objective for society, though sometimes it seems to be the only measure of success that all our politicians endorse. There are arguably other more relevant measures of a nation’s success. This week the UK’s Office of National Statistics published its figures on life expectancy for 2015 to 2017; it shows that life expectancy in the UK is 79 years for men and 83 years for women.

Surely most of us would like to live longer, but it is currently a post code lottery.  In some regions of Scotland and the North you are likely to live 10 years less than people living in the South East. The reasons are unclear. As Southerners are not physically different than Northerners, it must be due to lifestyle issues like diet, exercise and drug consumption or stress related issues like poverty, caring and unemployment. These are factors that are in the power of society to change by policy, education and example.

Wouldn’t everyone welcome an initiative to improve life expectancy.  Shouldn’t life expectancy be high on the list of success factors for our society. Let’s encourage politicians, economists and civil servants to make it a national imperative.