The BBC’s Mark Easton blogs under the headline Should the state make us happy?
A government commissioned report by the Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project argues that the state should put happiness at the centre of its decision making. I suppose currently you might argue they put financial wellbeing (at least in the short term) at the centre. Prolonging life as long as possible justifies much state intervention. If the report was merely suggesting that quality of life was important too, it wouldn’t be too bad. Maybe they could start with reducing beer tax!
But it seems likely this will be just another numerical measure the government could abuse to either claim they are making life better, or to demand more power over our lives. Freedom is good for my mental wellbeing, but I don’t think this will be on the agenda. More likely they will demand more power, more monitoring, more legislation, more well paid non-job advisors and more taxes to ’empower me to make the right choices for my mental capital’. After all, if it becomes the state’s job to make us happy, it needs the tools to do the job, right?
Luckily, and surprisingly, this hasn’t been welcomed with open arms by New Labour. Easton reports John Denham’s reaction as “wary”. But then he observes that although they might not warm to this report instantly, there are already plenty of similar measures in place. The government produced a report in 2002, which Easton describes thus:
Its conclusion was that “there is a case for state intervention to boost life satisfaction”. Who could argue with that?
I could argue with that! Any libertarian could. Partly on the principle that there is very rarely a case for state intervention. Partly on the practicality that it is rarely effective. How will they make us feel better, tell us it’s all ok? They have been doing that on crime and the economy for years but most people know the truth. He concludes
To some this stuff is simply common sense. To others it is a dangerous expansion of the role of the state.
I think you can tell which side I fall on. At best this would be a simple re-alignment of government priorities, a change of direction for an already over-mighty state. At worst, an all-encompassing excuse to extend their interfering in everybody’s everyday life.
The lukewarm reception is probably because happiness doesn’t sit well on the agenda of the current puritan bunch. But wait until they find a safe nanny state way to define mental well-being. Happiness, like freedom before it, will be newspeaked into a New Labour approved sense and they can get on with enforcing our duty to be happy for the state, all, of course, for our own good.