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Week+2+optional+Duncan++2010++happiness+maximization - J...

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RESEARCH PAPER Should Happiness-Maximization be the Goal of Government? Grant Duncan Published online: 14 December 2008 Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008 Abstract Recent social surveys of happiness (subjective well-being) have given a new stimulus to utilitarian political theory by providing a statistically reliable measure of the ‘happiness’ of individuals that can then be correlated with other variables. One general finding is that greater happiness does not correlate strongly with increased wealth, beyond modest levels, and this has led to calls for governments to shift priorities away from economic growth and towards other social values. This paper notes how the conclusions of this research help to address some of the traditional objections to utilitarianism. The question of how happiness research findings can be used to set happiness-maximization goals for public policy needs careful examination, as the translation from research to policy is not always straightforward. Some empirical and ethical objections to this ‘new utilitarianism’ are raised. The complicating factors of public expectations of, and trust in, governments pose obstacles to any proposal that happiness research may lead to changes in public policy and hence to ‘happier’ populations. Keywords Happiness Á Public policy Á Government Á Utilitarianism 1 Introduction Recent research on happiness and subjective well-being has prompted a re-examination of the traditional utilitarian principle that the maximization of happiness should be adopted by governments as an aim of law and public policy. This is an old idea that reappears in various guises, for example: Whatever the form or Constitution of Government may be, it ought to have no other object than the general happiness. Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man [1790] ( 1996 , p. 164). G. Duncan ( & ) School of Social and Cultural Studies, Massey University Albany, Private Bag 102-904, North Shore MSC, Auckland, New Zealand e-mail: [email protected] 123 J Happiness Stud (2010) 11:163–178 DOI 10.1007/s10902-008-9129-y
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A measure of government may be said to be conformable to or dictated by the principle of utility, when the tendency which it has to augment the happiness of the community is greater than any which it has to diminish it. Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation [1789] (Warnock 1962 , p. 33). The US Declaration of Independence of 1776 specifies ‘the pursuit of happiness’ as one of the principal inalienable rights of all citizens. The 1942 Beveridge Report in the UK, which laid the groundwork for Britain’s welfare state, referred to ‘the happiness of the common man’ as the basic objective (Beveridge 1942 , p. 171). And, according to an influential, though Whiggish, history of New Zealand: Social Security is clearly an investment in the future personnel of industry as well as in the happiness of the citizenry (Sinclair 1991 , p. 271).
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