Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Pseudo-Science of Happiness

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Epicurus
We are lucky in Ireland to have been spared - so far - the attentions of politicians intent on making us happy. This struck me as I listened to the latest podcast in the BBC Radio 4 series More or Less (which I have referred to in a previous post).

It features an entertaining debate between Richard Layard and Paul Ormerod on whether 'the happiness of the nation' should be a legitimate policy objective of government. Lord Layard has written a new book on the science of happiness. Paul Ormerod has written a critique of many of the assumptions behind the book, as well as addressing the wider debate about policy and happiness.

I have to confess to more than a dispassionate interest in this debate as (the then) Richard Layard was my micro-economics tutor at the LSE back in the 1980s; and subsequently I was a colleague of Paul Ormerod's at the Henley Centre for Forecasting. I have also had the opportunity to work on a number of studies in relation to happiness in Ireland, so it is a subject I pay close attention to as an economist and researcher.

As for the result of the debate itself, my (hopefully unbiased) opinion is that Ormerod won it hands down. His commentary on the 'psuedo-science' of happiness research is spot on: and should be mandatory briefing material for any politician or cabinet minister intent on making us happy. There's hope yet.

1 comment:

  1. Some relation to this in my post yesterday. have a look, bloody interesting!


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