The latest publication from the IEA landed through the letterbox yesterday (I can't say plonked or thudded, because the IEA publications are always of eminently digestible proportions). It is on one of the most important subjects of modern policy and economy - happiness.
There is an increasing tendency amongst academics and politicians to decry policies that deliver simple economic freedom, and to talk up policies that try to deliver social benefit, usually at the expense of economic freedom. The pretext is a growing body of work that argues that prosperity and happiness are not linked, and suggests alternative approaches to maximising happiness (most commonly, though with little empirical or logical justification, the reduction of income inequality). In these demotic times, what modern politician can resist the call to maximise the public's happiness? Certainly not most of our bunch of intellectual lightweights.
The IEA booklet, Happiness, Economics and Public Policy, by Helen Johns and Paul Ormerod, tackles this body of work head-on, in its own terms. It examines critically the statistical merits of the happiness data, and the claims that standards of living are unimportant to happiness, and that other factors such as economic inequality are more important. It finds most of the happiness literature wanting.
This is a necessary counterweight to the burblings of politicians like David Cameron and "economists" like Lord Layard on the need for policies to try to maximise General Wellbeing (GWB) or Gross National Happiness (GNH), rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is to be hoped (but not expected in the race to the wishy-washy centre-ground) that politicians will read this booklet and stop sniffing Layard's glue.