She argues for the latter. A good reason for this is that whilst happiness is in large part an idiosyncratic thing, unhappiness is more closely correlated with social conditions, most notably unemployment. For example, today's figures show that the unemployed are almost four times as likely to have low well-being as those in work.
Such a view should be close to consensus. It's consistent with the Rawlsian position that we should maximize the position of worst-off groups. And it's consistent with our concern to protect human rights and prevent crime; crime and rights violations inflict great misery, which is to be avoided.
We might add that liberals of all sorts should prefer minimizing misery to maximizing happiness. It's better that governments focus upon a few social evils than act as a nanny busybodying itself with every detail of our everyday lives; even if libertarian paternalism isn't an oxymoron, it can very quickly lose its libertarianism.
Of course, it would be daft to think governments can eliminate misery - I'm not sure they can or should do much to reduce divorce for example. But there are some things a government concerned to minimize misery would give a higher priority to:-
- Full employment.
- A greater concern with improving poor mental health (pdf).
- Better healthcare generally. Today's figures show that those in bad health are often very unhappy - more so even than the disabled.
- Poverty reduction. This follows from simple diminishing returns; giving £1 to the very poor does more to increase happiness than giving £1 to the rich.
- Racial integration. Black people are almost twice as likely to be very unhappy as whites; Chinese and Indians, though, are less likely to be unahppy.
Curmudgeons might reply at this point that governments should stick to their traditional task of trying to promote prosperity.
But is there a conflict between minimizing misery and raising GDP growth? I'm not sure. For one thing, it could be that long-run growth is much less malleable by conventional policies than thought. And for another, happier people are more productive, more likely to trust others and - being more optimistic - more likely to look for work if they don't have it. In these senses, it could be that policies that aim to minimize misery end up, obliquely, raising GDP.
Whether such policies are feasible under managerialist capitalism is, however, another matter.