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November 15, 2010


Duncan Stott

The report on commuting says that long commuting *times* (not distances) make us miserable. Perhaps this is an argument for raising speed limits?


Not sure I agree that your 4 happiness policies are inherently leftwing.
1. Full employment. That’s employment, not benefits subsistence. The evidence tends to be that, long run, “right wing” policies lead to more genuine job creation.
2. Urban planning. The main barrier here is the incompetence- or at least the priorities - of the state. Looking back over 40 odd years I’d say it was a score draw of ineptitude. Cannot see any evidence for left wing moral or policy superiority here.
3. Promoting marriage and friendship. Even at the margin marriage tax breaks trumps no policy at all.
4. Increased autonomy. Which political wing is likely to give you less regulation, less state intrusion, and even intends some decentralization that may help people feel they have some influence over an overbearing state? At the moment it’s the “right wing” (although seeing will be believing) and not the “left wing” which seems to morphed into a reactionary statist movement.


This is twaddle.

My hapiness would be greatly boosted if Clegg Cameron and other the right wing shits fucked off to mars.


Please immagine "The" transposed in the last postto precede other.


Might have to quibble with your move from "happiness-enhancing policies would encourage religious belief and church-going" to "Happiness might be increased by cultivating false beliefs". At first you mention "religious belief AND church-going" but then later on you only mention "beliefs". If it's more the church-going (and all that involves) than the religious belief that makes people happier then happiness might be increased by cultivating church-going-esque activities (going to the football with friends/taking part in a time bank/other example suggestive of community/getting out and about/feeling part of something) rather than "false beliefs" (which seems to me a hazy category anyway).

James Reade

Who has the false beliefs and who needs encouraging in them?!

The non-religious (i.e. those not belonging to an "established" religion which seems to be the implication here) have beliefs also over many things unprovable such as the existence of God - so who is wrong?

However I object to something slightly more than just that. Christian belief does not innoculate me from the world's evils, and to suggest so implies a fundamental misunderstanding of Christianity.

Christianity says the world is fallen and hence is an evil place. It doesn't take us out of that place and it doesn't tell us to somehow "be happy" in spite of it. It does give the Christian some hope in the midst of it (there is a God and he is in control and has a plan for a "better place"), but certainly doesn't stop the Christian from feeling the suffering of a messed up world.

If that's what you intended by being innoculated then fine - my misunderstanding!


Yes, and as a corollary, if discontent is the motor of creativity and invention maybe we need more of that instead.

Tim Worstall

"Urban planning. Economic research confirms what we know - that commuting long distances makes us miserable. A serious happiness policy would change this, by - for example - locating offices nearer to homes."

Yes, but "urban planning" has generally meant that we're going to put the offices and the factories over here, and the homes over there. The effect of such urban planning has been to increase commutes therefore, not reduce them.

What we therefore want is less such planning, less zoning etc.


'Urban planning. Economic research confirms what we know - that commuting long distances makes us miserable. A serious happiness policy would change this, by - for example - locating offices nearer to homes.'

Or by train operators making the commute home more enjoyable in the way of offering free wifi or better food and so on? The President of the Institute for Practitioners in Advertising had a nice example when he asked why, instead of spending millions on making a journey from A-B faster, they didn't spend it instead on supermodels serving Chateau Petrus to commuters instead?


Abdullah. Never mind wifi, a bloody seat would be a good start!

Adam Bell

With regard to (1), it's rather dependent on the policy levers you use to achieve that goal. Saying that the unemployed will be happier if they're paid to dig holes and then fill them in (potentially one of the options IDS's reforms will require of the long-term unemployed) doesn't necessarily correlate with the reality that purposeless work is substantially less satisfying than purposeful work. The private sector remains the best vehicle for supplying the latter, as the market is an efficient tool for ridding us of purposeless work. Appropriate policy levers may then focus on structural unemployment rather than employment per se, such as reducing commuting times between areas of high and low unemployment to practical levels.

The upper lower middle

The problem creating long commutes isn't so much urban planning, as the affordability of housing and high volumes of traffic. Housing is more expensive around areas with high concentrations of jobs. Often these jobs don't pay enough for people to be able to afford housing nearby. The people with jobs in Central London can often only afford to live in Outer London, the people with jobs in Outer London can often only afford to live near London etc. This means they all have to travel further to get to work, which in turn increases the volume of traffic.

Policies to reverse this would include policies that encourage falls in house prices, policies to encourage public transport use over car use, and also, if the drop in traffic I see every half term is anything to go by, policies that discourage parents from driving their children to school - for instance school buses and changing the start of the school day to 10am for secondary school children (this would have the added bonus of being more in tune with the natural sleep/wake cycle of the teenager, which runs naturally later than that of younger children or adults).


I think happiness is a misnomer. It's about non-GDP good measures (civilised life conditions maybe):

Education etc

One person's happiness is another's not really fussed. And the social engineering required to achieve a goal might outweigh its utility.


well, the idea of a happiness index just reminded me of this:
(first half a minute or so)
This sounds like the sort of targets-driven thinking that ends up being very hit and miss indeed.
Agreed that broadly the index would reflect the success of left-wing as opposed to right-wing policies; andrew's comment would have allayed any doubts I had on that front, although he may have half a point on urban planning post-Atlee. However, the little huxley-religion bit really didn't come off; a pleasure/eudaimonia distinction is what you were driving at and it doesn't strike me as immediately apparent that eudaimonia is lessened by religion, whereas Huxley obviously and skilfully depicts an entirely unedifying and inhuman existence (mostly, as if to further dampen your analogy, by isolating words and actions from a deeper emotional and cultural resonance, something which religion definitely does not do, but secular society often can). The "muddled thinking" stuff is all fashionable muddled thinking to be quite frank, and it doesn't become you, this generally being a fairly clever blog. Suffice to say that as one would expect, the standard of argument on both sides tends to be philosophically and rationally very inconsistent, emotive, and generally poor, to the point that if you hear an argument being made polemically for or against religion you can pretty much rest assured that it is a terrible one which probably begs the question somewhere. We've all heard the "lack of rationality" argument before, and, as my model would predict, it is signally terrible. There's probably question-begging in the word "rationality", but even if not, when that word is fleshed out you'll almost certainly hit a contradiction.

Luis Enrique

I like D2 on this:


Lara Buckerton

Stable communities & the associated stable backgrounds of norms are supposed to foster happiness, right? Which I guess is a conservative desideratum, but not really a Tory one (FLEX THAT LABOUR MARKET!)



Excellent post.

I am almost against the happiness policy because it has been advocated by the Coalition government, but this is indeed a very poor reason.

What I feel we must avoid at all costs is an improving GDP in Britain, but people are miserable. In other words, we have 2 million unemployed, but because of -0.2% GDP we consider it a triumph.

Like most of your readers, I've blogged on it elsewhere


is my blog

and I recently like you posted on happiness, but not nearly with any of the authoritative evidence. I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.


Here is my professional profile anyway, to demonstrate that I am happy, despite being a Company Director in England.


Best wishes

Dr Shibley Rahman

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