« Cable's terrible excuse | Main | Corporate crime: basic economics »

July 29, 2012


Christopher Snowdon

"There's a conflict when people use freedom to choose what Edward Skidelsky calls "baubles and gadgets" or what MacIntyre calls external goods such as money, but not so much when they choose to pursue "internal goods" such as excellence. But capitalism requires that people pursue the former."

Capitalism - which is the free exchange of goods and labour - does not require people to prioritise anything. People are quite free to pursue excellence and/or reject materialism, and many do.

There is also not as much as a conflict between economic freedom and happiness as you suggest. On the contrary, there is ample evidence that people are happier in free market economies. Will Wilkinson gives a good overview in this document: http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa590.pdf


Phenomenal post. I'm going to grab a coffee and ponder - thanks for making my Sunday more interesting!


@ Christopher - capitalism isn't a "free" exchange of labour, except in the formal sense. In a world of inadequate welfare, most people are compelled by to work by the threat of poverty.
I agree that market economies are associated with greater happiness. My point is that a market socialist economy (ie workers control plus citizens income) might promote happiness more than does a capitalist market economy.


Do these questions about happyness include "Does the huge cuts to housing benefit and the return of the poll tax ie cuts to council tax benefit make you happy? Or even ecststic?" If not why not? Will the future questions include "does the Cabinet of millionares kicking you in the balls cheer you up these days?"


Well, market socialists need to eat, be housed and send their kids to school. Some can live on-the-social, others will need a nice job on the Grauniad to pay for a home in Hampstead and the ability to choose to holiday in a tent. Those on the social don't get much choice and on the average their family will be stuck in a spiral of always living on the social - no choice - no happiness unless they are happy with very constrained horizons.

I reckon there is a point of inflection on the happiness/money graph which may slide up and down according to one's socio-political view - but below the inflection point both socialists and capitalists will be unhappy.

Luis Enrique

I'm sure things like workplace democracy could increase the control people feel over their own lives, but the will of the majority or decisions of elected representatives are still an external locus of control. I don't know what you have in mind that an assembly line worker might be fired for, "taking control of their own lives" but I don't see that assembly line workers under alternative forms of ownership are exactly going to be allowed to come and go as they please. There will be rules, and you only have to take a moderately sceptical view of the likely reality of workplace democracy to see its tyrannical potential - go read Ursula Le Guin's depiction of a workers anarcho-syndicalist state in The Dispossessed.

Meanwhile I fucking hate the elitism underneath sneering at people and the baubles and gadgets, or the idea that people who "live by the rules" and who care about thinks like having a nice house etc. are somehow obedient capitalist drones who haven't "taken control of their own lives". I think it's very ugly snobbery.

Farmer Jack

For a country where citizens' degree of freedom is dynamic, it is plausible that the relationship between freedom and happiness will be non-linear.

The effect of greater freedom, especially for women (or members of groups previously denied a significant scope of self-determination), will be to shift the locus of control inwards. It's likely, further, that perceptions of where this locus lies will change more rapidly than the opportunities genuinely available to e.g. women, because of residual features in people's 'mentalities' concerning questions of how free individuals should be e.g. over the division of responsibilities in marriage or childcare or the care of the elderly.

Women may feel a little happier collectively than before, because of increased opportunities as these tend to happiness, but this will be outweighed by 1) by the proportionately greater sense that they are responsible for their own unhappiness; and 2) by the loss of compensatory features that attached to earlier forms of 'bondage' e.g. satisfaction in the home, a privileged relation to children etc.

However, as freedom becomes entrenched, it may be that groups like women will be increasingly able to take advantage of their options (that 'reality', in the sense of mentalities, not just of law, will catch up with perception) and that they will become happier.

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad