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July 30, 2013



I don't get your last paragraph. If there is a conflict between minimising misery and maximising happiness, then isn't the former likely to reduce total happiness, and therefore lower GDP growth?

Luis Enrique

doesn't government policy already do this?

sure, you can say its policies are lacking, to the point of neglect (or, more generously, that it has only partial success with inherently difficult problems)

however, I am pretty sure that a relevant civil servant could point you to areas of government policy directed towards

raising employment.

improving mental health

better healthcare generally.

Poverty reduction (OK, the current incumbents are taking steps back here).

racial integration.

my point is that regardless of how effective you think it is, government policy already looks much more targeted at reducing misery than raising happiness


Very interesting and very wise.

Governments can not know what makes individuals happy but they sure as hell know what makes them miserable. Although wealth may not bring happiness, poverty is a universal immiserator. Assymetry perhaps describes this phenomenon.

So yeah, minimising misery hits the spot on so many fronts alluded to in the post!


@Luis Enrique

Current govt policy disavows raising employment.

gastro george


Rhetorically directed, maybe. But that means taking politician's assertions at face value. The respective professionals might have a different opinion.

Luis Enrique

come on guys, I imagine I share your opinion of the current government's efforts in this direction (cut benefits, increase incentives!), but even this administration hasn't erased all government policies aimed at raising employment.

job centres and so forth.

gastro george

That's a pretty low bar ...


British people have the smallest amount of housing space per person of any developed country and government policy is to reduce it still more. So I would say the aim of the Cabinet is to increase misery. Infact all their policies seem to have this characteristic.


Has nobody here heard of Atos then? Or the bedroom tax?

I would say that without a doubt,this government's whole raison d'etre is to maximize misery for those who were already pretty miserable in any case.

Luis Enrique

I should have distinguished between:

1. nasty things the current government is doing
2. what we traditionally think the role of government is

I meant to suggest that 2. already looks a lot like minimizing misery


Luis, that's why I'm interested in any conflicts between policies that maximise happiness and those that minimise misery. Would a government instigate a policy that reduces the happiness of the majority in order to reduce the misery of the minority? Or are they only interested in policies that also improve the happiness of the majority (for example, reducing poverty & unemployment also reduces rioting and crime which increase happiness for the majority).

Plus of course, there's the Tory belief that high unemployment in the North is a price worth paying for prosperity in the South.


Governmen, as an institution, only tries to reduce misery insofar as it is required to to minimise the risk of revolution and/or the overthrow of the current ruling class.

Sometimes they are even explicit about this.

Lets go back to ancient Rome. You had a ruling class which provided subsidized corn in order to pacify the masses.

The same is true of the western welfare states. Introduced during a crisis in capitalism and during a time of revolutions and great uncertainty we see governments trying to pacify the masses with welfare.

Few governments wish to be actively increase misery and few wish to be seen as increasing it, but they have little interest in reducing it further than necessary for stability.
The current technocratic managerial political philosophy does lend itself to providing excuses for increasing misery, as is being ably exploited by the current government (and was by the previous one).

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