Government & Happiness

Are people happier when they are ruled by a smaller government? The blog, Big Government and Happiness, mentions that countries such as Japan, Spain, South Korea, Norway, and Finland have the lowest government spending, and gives reference to research that attempts to measure the correlation between this statistic and happiness. Firstly, I don’t know if scientific or accounting methods are capable of measuring a person’s happiness. Sure we can give point values to certain amenities and physical items, but is it possible to say that these things make people happy? Second, does government spending really contribute that much to a person’s outlook on life? If you take into consideration government religious policies, restricted freedoms, etc., along with government spending, I think that the argument can hold its ground. However, correlating happiness with spending alone does not hold much water in my opinion.


Dr. Tufte said...

This actually is a big area of research in a number of fields right now. Check out Will Wilkinson's Happiness and Public Policy.

I think it is a cop-out to claim that we can't measure happiness. I think we either measure it (badly) or start claiming that it just isn't important to us.

The evidence that smaller governments are associated with greater happiness is pretty solid. But people keep voting for bigger government. I can't say for sure, but my take, is that they like the services a big government can provide, but they don't like the centralizing and dehumanizing aspects of it.

Ella said...

This made me think of how many individuals prefer working for a smaller firm versus a larger corporation. In many industries workers report greater happiness when working for a smaller firm. Just as with government, when size increases individuals feel less valuable and less connected. Many people express this sentiment with their unwillingness to vote in elections.

Ole said...

As I read Ella's comment I thought that maybe that is why unions are more prevalent in big companies. Could it be that more people are unhappy in larger companies and that is why there are more unions in the larger companies? My second thought is, maybe those countries where there is less government are happier because they keep more of their hard earned money. Is this plausible? How does the level of riches compare per capita from the U.S. to that of the other countries mentioned? I wonder if the individual wealth of their citizens has anything to do with it.

Cole said...

I think that we can measure happiness. However, what measurement are we supposed to use? Can it be the same for everyone? I guess I am posing more questions than giving answers. Assuming that there is a certain "happiness measurement" we can all agree on, I think the research looks interesting. Maybe people keep voting for bigger government because they do not realize this correlation between government size and happiness.