I finally got something positive about the project to measure wellbeing. Much of this has so far rather left me cold. Clearly, there is more to life than the economy, and equally there are many measures of such things as life expectancy, quality of life, educational outcomes and so forth.
And some of the happiness gurus I find distinctly scary.When they tell me they know what makes me happy, I turn up my copy of 1984 (well worn it is too). When they say that all we need to know is a left hand variable (happiness) and the right hand variables which determine it (how often you go to the pub) I want to get away from regression analysis and reach for a gun so that I can shoot before I am shot as an undesirable who doesn’t know what is good for her.
But actually there is something in this. The something is the word ‘subjective’. A lot of subjective feelings are of course ephemeral, emotional and variable with the weather. But some of the ‘subjective’ analysis – how do you generally feel about life – has the capacity to enhance some of our objective analysis.We know that unemployment is a loss of output. We can measure the association with health problems. An association with views on life and its value adds a dimension to this understanding.
But I have not abandoned scepticism. First, I want to know how plausible I might find an allocation of public spending based on such judgements rather than the more normal ones. Moreover, if I discovered that unemployment was a greater scourge than previously thought, does this mean that we should pay people to continue to do jobs for which there is no economic justification?