I’m also planning to catch up with several years’ worth of Things I Really Should Have Read Earlier. The COVID-19 lockdown presents an opportunity to try to get through some it.
Earlier in 2014, the Legatum Institute published the final results of their Commission on Wellbeing and Policy. I don’t know much about this think tank – it seems to lean rightwards, claims to be non-partisan, and is probably funded with oil cash, but they put together an all-star cast to advise this report:
- Sir Gus O’Donnell (former head of the UK civil service)
- Prof Richard Layard (a leading author in the field, wrote the book on ‘Happiness‘)
- Prof Angus Deayton (economics prof at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Service at Princeton)
- Martine Durand (Head of Stats for the OECD)
- David Halpern (ex-academic, now running the quasi-governmental Behavioural Insights Team (their ownership structure is worth a blog of its own))
It is a superb piece of work. If you’re interested in the role of government, public services, evaluation, economics, life, the universe, or indeed anything, you should read it. Lots of golden nuggets and summaries of vast amounts of academic research. It should be shaping the way governments work, everywhere.
Its main conclusion is a call for the greater use of subjective wellbeing data in policy making. It argues that we need to stop using money as a proxy for wellbeing in basic cost-benefit analyses. The logical second conclusion of the report is that we need better data. It’s not impossible – wellbeing really can be measured. And we’re getting better and better at it. As we get better data, governments will be able to take far, far better policy decisions, which in turn should increase our wellbeing. It’s fairly intuitive, but could be revolutionary.
Selected quotes from a conversation between Don Tapscott (author of Wikinomics, prof. at Rotman) and Clay Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody, Cognitive Surplus) in Frog’s corporate magazine ‘Design Mind‘.
“The more appropriate metaphor for the growing loss of privacy today would be Frank Kafka’s The Trial, where the central character awaits trial and judgment from an inscrutable bureaucracy for a crime that he is not told about, using evidence that is never revealed to him, in a process that is equally random and inscrutable. Similarly, we could become the targets of social engineering, decisions and discrimination. And we will never really know what, or why…
Gerd Arntz: ‘The fact that the whole composition is a bit crooked, gives a ‘falling’ impression, is on purpose. The Third Reich wouldn’t last very long, I thought then.’
After far too long, I finally finished Howard Zinn’s epic A People’s History of the USA. It’s a unique historical effort, a story of poverty, unrest and injustice. Compared to something like ‘The Penguin History of the USA‘, this is a story not focused on powerful men, but on unions, indigenous peoples, blacks and women.
Amory Blaine on socialism (via F. Scott Fitzgerald)
“Oh, I’ll admit there’s money in it eventually. Talent doesn’t starve any more. Even art gets enough to eat these days.
Sherlock Holmes on the countryside versus the city
On ‘an ideal spring day,’ Watson and Holmes are on a train to Winchester. Watson admires the view. Holmes replies:
“Do you know, Watson,” said he, “that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there.”