Why it’s time for governments to take wellbeing seriously

100% happiness guaranteed
It’s not this easy…but it’s getting easier

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. Continue reading Why it’s time for governments to take wellbeing seriously

“The Prime Mini…

“The Prime Minister made much play last night with the rights of the individual and the dangers of people being ordered about by officials. I entirely agree that people should have the greatest freedom compatible with the freedom of others.

There was a time when employers were free to work little children for sixteen hours a day. I remember when employers were free to employ sweated women workers on finishing trousers at a penny halfpenny a pair.

There was a time when people were free to neglect sanitation so that thousands died of preventable diseases. For years every attempt to remedy these crying evils was blocked by the same plea of freedom for the individual. It was in fact freedom for the rich and slavery for the poor. Make no mistake, it has only been through the power of the State, given to it by Parliament, that the general public has been protected against the greed of ruthless profit-makers and property owners.

The Conservative Party remains as always a class Party. In twenty-three years in the House of Commons, I cannot recall more than half a dozen from the ranks of the wage earners. It represents today, as in the past, the forces of property and privilege.

Clement Attlee, May 1945. Or yesterday.

Tapscott vs Shirky (from Frog Design)

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‘.

Tapscott:

“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… Continue reading Tapscott vs Shirky (from Frog Design)

Howard Zinn: A People’s History of the USA

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. Continue reading Howard Zinn: A People’s History of the USA

Amory Blaine on socialism (via F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Amory Blaine on socialism (via F. Scott Fitzgerald)

On advertising:

“Oh, I’ll admit there’s money in it eventually. Talent doesn’t starve any more. Even art gets enough to eat these days. Continue reading Amory Blaine on socialism (via F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Sherlock Holmes on the countryside versus the city

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.” Continue reading Sherlock Holmes on the countryside versus the city