Monday, February 06, 2006

Beware the benevolent state

Thanks to Will Wilkinson of the Cato Institute for this review of Happiness Is ... Higher Taxes; Is one man’s productivity another man’s pollution?

It's not a book I wanted to read and now I don't need to.

Richard Layard, a member of the House of Lords, is the author. Here are some excerpts from the review;

The political moral of Layard’s story is that we are duty-bound to contrive a more Swedish America (and Britain), a point the prescient Labour Party economist was pressing years before he chanced upon the exciting “new science” of happiness....

Layard is no isolated crackpot. Like public health activists of the mind, a new wave of paternalists, including a spate of prominent psychologists and economists, draw on the latest research on happiness to argue that the state must “encourage” us to buy smaller houses, travel by train, and get out of the office—for our own good........

Because your gain in position and happiness must be someone else’s loss, Layard lumps upward income mobility together with classic “negative externalities” such as toxic sludge dumped in a stream or the roar of jets taking off from a nearby airport. Economic success is, by Layard’s reckoning, “pollution.” The solution to pollution? In a nutshell: Tax everybody until they spend less time at work and more time on vacation.......

Far more troubling than Layard’s specific bad arguments for astronomical tax rates is the very idea of his book: that the job of the state is to discover what will make us happy and then make sure we do it.

We have any number of "crackpots" in this country who would heartily endorse this prescription for society.

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