U.N. Report: Happiness Is...World Socialism

According to the United Nations' new "World Happiness Report," European socialism is the road to well-being, and it ought to be imposed on all mankind.  The 150-page report uses that special brand of question-begging statistical analysis that leftists substitute for science to support its conclusion that -- surprise! -- the major obstacles to increased "Gross National Happiness" are social and environmental injustice.  And of course, where there are obstacles, there must be a government steamroller to remove them.

The lead editor of the report is Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's "Earth Institute."  Professor Sachs is a leading "sustainable development" advocate, a leading "anti-poverty" advocate, and a member of the Spanish Socialist Party's think-tank, Fundación IDEAS.  We might conclude our assessment of the report's value, integrity, and scientific objectivity right there.

However, such dismissive revulsion on the part of conservatives is precisely the psychological mechanism that the left counts on.  By refusing to tackle their societal manipulation head-on, we grant the socialists unchallenged access to the public square, particularly in the sphere of cultural presuppositions.  Once these broad themes, disseminated as scientific knowledge through the mainstream and academic media, become accepted truisms, freedom's defenders are reduced to pleading helplessly with their neighbors to wake up and recognize what has happened to them. 

The most extraordinary fact about this document, given its title, its conclusions, and the extreme assault on liberty that its authors are recommending, is that it never defines happiness.  The statistics used to assess the happiness of various nations are derived from survey respondents' subjective evaluations of their level of "happiness," or "life-satisfaction," without reference to any explicit standard or stipulated definition of the study's key term.

Interestingly, the authors repeatedly cite Aristotle's name, and refer approvingly to his notion of happiness as "eudaimonia," which the report falsely translates as "excellence" (p. 20).  Excellence of what?  Conveniently, the authors never say.  And this is no mere colossal oversight.  The omission is necessary, for to define happiness in any concrete manner would either force them to reveal the moral and political bias of their study, or force them to concede that the entire basis of the study -- subjective self-evaluations without any theoretical context -- is bogus.  (The careful avoidance of any definition of happiness that might be objectively observable is consistent with the U.N.'s replacement of the scientifically measurable "global warming" with the nebulous "climate change," which can literally be used to account for anything.)

Their only discernible reason for citing Aristotle's eudaimonism is to contrast the alleged ideas of "the sages" (the Buddha is also cited repeatedly) with modern hedonistic "materialism," which they equate with the view that wealth alone is the source of happiness.  Has anyone ever really believed that money alone brings happiness?  This popular caricature of the American ethic forms the premise of the report's straw-man argument against individual liberty, as it allows the authors to propose that, beyond moderate levels of material wealth and achievement, no further economic gains will enhance one's happiness.  From this they derive their utilitarian conclusion that limitations on wealth-acquisition in the name of greater equality are conducive to overall happiness (p. 95-96).

Therefore, if the goal of good government is to promote societal happiness, maintaining a moderate level of material wealth for everyone is superior to allowing people to pursue "inequality" of outcomes.  That equality of outcomes is the proper goal, and that governments have the moral authority to act on such a principle, is never questioned.  In other words, the study begins with the presupposition that individual outcomes are irrelevant independently of the collective.

Aside from the fatally absurd avoidance of any definition of happiness, the study complements its dizzying array of survey results with a pile of convenient assertions for which no evidence is provided.  Example:

Empirical work on the effects of inequality on life satisfaction has yielded very mixed results.  Many studies have failed to find any effect.  The most positive results are in an interesting time-series study using both the U.S.  General Social Survey and Eurobarometer.  This finds that in both the U.S.  and Europe increases in inequality have (other things equal) produced reductions in happiness.  The effect has been stronger in Europe than in the U.S.  This difference probably reflects ideological differences: some 70% of Americans believe that the poor have a chance of escaping poverty, compared with only 40% of Europeans.

Interestingly, the actual facts are actually the other way round: there is more intergenerational social mobility in Europe than the U.S.  And there is more mobility where there is greater income equality.  But attitudes have an effect on perceptions and thus on happiness.  (p. 71)

To paraphrase: we had to search pretty hard to find a study that actually supports our desired result, namely that income inequality is related to a reduction in societal happiness.  As for why even that one study shows that Europeans are more bothered by inequality than Americans, let's chalk it up to the fact that Americans are ideologically stuck on their foolish fantasies of an American Dream of social mobility, although in fact European socialist nations show the greatest levels of social mobility.

Needless to say, no explanation is offered of what "social mobility" would mean in the context of an egalitarian economy, nor how this might be essentially different from true social mobility achieved in a free society.

Notice that this relationship between inequality and unhappiness, which the report obliquely admits is substantiated by little research, forms the report's main argument for socialism -- along with the need for extreme levels of "cooperative" activity to combat climate change.

And this is where we can see most clearly the advantage of conducting a study on happiness which never defines happiness, but rather relies on subjective reports of contentment.  The greater degree of self-described contentment among the most established socialist societies would be the expected result of generations of nanny-state control.  Citizens, no longer able even to conceive of what they have lost (and to be unhappy about it), and beaten into submission and self-abasement by a lifetime of collectivist morality and superficial material "security," believe they deserve, and can hope for, nothing more.  This state of emotionally sated acquiescence to authority, offered in exchange for perpetual childlike "safety," counts for happiness at the U.N.

At its most disturbing core, the report begins with the unstated "happy pill" premise that living purposefully, making good choices, and enjoying the pride of accomplishment are irrelevant to happiness.  Happiness means having no complaints, feeling no unfulfilled aspirations, and being content in one's mediocrity.  Happiness means being a well-adjusted cog in the socialist machine.

But the report goes farther than merely recommending socialism.  Once one grants that collective "life satisfaction" is a proper government objective, the whole issue of the consent of the governed can be jettisoned.

At present many countries use a traditional form of cost-effectiveness analysis, in which benefits are measured in money units on the basis of what citizens would be willing to pay for those benefits.  This works quite well when the primary benefits are indeed financial or can be readily transferred into monetary equivalents.  This is often true for policies on industry, transport, education and employment.  However ... [t]he bulk of public expenditure is on health, social care, law and order, the environment, child welfare, and income support.  In none of these cases does willingness to pay provide adequate guidance to the benefits that arise.  Happiness would be an excellent added criterion for evaluating these expenditures.  (p. 95, emphasis added)

In other words, when it comes to nanny-state beneficence, which the report unquestioningly asserts will constitute the bulk of government "expenditures," citizens' "willingness to pay" should not be a primary consideration.  Government knows best, and citizens can and should be forced to pay for these happiness-inducing programs against their will.  This proposal, offered in the name of the general well-being, is nothing less than naked tyranny.

On the rare occasions when the report mentions "freedom," it is clear that this freedom has no relation to the protection of property rights, or the need for a government that responds to the will of the people.  In fact, in the case of freedom, an implicit definition is provided: "No people can be truly happy if they do not feel that they are choosing the course of their own life" (p. 70).

Read that last sentence again.  It says that the "freedom" required for happiness is merely the feeling that one is choosing one's own path -- not an objective reality of self-determination and voluntary action, but only the subjective sense that one is free.  This is the ultimate reversal of all previous notions of practical liberty.  It is Tocqueville soft despotism offered as a positive political proposal.  Welcome to the brave new world.

As for this report's favorite philosopher, Aristotle, the word eudaimonia literally means "well-blessed."  A happy life, for the Greeks, meant a life smiled upon by the gods.  Needless to say, the gods are not the concern of this U.N. report, which explicitly seeks to downplay and trivialize any relation between religion and happiness (p. 71-72).

And what, according to history's greatest thinker on the subject of happiness, constitutes a "well-blessed" life?  Unlike the U.N. report which abuses his name, Aristotle gives a clear and detailed explanation.  Happiness means activity in accordance with moral and intellectual virtue.  The "crown" of the moral virtues, as Aristotle describes it, is "greatness of soul," the pride of the great man who refuses to bow before kings, and who eschews "slavish" behavior.  And the height of intellectual virtue is theoretical reason, the pursuit of ultimate truth through the application of logic and rational intuition. 

The World Happiness Report, while throwing Aristotle's name around a lot, actually seeks to destroy forever the Philosopher's two great keys to happiness: pride in the face of authority, and rational thought about the nature of God and man.  Whatever kind of "happiness" Professor Sachs' plans may result in, it surely will not be the happiness of Aristotle.  Nor will it be that which the American founders made central to a constitutional republic.  The founders understood where government-promoted happiness would lead.  That is why they explicitly limited government's role to that of ensuring freedom to pursue happiness.

Reject this report as flighty nonsense from some nutty bureaucrat's office at your peril.  The U.N. chooses its propaganda carefully.  Notice that its two main "humanitarian" projects of the past thirty years -- anti-poverty and global climate change -- are presented as admitting of no solutions that are not based on transnational "equality" and "cooperation."  This new project, worldwide happiness, explicitly subsumes the other two goals under an even broader, vaguer, and cheerier rubric.  The World Happiness Report will go down as a watershed moment in the push for global governance.  "Gross National Happiness" will henceforth be promoted as the new, overarching goal of all government.  And since GNH can best be promoted through equal (and moderate) material possessions, and the salvation of the Earth, this great goal requires every nation's submission to the project. 

The U.N. already hosts regular international conferences on happiness.  Within the next year or two, you will undoubtedly hear of a meeting at which the governments of the world have agreed in principle to meet specific life satisfaction targets within ten years. 

The World Happiness Report, cheerfully adorned with multicultural smiles, has one clear recommendation for America: accept your fundamental transformation, or else.