The Problems with Measuring and Using Happiness for Policy Purposes
25 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2018
Date Written: 12/02/2014
Many governments around the world are considering measures of happiness or subjective well-being as alternatives to gross domestic product (GDP) for the purpose of guiding economic policymaking. Compared to GDP, happiness measures promise to better capture the quality of life of a nation's citizens and lead to policies that are more effective and equitable. However, there are a number of problems with the concept of happiness that policymakers should be aware of before adopting it as a policy tool. In this paper, I focus on three interrelated aspects of happiness?definition, measurement, and policy implementation?and explain why each renders happiness a poor guide for policy. In general, happiness is a vague, multifaceted, and subjective phenomenon that is difficult to define precisely enough for measurement, hard to measure in a way that allows meaningful comparison between individuals and groups, and fraught with ethical complexities that complicate policy implementation.
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