Good Enough for Government Work? Life-Evaluation and Public Policy

30 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2019 Last revised: 23 Apr 2020

See all articles by Noel Semple

Noel Semple

University of Windsor - Faculty of Law

Date Written: May 31, 2019


A life-evaluation question asks a person to quantify his or her overall satisfaction with life, at the time when the question is asked. If the goal of public policy is to make individuals’ lives better, does it follow that maximizing aggregate life-evaluations constitutes policy success? This paper argues that life-evaluation data provides a solid basis for welfare-consequentialist policy-making. This is illustrated by the successful argument for expanding state-funded mental health services in the United Kingdom.

However, life-evaluations do not always provide a complete account of individual welfare. Policy-makers therefore must sometimes inquire into the extent to which individuals’ preferences would be fulfilled, if different policies were to be adopted. This article proposes synthesizing life-evaluationist and preferentist data about individual welfare, as a basis for rational policy-making.

Keywords: happiness; welfare; public policy; preferences; life-evaluation; mental health

Suggested Citation

Semple, Noel, Good Enough for Government Work? Life-Evaluation and Public Policy (May 31, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Noel Semple (Contact Author)

University of Windsor - Faculty of Law ( email )

401 Sunset Ave.
Windsor, Ontario N9B 3P4

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