Layard and Happiness
By Arnold Kling
Richard Layard, the king of “happiness research” is back, and I am not happy. He writes,
Divorce and broken homes are ever more common. Research shows that the children of broken homes are more prone to depression in adulthood. To protect children, the state should act to try to make family life more manageable, through better school hours, flexible hours at work, means-tested childcare, and maternity and paternity leave. Parenting classes should also be compulsory in the school curriculum and an automatic part of antenatal care.
As far as I know, there is no evidence whatsoever that any of the solutions proposed–flexible work hours, compulsory parenting classes, etc.–have been shown to have an effect on the problem–divorce and broken homes. But I do not think this really matters to Layard. His happiness depends on imposing his policies on everyone else.
In his essay (you should read the whole thing), Layard claims that his core value is Benthamite utilitarianism. To me, his core value looks like elitist paternalism.
It seems to me that if Layard really has made important discoveries in his happiness research, then what he should write is a self-help book, not a policy polemic. Give people the information about how to be happy, and let them adopt the advice for themselves.
Another UPDATE: See Tyler Cowen’s current thinking.
For Discussion. Why would Layard object to a policy of simply giving people better information about the causes of happiness?