Here’s an interesting development, from Venezuela. Last week President Nicolas Maduro, who is following on the footsteps of Hugo Chavez, presented a new government department, the Deputy Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness.

Actually, this new government unit appears to be less grandiosely arrogant than its name may suggest:

The Deputy Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness is tasked with assisting children and handling the concerns of elderly men and women. The “missions,” initiated in 2003 under Chavez, are individualized programs which offer free health care to the poorest citizens, access to education assistance, and help to the elderly and disabled.

Access to health care and education can certainly be a component of individual happiness, and the lack of them goes together with the lack of the preconditions of happiness. However, what I am most intrigued by is not really the substantive “happiness”, but the adjective “social” and “supreme”. The latter one seems to me to indicate that social happiness cannot really be, for President Maduro, the mere sum of individual happinesses. Talking of “supreme” social happiness clearly indicates that there are “lower” kinds of social happiness, that ought to be superseded by a higher form of social happiness, according to some carefully implemented government plans. Of course, from the point of view of the government this means that if it does not really succeed in making you, individually, happier, that doesn’t quite matter. Its success should not be measured on individual happiness, but on “supreme social happiness” as defined by government itself.