Is Happiness? Intro Utilitarianism in simplest terms, describes

Is the Goal of the State to
Maximise Happiness?

 

Intro

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Utilitarianism in simplest terms,
describes morality, It is a theory within ethics that questions whether a
specific action is good or bad. Utilitarianism evaluates
actions based on  their consequences. The principle of utilitarianism is characterised
in the phrase ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number.’ This belief was
introduced by Jeremy Bentham(1748-1832). John Stuart Mill(1806-1873) who amplified
the theory in the nineteenth century, believes Happiness is not constant, “but moments of such, in an
existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with
a decided predominance of the active over the passive, and having as the
foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life that it is capable of
bestowing.” Mill also believed
many people misunderstood utilitarianism, he believes utility is pleasure in
itself, and the absence of pain, often referring to utility as “the Greatest
Happiness Principle.”

 

In 2006, leader of the Conservatives, David Cameron, made a famous
speech on the general well being of the UK. David Cameron promised a new age of
government, he claimed that the governments purpose was not only to promote
economic growth but to also promote happiness for individuals, “It’s time we
admitted there’s more to life than money and it’s time we focused not only on
GDP but on General Well Being.” This raises the question, is it the goal of the
state to maximise happiness?

 

Measuring happiness

Measuring happiness is extremely diffucult as happiness is
subjective and people often have different means of happiness. Despite this,
the World Happiness Report, released by the United Nations, attemts to measure
the happiness as accurately as it can, of citizens in states and ranks them. There
are 6 variables that are considered when assessing the levels of happiness in
the report; GDP per capita, freedom to make life choices, social support, life
expectancies, perceptions of corruption and genorosity levels. Another measure
of happiness would be the OECD ‘Better Life Index’ which measures happiness of
the 35 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD) these countries include; 22 EU member states, including the UK, Germany,
France and Italy. Outside of the EU, Japan, Canada, Austrailia and the US are
also included in the OECD Better Life Index. The Better Life Index presents date
gathered from 50 indicators including; housing, education, income, health and
work-life balance.

 

Economy and foreign affairs

The US decleration of Independence
and the UK Beveridge report, published in 1982, laid the foundation for
Britain’s welfare state, referred to ‘the happiness of the common man’ as the
basic objective (Beveridge, 1942, 171). Despite major states such as the US and
UK having objectives of ensuring happiness of all citizens, this may not necesserily
be a primary, or even secondary goal for states, as focus tends to be on other
sectors. Nearly every states primary
focus would be the economy, most policies are made to achieve macroeconomic
objectives. An example of this would be the UK’s approach to reduce
unemployment, which peaked in 2011 at 8.5%, the unemployment rate has now
fallen to 4.3%. Although some may think this has lead to greater levels of
happiness, this is definitely not the case. The quality of jobs have been diminishing
and the levels of zero hour contracts are at their peak. Although employment
rates have risen, the satisfaction of the jobs are most likely not increasing.

There have been many more economic policies impliemented that may have had an
affect on happiness. One recent example of this would be the reforms to the UK
child tax credit, , George Osbourne announced that families will no longer be
able to receive financial benefit for more than two children, anyone who has a
third child after April 2017 will not get any money to account for the extra
child. This may cause certain households to struggle economically and have an
affect on the genral levels happiness. Most decisions made by the state are
made to improve government revenue and macroeconomic performance rather than providing
utility to its citizens.

 

Libertarianism

Libertarianism is an extreme
laissez-faire political philosophy suggest peace, social harmony and prosperity
is achieved by “as much liberty as possible” and as “little government as
necessery.” The concept of libertarianism suggests the role of the government
should be minimal, in terms of economic and legal intervention, in order to
preserve the liberties for an individual. Though there is no direct correlation
between libertarianism and utilitarianism, utililitarians may be libertarians,
this depends on whether libertarianism maximises happiness for a large number
of people in a state. Therefore, the best way of achieveing happiness would be
to minimise state intervention completely. As stated above, there are many
variables that contribute to levels of happiness and libertarianism may only
satisfy a select few.

 

Role of government

Political utilitarianism argues
that it is the sole goal of state to maximise happiness. If the government were attempt to improve the
levels of happiness in a country there would need an information base, it needs
to measure with great accuracy how happy citizens of the state are. Once the cause
of happiness is broken into subcategories, the government can now begin to consider
policies that will improve certain sectors that increase happiness. Democratic
decisions and the political leaning of the state have a huge impact on
happiness of citizens. Success in sustaining peace, the rule of law, and an effective
democracy matter significantly. There is very strong correlation between how
democratic a state is and how it has an affect on overall happiness. The 10
happiest countries in the World Happiness report, all have a Polity IV score of
10, making them full democracies. On the other end of the spectrum, countries
towards the bottom of the rankings have autocracies or innefective governments,
examples being Zimbabwe and Syria. Being in a democratic country however, does not
make everyone happy alone. The government could also target individuals with
certain policies too. These can be more specific to individuals, examples being
policy reforms to healthcare, schooling, employment and the economy. According to
Professor Sir Angus Deaton, a
British economist and professor, something that is good on average, may not be good
for individuals. For example, if the government conducts a nationwide survey on
happiness, and finds that people without kids are happier than those with kids,
does that entitle the government to prevent people from having kids? Every
household is different, finding policies that will increase the happiness for
all citizens will be extremely difficult.

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

Governments need to gather this data and take it serious , also
making the information available to the public. I don’t think you should
replace everything a government does by targetting happiness but it should
definitely be considered.