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Putting happiness before growth

05 Nov 2011 | The Times

The letter below was published in The Times on Saturday 5th November 2011. The original letter can be read here (note: this requires subscription to the Times).

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Dear Sir

People are right to be indignant about the malfunctionings of our economic system. But this only helps if linked to some clear principle to guide our priorities. Action for Happiness believes the aim should be a society in which there is the most happiness and above all the least misery. Given this, the evidence points to two key conclusions for our economy.

First, the top priority should be economic stability and full employment which are crucial to happiness rather than long-term economic growth, which has a much more limited effect. In our present situation full employment does of course require short-term economic growth but this is better called "economic recovery" in order to distinguish it from higher long-term growth, which is of limited value. Our economy was landed in its present mess because it was claimed that deregulation of banks would produce higher long-term growth. That was not only a factual error but an argument based on the wrong priorities. We must not repeat the mistake.

Moreover, at the individual level, extra income beyond a certain level brings no more happiness. Our society could be much happier without the present extremes of income, high or low. Our patterns of pay and skill formation should reflect this basic truth.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Lord Richard Layard
Dr Anthony Seldon
Dr Mark Williamson

Action for Happiness

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