Friday, January 11, 2008

France, Happiness, and Socialism

What price happiness? French President Nicolas Sarkozy is seeking an answer to the eternal question — so that happiness can be included in measurements of French economic growth.
That's the lede of an AP story, "French Use Happiness As Economic Measure" (January 10, 2008). The story continues:
Sarkozy said he asked U.S. economist Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel economics prize and a critic of free market economists, and Armatya Sen of India, who won the 1998 Nobel prize for work on developing countries, to lead the analysis in France....

Richard Layard, a professor at the London School of Economics and author of the 2005 book "Happiness: Lessons from a New Science," said Sarkozy may be seeking recognition for policies, popular in Europe, that promote well-being but don't show up in the GDP statistics....

Jean-Philippe Cotis, the former OECD chief economist who took over as head of France's statistics office Insee two months ago, said Wednesday that a measure of happiness would complement GDP by taking into account factors such as leisure time — something France has a lot of.

France's unemployment rate is stubbornly high, and when French people do work they spend less time on the job — 35.9 hours per week compared with the EU average of 37.4.
In other words, if you don't have the political clout (or stomach) to repeal France's state-imposed limit on the length of the workweek (35 hours), then you justify it by "proving" that it makes the French happier. (Pourquoi pas?)

And who better to do the job than Stiglitz and Sen, socialists both? Layard's endorsement of the effort is a dead giveaway, for Layard is a leading proponent of the politics of envy and leveling.