Sunday, January 10, 2010

“Gross National Happiness” - Revisited

“Gross National Happiness” - Revisited

I have been reading for the second time “Gross National Happiness” by Arthur C. Brooks. I first read it before anybody heard of Obama and wealth redistribution was just a glimmer in Hillary’s eye. The first time I read it, I ended up skimming thru it. Arthur Brooks filled the book with scores of ideas all based on a myriad of surveys; and unless truly motivated (which I wasn’t) seemed like overkill.

This time however after the election and the advent of projected exponential expansion of government and deficits, the facts and ideas of Mr. Brooks started to make sense.

Keep in mind as you read this also that the loss of individual freedom we are facing will lower our constitutional right to pursue our happiness. As the title suggests, the book is all about that constitutional right; “the Pursuit of Happiness”. While everybody seems to know what makes them happy, Mr. Brooks seems to have gathered all the source material on happiness ever published and studied them. The conclusions he draws are all based upon looking at public policy through the lens of making people happy. He came up with the term “Gross National Happiness” as a way to measure our happiness. Much as we use Gross National Product to measure money.

The first part of the book deals with defining happiness and he does that by looking at the results of a lot of various surveys and tests performed over the years and then he goes further by trying to find what groups of people seem happier and why.
What I really found interesting along with the author were some of the conclusions which seemed counter intuitive.

One overriding phrase I picked up on in regards to Wealth Redistribution was; “association-causation fallacy”. What this meant was that something associated with something may not be the cause. Take the example he uses. Height of children is associated with intelligence in developing countries. The height however is not the cause of intelligence it is merely the result of better nutrition; it is the nutrition which causes both increased height and intelligence.

He applies that “association-causation Fallacy” idea to happiness not being increased by not working or the amount of money you get.

Brook’s book is replete with this kind of myth breaking research. All is footnoted and sources are listed in the back. Also he honestly seems to not twist the facts to his benefit. He continually gives both sides and when possible corrects the survey results for age, wealth, and all the other possible variables. He seems obsessed with the idea of comparing apples to apples. I might add it is refreshing to see that, as compared to the slanted stuff from both sides I see every day that is supposed to pass as unbiased facts.

The book also exposes the myth that work is unpleasant vs. no work. Study after study show how work is a necessary aspect of our lives, without which we cannot be happy. I truly enjoy how he takes that apart and tries to get at the “cause” again, and not the simple association fallacy.

What I’m carrying away from the second reading is the importance to happiness of personal freedom. This Freedom is seen not so much in what we do, but as to whether we chose to do it ourselves or are told to do it. Brooks states facts and figures to prove out the idea that when people stop what he calls, “creating value” they become less happy and start to become miserable. This leads to the idea that the Nanny state takes the creative control out of the people’s hands, while providing for their sustenance actually makes the people depressed. Dave Ramsey the radio financial guru who is “Hell on Credit Cards” has a saying. “The borrower is slave to the lender”. I think Arthur and Dave are on the same page as far as the idea that what you lose by accepting someone else’s help can be more costly than doing it yourself.

Mr. Brooks is decidedly not against government or people helping people. He just seems to show that less government and people willingly helping people and themselves is more conducive to happiness than bigger government helping people.

He explains things like “Income Mobility”. He states that the amount of “Income Mobility” is the prime indicator to measure the happiness of people or a society. The idea that a person can start out at the bottom and work to get to the top is an empowering and motivating force that gives people happiness.

I know I’m rambling but the book is that good and deserves a thoughtful read.
His other book, “Who Really Cares” is also well worth a read.

My best compliment would be to say that I look at Capitalism and Wealth Redistribution in a basically different way after reading Arthur C. Brooks’ book. “Gross National Happiness”. In fact the more I think about it, I will look at other things with a different perspective after reading his book.

It is my assumption that this books helps prove that we as conservatives have a basis in law to repeal the Nanny State regulations legislated upon us. All law must have their basis in the Constitution, and while Mr. Brooks doesn’t make that connection directly, he leads us toward that seemingly obvious conclusion. This book is also chuck full of useful anecdotes to help make our case against this “Nanny State” takeover of our Freedoms. This book will help me talk Conservateeze better to my friends and neighbors.

Regards, Live Dangerously Be A Conservative

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