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The war against unhappiness

By Thomas E. Brewton
web posted November 19, 2007

In an extraordinary opinion piece in the November 13 New York Times, editorial board member Eduardo Porter endeavors to make a case for socialism's Holy Grail: forced equality of income and government-regulated consumption as the road to happiness.

He writes:

The framers of the Declaration of Independence evidently believed that happiness could be achieved, putting its pursuit up there alongside the unalienable rights to life and liberty...for all the public policies aimed at increasing economic growth, people have been left to sort out their happiness.  This is an unfortunate omission...

The key to understanding Mr. Porter's concept is the underlying psychological principle of liberal-progressive-socialist theory, beginning with the Epicureans of ancient Greece, revived in the 17th century by Thomas Hobbes, and made a cornerstone of socialism by Karl Marx.  That psychological principle is the idea that human beings are merely mechanisms that react to external, material factors inducing pain or pleasure.

That calculus has no room for moral principles of right and wrong.  Instead it accepts the Darwinian vision of the world as confined to the earthly realm, a vision of life as simply an evolutionary struggle for survival, with no intrinsic meaning.  What's good is no more than what satisfies one's immediate sensual urges for water, food, shelter, and sex.

The idea of inner peace that passes all understanding, through reconciliation of each individual's heart and soul with God, is dismissed as pre-scientific ignorance. 

Thinking solely in secular and materialistic terms, Mr. Porter writes:

The era of laissez-faire happiness might be coming to an end. Some prominent economists and psychologists are looking into ways to measure happiness to draw it into the public policy realm. Thirty years from now, reducing unhappiness could become another target of policy, like cutting poverty... Alan Krueger, a professor of economics at Princeton ... is working to develop a measure of happiness that could be used with other economic indicators. “Just like G.D.P.”...

Happiness is clearly real, related to objective measures of well-being...

Happiness seems fairly cheap to manipulate...

And how is government to manipulate this socialistic vision of happiness?

Nonmonetary rewards — like more vacations, or more time with friends or family — are likely to produce more lasting changes in satisfaction.

This swings the door wide open for government intervention. On a small scale, congestion taxes to encourage people to carpool would reduce the distress of the solo morning commute, which apparently drives people nuts.

More broadly, if the object of public policy is to maximize society’s well-being, more attention should be placed on fostering social interactions and less on accumulating wealth. If growing incomes are not increasing happiness, perhaps we should tax incomes more to force us to devote less time and energy to the endeavor and focus instead on the more satisfying pursuit of leisure.

In other words, happiness is higher taxes, redistributed via welfare-state handouts, along with regulation of everyone's behavior by people like Al Gore.

Times editorialists, before taking the leap, ought to reflect upon experience under the similarly motivated War on Poverty in President Johnson's Great Society. 

The public opinion impetus for the War on Poverty was the 1962 The Other America: Poverty in the United States, by Michael Harrington, chairman of the American Socialist Party.

Setting the pattern for Mr. Porter's War Against Unhappiness, Mr. Harrington wrote:

In order to [eliminate poverty], there is a need for planning.…What is needed is that the society make use of its knowledge in a rational and systematic way.

Of course, states and cities are incapable of doing this; …only the Federal Government has the power to abolish poverty.…as a place for coordination, for planning, and the establishment of national standards.

Far from elimination of poverty, what in fact we got was stagflation - the worst inflation in the history of the United States coupled with large scale unemployment.  Illegitimate births soared to the highest levels ever experienced by any society in history, violent crime rates more than tripled between 1964 and 1980, drug abuse became a national problem, and public education disintegrated.

And, if we are to believe the Times editorialists' continual harping on income inequality, poverty is still with us.

In unvarnished terms, the Times's version of government mandated happiness is tyranny.  To experience it vicariously, read George Orwell's description of life under Big Brother in his novel 1984. ESR

Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. His weblog is The View From 1776. Email comments to viewfrom1776@thomasbrewton.com.


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