April 9, 2012
According to the United Nations' new "World Happiness Report," European socialism is the road to well-being, and it ought to be imposed on all mankind. The 150-page report uses that special brand of question-begging statistical analysis that leftists substitute for science to support its conclusion that -- surprise! -- the major obstacles to increased "Gross National Happiness" are social and environmental injustice. And of course, where there are obstacles, there must be a government steamroller to remove them.
The lead editor of the report is Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's "Earth Institute." Professor Sachs is a leading "sustainable development" advocate, a leading "anti-poverty" advocate, and a member of the Spanish Socialist Party's think-tank, Fundación IDEAS. We might conclude our assessment of the report's value, integrity, and scientific objectivity right there.
However, such dismissive revulsion on the part of conservatives is precisely the psychological mechanism that the left counts on. By refusing to tackle their societal manipulation head-on, we grant the socialists unchallenged access to the public square, particularly in the sphere of cultural presuppositions. Once these broad themes, disseminated as scientific knowledge through the mainstream and academic media, become accepted truisms, freedom's defenders are reduced to pleading helplessly with their neighbors to wake up and recognize what has happened to them.
The most extraordinary fact about this document, given its title, its conclusions, and the extreme assault on liberty that its authors are recommending, is that it never defines happiness. The statistics used to assess the happiness of various nations are derived from survey respondents' subjective evaluations of their level of "happiness," or "life-satisfaction," without reference to any explicit standard or stipulated definition of the study's key term.
Interestingly, the authors repeatedly cite Aristotle's name, and refer approvingly to his notion of happiness as "eudaimonia," which the report falsely translates as "excellence" (p. 20). Excellence of what? Conveniently, the authors never say. And this is no mere colossal oversight. The omission is necessary, for to define happiness in any concrete manner would either force them to reveal the moral and political bias of their study, or force them to concede that the entire basis of the study -- subjective self-evaluations without any theoretical context -- is bogus. (The careful avoidance of any definition of happiness that might be objectively observable is consistent with the U.N.'s replacement of the scientifically measurable "global warming" with the nebulous "climate change," which can literally be used to account for anything.)
Their only discernible reason for citing Aristotle's eudaimonism is to contrast the alleged ideas of "the sages" (the Buddha is also cited repeatedly) with modern hedonistic "materialism," which they equate with the view that wealth alone is the source of happiness. Has anyone ever really believed that money alone brings happiness? This popular caricature of the American ethic forms the premise of the report's straw-man argument against individual liberty, as it allows the authors to propose that, beyond moderate levels of material wealth and achievement, no further economic gains will enhance one's happiness. From this they derive their utilitarian conclusion that limitations on wealth-acquisition in the name of greater equality are conducive to overall happiness (p. 95-96).
Therefore, if the goal of good government is to promote societal happiness, maintaining a moderate level of material wealth for everyone is superior to allowing people to pursue "inequality" of outcomes. That equality of outcomes is the proper goal, and that governments have the moral authority to act on such a principle, is never questioned. In other words, the study begins with the presupposition that individual outcomes are irrelevant independently of the collective.