Posted by Christie Malry on November 16, 2010 at 9:28 am
Imagine that you're a poor peasant living in a village with other poor peasants. You work your fingers to the bone just to survive, yet just when your harvest is ready bandits descend from the mountains and steal a large amount of what you've produced, leaving you with barely enough to live on.
You consult with the other villagers and decide that you must pool some of your resources to help improve your village's security. You hire your own private army to fight the bandits.
Such stories are how great films are made. It's also conceivable that this line of argument was used to justify bits of our current state. Because there are some situations where it is more efficient to pool resources, yet you're worried about freeloaders, it can make sense to force everyone to contribute into the pot from which services are bought.
However, now imagine a system in which the central pot consumes 40% or more of the village's resources. The state has become every bit as bad as the bandits. Except, at least with the bandits there was the chance they might not attack your village that year; the state clobbers you for 40% this year and every year. Where are seven more samurai that can save you from the state's banditry?
In this context, I find it mildly amusing to read that David Cameron is to place 'happiness' at the heart of judging whether government is doing a good job. Because he seems compelled to completely and utterly miss the point. Taking someone else's money and giving it to me might make me happy for a bit. But it also undermines my self-esteem, and might even make me worse off if I come to rely on an income stream that could be reduced or withdrawn tomorrow.
Even worse, it probably measures only one side of the equation. While I might be happier, how much unhappier is a country in which your earned income is taken away and given to somebody who definitely didn't earn it, probably didn't deserve it, and is very likely to waste some of it on frivolous purchases? Government is unlikely to be able to measure all this properly, and will therefore seriously underestimate the happiness-sapping impact of its own existence.
A government that can't recognise that it itself is a significant cause of unhappiness in this country is one that will allow itself to grow to unsustainable proportions. It's inconceivable that government could even contemplate mapping a course to reduce its size by half. And that makes me very unhappy. David Cameron, take note.