Response to Layard

In: Uncategorized

13 Mar 2009

I have written the following letter to the Financial Times in response to yesterday’s particularly outrageous article by Richard Layard on happiness as a goal of public policy. There is much more I would have liked to have said but space is obviously limited in a letter to a newspaper:

“Sir, Richard Layard is entitled to his views on happiness but his claim to be writing in the tradition of the Anglo-Saxon Enlightenment is astounding (“Now is the time for a less selfish capitalism”, March 12).

“Wealth creation was, contrary to his claim, central to Enlightenment thinking. The idea that human appetites could drive the economic machine and lead to progress more generally was fundamental to Adam’s Smith’s view of the world. His famous example of the pin factory in the Wealth of Nations was all about how to raise productivity for the benefit of society.

“Layard also misrepresents the Enlightenment when he claims it was about the increase of happiness. Perhaps the most famous Enlightenment document, the 1776 American Declaration of Independence, called for “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. It posed the pursuit of happiness – rather than happiness – as a right rather than an obligation or goal. It also linked happiness to progress more generally with its commitment to life and liberty.”