Up & Coming Weekly

February 26, 2019

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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Page 8 of 32

8 UCW FEBRUARY 27-MARCH 5, 2019 WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM Can government make us happy? by JOHN HOOD OPINION Is it the job of government to make you happy? While it may seem like a straightforward question, there are some im- portant subtleties packed into those few words. On the face of it, "no" feels like the obvious answer. Our country's Declaration of Inde- pendence states that govern- ments are instituted to secure our rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." e first section of our own state constitution uses the same lan- guage, while adding that North Carolinians are also entitled to protection of their right "to enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor." Under our form of govern- ment, you are not entitled to be happy. Nor are you entitled to enjoy the rights of someone else's labor. You are free to yearn, to strive, to pursue. You may reach your goals and feel happy about that. Or, you may not fully reach your goals yet derive satisfaction from the attempt and from what you gain along the way. Governments are obligated, then, only to protect your right to pursue happiness. Simply being unhappy is not a justification for governments us- ing coercion to transfer the fruits of other people's labors to you. On the other hand, the tasks governments are constitutionally authorized to do for us — ensure public safety, administer courts and finance public goods that cannot otherwise be delivered by volun- tary means — are obviously related to our happi- ness. We pay taxes, comply with the law and other- wise give up some of our personal liberty in order to receive valuable public services. If we don't get them, or their value is far less than the cost, that understandably makes us unhappy. As government failures increase, that unhappiness turns to anger. Whether in Washington or in Raleigh, policy- makers typically judge public policies according to objective criteria such as the pace of economic growth, changes in personal incomes, levels of edu- cational attainment or health outcomes. Increas- ingly, however, some analysts are using measures of public happiness or satisfaction to evaluate what government does (or fails to do). e technical name for what they are measur- ing is "subjective wellbeing." People differ in their preferences, circumstances and definitions of a life well lived. e best way to gauge how happy or satisfied they feel is to ask them, not to make guesses based on facts external to their personal experience. When it comes to the optimal size and scope of government, progressives and conservatives clearly disagree. In the North Carolina context, for exam- ple, progressives think our state expenditures and taxes are too low to finance necessary public ser- vices. Conservatives think North Carolina is closer to getting it right and that making state government bigger than it is now would cost more than the ad- ditional services would be worth. I'm a conservative, and I often cite studies about economic growth to sup- port my case. But is that really the goal? One might argue that instead of mea- suring North Carolina's gross domestic product, we ought to be measur- ing North Carolina's gross domestic happiness. A few researchers have done that kind of analy- sis. For example, a study by Baylor University political scientist Patrick Flavin, just published in the journal Social Sci- ence Research, compared levels of state spending to levels of subjective wellbeing. He found no relationship between overall state spending and residents' self-report- ed happiness. He found the same thing for major categories of state spending such as education and public assistance. However, Flavin did find the states that spent more on true public goods — including highways, public safety, libraries and parks — tended to have higher levels of subjective wellbeing. With true public goods, it is either impossible or prohibitively costly to exclude nonpayers from benefiting from them, and consumption by one person doesn't significant- ly reduce the ability of another to consume it. Taken together with other studies showing a link between economic freedom and subjective wellbeing, I read this evidence as generally consis- tent with a fiscally conservative approach to public policy. Perhaps you disagree. I'm happy to talk more about it. JOHN HOOD, Chairman of the John Locke Foundation. COM- MENTS? Editor@upandcomin- gweekly.com. 910-484-6200. A study by Baylor University political scientist Patrick Flavin compared levels of state spending to levels of subjective wellbeing. He found no relationship between overall state spending and residents' self-reported happiness.

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