Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!

[Reihan] Can the state manage our way to happiness? This is not as silly a question as it sounds. After discovering the limits of statism in the waning days of the Cold War, we in the West have discovered that the "social desert" Danny Kruger describes in On Fraternity is no utopia. And so a number of sophisticated thinkers have concluded that "governments should shift their priorities from wealth-creation to happiness-creation," an idea my friend Will Wilkinson forcefully rejects in the latest Cato Unbound.

My suspicion is that efforts to achieve "effective, ongoing rational management using the latest scientific knowledge" will only increase as postindustrial societies grow more prosperous. Why? Well, a lot of it has to do with the peculiar nature of politics in what Brink Lindsey calls an age of abundance: the most pressing conflicts shift from the distribution of wealth to more vexing questions of respect and recognition. And those left behind by the rising tide of wealth-creation will pose a stark moral challenge. A more pronounced paternalism, a scientific politics of happiness aimed at people living on the margins of society (and thus in no position to fight back against these intrusions), is a likely response. Of course, greater wealth will mean that we as a society can "afford" to engage in these social policy misadventures. That is part of what Tyler Cowen brilliantly described as "the paradox of libertarianism."

But what will this kind of "compassion" do for the dignity and self-respect of the poor? I'd take a wage subsidy over "effective, ongoing rational management" any day of the week, and I think Will would agree.