fresh voices from the front lines of change







Interview with Patrick Flavin, principal author of the study "Assessing the Impact of the Size and Scope of Government on Human Well-Being," conducted by host of "The Zero Hour" Richard Eskow

Forget about feeling “like a room without a roof,” or whatever that “happy” song says. If you want to know “what happiness is to you,” try living in a social democracy.

A recent study confirms something leftists have suspected for a long time: People are happier in countries with larger governments, a more generous “welfare state” and more government intervention in the economy. Policies that depend on the so-called “free market,” on the other hand, decrease personal satisfaction.

This is not a matter of opinion, according to the data, but of fact.

More Than Being Married

We interviewed political scientist Patrick Flavin of Baylor University, lead author of the study (see clip above), who said:

“We were basically looking to measure both how involved the government is in regulating or intervening in the economy. There’s no agreed-upon way to do that … so we used four different measures (and) as researchers like, all four showed the same result: Governments with more intervention in the economy or a larger size of government had happier citizens.”

The paper is entitled “Assessing the Impact of the Size and Scope of Government on Human Well-Being,” and it begins by asking a simple yet compelling question: “Does more government enhance human happiness?” The authors say “we found what we believe to be conclusive evidence that indeed it does.“

Flavin and his co-authors make clear that they are not engaging in an ideological debate. Instead they examined global survey data involving 50,000 people in 21 countries, conducted over a period of years, to determine which form of government leads to greater individual happiness and life satisfaction.

The finding? “Leftist” policies make people happier.

What’s more, the correlation between left-leaning government and individual life satisfaction is strong. Being married and having a job are two factors that strongly influence personal happiness, as researchers know from previous studies. And yet, as Flavin told us, “The effects of living in a country where the government intervenes in the economy is larger than both those effects.”

That's a striking finding. As Flavin explains in the interview, it also helps confirm the study’s conclusions.

Size Matters

But what, exactly, is “big government”? In the interview, Flavin reviewed the four measures used in the study:

The first was the size of government as a percentage of GDP. The second was the relative size of social welfare expenditures – with higher expenditures signifying a “larger government.” The third was the “generosity of the welfare state” in terms of benefits, and the fourth was government intervention in the labor market economy.

Each of these measurements represent policies that the American right and the Republican Party adamantly oppose, and which "centrist" Democrats have also been known to resist. We now have evidence that conservative and neoliberal politicians are working against the cause of human happiness.

Indicators such as this chart, which shows a net loss of government jobs for the first time in recent history, could therefore be interpreted as yet another sign that we're on the wrong path. The same is true of proposals to cut Social Security or Medicare benefits.

The study suggests that proposals to expand Social Security, however, would be likely to increase overall happiness and life satisfaction in this country.

The authors conclude by reiterating that:

“While we find empirically (and believe there are strong theoretical reasons to believe) that social democratic policies do contribute to a world in which there is greater life satisfaction, we offer no judgment on whether an expansive, activist state is 'better' or 'worse' than a limited one. “

They are researchers, not ideologues, so that’s appropriate – for them. I, on the other hand, am more than happy to offer an opinion here: I’m going to go with “better.”

The Politics of Joy

The authors also conclude that “politics itself matters. Specifically, the preferences and choices of citizens in democratic polities, as we have shown, have profound consequences for quality of life. In short, democracy itself thus matters.”

That should be of particular concern to citizens of a nation that is governed by the preferences of the elite few, not the democratic many, according to a Princeton study conducted by political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page.

Why aren’t these findings receiving broader media attention? If the opposite conclusion had been reached, you can be sure that the study would have received massive coverage – especially from Fox News – and its authors would be media stars.

Maybe this study hasn't received more publicity because its findings aren't likely to be popular among our media, business, and political elites. It suggests that the road to happiness can be found through larger government, more intervention in the so-called “free market” economy, and comprehensive electoral reform to get money out of politics.

Unless, of course, we don’t want to be happy. In that case we can just keep doing what we’re doing.

Interview courtesy of The Zero Hour. Watch the program on

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