Bill Carmichael: A rich sense of fulfillment

How are you feeling this morning? A bit fed up? Down in the dumps?

Don’t worry. Our political class has the perfect solution to cheer you up – a visit from a man from Whitehall armed with a clipboard to inquire how happy you are.

Don’t scoff, because politicians of all stripes have suddenly decided it is the government’s job to ensure our happiness.

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Let’s put aside for a moment how difficult it is to measure accurately something as subjective as happiness, and ask if the state is the best institution to promote personal wellbeing?

Prime Minister David Cameron certainly thinks so, and he is spending £2m of our money to prove it. Last year he announced that the Office of National Statistics would be asking people to rate their wellbeing for an official “happiness index”.

Cameron and the rest of the liberal elite have clearly been influenced by a number of recent bestselling books, such as The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, and Affluenza by Oliver James, which criticise consumerism and the hedonistic treadmill of modern life.

These argue that beyond a certain level, becoming richer does not make us any happier and may indeed make us unhappy. What matters, argue the authors, is fighting inequality because, as The Spirit Level puts it, “more equal societies almost always do better”. But this week some new research emerged that seems to hole these theories below the waterline. The respected think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, looked at data from 126 countries and concluded that there’s a strong correlation between life satisfaction and income – in other words being richer does indeed make us happier.

It also found no evidence that equality promoted happiness. Instead the clearest determinants of wellbeing are employment, marriage, religious belief and the avoidance of poverty – none of which correlated with income inequality. The IEA research also found a clear relationship with a smaller state and happiness – where governments spend a lot of our money, people’s levels of happiness decrease. Ruth Porter of the IEA concluded: “If the government wants to help us be happy the best thing they can do is to reduce their interference in our lives, allow us to keep more of our income, while spending less of our money themselves and concern themselves more with the economy and less with asking us questions about how we are feeling.”

In other words, get the hell out of the way, Mr Cameron, and let us get on with our lives.

Italian stallion

Hero of the week is Italian coastguard captain Gregario de Falco who ordered the skipper of the stricken cruise liner, the Costa Concordia, back on board to coordinate the rescue of passengers.

Francesco Schettino has been dubbed “Captain Coward” after it emerged he abandoned his charges to save his own skin after driving the liner onto rocks on the Tuscan coast. Schettino was sitting in a lifeboat as a desperate rescue operation was taking place on the upturned hull. In a transcript of the conversation between the two men, a clearly furious and exasperated de Falco tells the captain to return to his ship to help stranded women and children.

Vado a bordo,” he yells (go on board) followed by an expletive.

The coastguard commander comes across very much as a man of courage who knows exactly where his duty lies.

Currently Italy has abandoned democracy in favour of a “technocratic” dictatorship imposed by the EU.

But if the Italians ever free themselves from under the yoke of the imperial Brussels regime, they could do far worse than to invite Captain de Falco to take up the job as prime minister.