NIAS Seminar Series: The Politics of Happiness

25 February 2010 from 16:00 to 16:00 hrs
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Benjamin Radcliff is Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, United States of America.

His articles on the scientific study of happiness have appeared in the leading peer reviewed journals in political science and political sociology, including, among others, the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, and Social Forces. He currently is a fellow at NIAS.

The central axis of ideological conflict in the modern world is that between the left and the right over economic management. The question of which of these approaches best contributes to the quality of human life has traditionally been conceived of as philosophical or normative rather than empirical. In this way, the issue of whether the policies of the left or the right are  better  cannot be answered, in that we lack an appropriate empirical standard by which to judge the total nett effects, the bad along with the good, of each. I propose that we treat human happiness   the degree to which citizens lead lives that they themselves regard as positive and rewarding   as the appropriate evaluative metric. Doing so reduces the ideological debate to a tangible question: do the programmes of the left or the right tend to make people happier, overall? Through statistical modeling, I find that happiness is positively affected by policies of the left (and harmed by policies of the right).  To the extent that we agree that the effect of public policies on the quality of human life is the appropriate way to judge such policies, the evidence implies that the political programme of the traditional left is preferable to that of the right. The lecture is followed by an open discussion.

The NIAS Seminar series is a sequence of lectures organised each academic year by the Rector of the Institute. These seminars are meant to appeal to interested parties from a wide range of backgrounds. It is hoped that the series will encourage closer contact within the Dutch academic world. The lectures are followed by an open discussion.