Just about everyone seems to be writing about happiness these days - even investment bankers. Deutsche Bank economist Stefan Bergheim analyses 22 rich countries, and comes up with four varieties of capitalism: the happy variety, the less happy variety (Germany, Spain, France, Belgium and Austria), the unhappy variety (Portugal, Italy and Greece), and the Far Eastern variety (Japan and Korea). So which countries benefit from happy capitalism? it's the usual suspects - the Scandinavians and the Anglo-saxons:
The happy variety of capitalism: Australia, Switzerland, Canada, the UK, the US, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands as well as (to a lesser degree) Finland and New Zealand have organised society and institutions in such a way that they provide the conditions that are important for human happiness.
Lest American or British readers get too excited, Bergheim adds a coda:
Over the last ten years it is above all the Irish, the Spanish and the Scandinavians that have succeeded in implementing considerable happiness-enhancing changes.
Bergheim's paper, The happy variety of capitalism: Characterised by an array of commonalities (PDF), identifies ten commonalities or ''indicators for a happy society" from a cluster analysis of these countries:
1. High degree of trust in fellow citizens
2. Low amount of corruption
3. Low unemployment
4. High level of education
5. High income
6. High employment rate of older people
7. Small shadow economy
8. Extensive economic freedom
9. Low employment protection
10. High birth rate
One can quibble about one or two, but the list seems broadly right. However it is notable that Bergheim glosses over child poverty and inequality of income and wealth. These show greater divergence between the Anglo-saxon and Scandinavian countries than his analysis suggests. Likewise gender equality, or measures of 'active citizenship' and political engagament.
The key lesson of much recent cross-national happiness research, and the recent debates about social Europe, is that there is more than one path to economic prosperity and to high levels of subjective well-being. One is the Scandinavian/Nordic model of social democratic capitalism - more recenly dubbed 'flexicurity'. The other is the Anglo-saxon model of liberal capitalism - the so-called 'Anglosphere'. They each have their pros and cons, but both are associated with low unemployment, robust economic growth, and above-average levels of happiness and life satisfaction.
UPDATE: The Economist blog, Free Exchange, is more sceptical about the paper, particularly its policy conclusions: That's enough happynomics
There's nothing new in the data: happiness correlates positively with wealth, education and trust, negatively with corruption and unemployment. But the conclusion is a touch unusual, coming from an investment bank. For governments:
Happiness and life satisfaction should be explicit policy objectives
Eeek. To do Deutsche the courtesy of taking its paper seriously, has it given any thought to what would follow? Governments telling us how happy we are, civil servants walking around with absurd smiles on their faces, public festivities day in day out, holidays for every trade and age. A favourite slogan of Stalinism, in the depths of the terror, held that "life is better and merrier than ever before".
No! Enough social engineering, even in the name of happiness! let me be miserable in my own way, that's what would make me happy.