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Happiness and public policy: a procedural perspective

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 December 2019

University of Basel, Faculty of Business and Economics and Center for Research in Economics and Well-Being (CREW), Basel, Switzerland
*Correspondence to: University of Basel, Faculty of Business and Economics and Center for Research in Economics and Well-Being (CREW), Peter Merian-Weg 6, 4002Basel, Switzerland. Email:


This article comments on the role of empirical subjective wellbeing research in public policy within a constitutional, procedural perspective of government and state. It rejects the idea that, based on the promises of the measurement, we should adopt a new policy perspective that is oriented toward a decision rule maximizing some aggregate measure of subjective wellbeing. This social engineering perspective, implicit in much reasoning about wellbeing policy, neglects: (1) important motivation problems on the part of government actors, such as incentives to manipulate indicators, but also on the part of citizens to truthfully report their wellbeing; and (2) procedural utility as a source of wellbeing. Instead, wellbeing research should be oriented toward gaining insights that improve the diagnoses of societal problems and help us to evaluate alternative institutional arrangements in order to address them, both as inputs into the democratic process.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019

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