Utilitarianism
describes morality, it is a theory within ethics that questions whether an act is deemed to be good or bad. Utilitarianism
evaluates actions based on their consequences. The principle of
utilitarianism is
characterised in the phrase ‘the greatest
happiness for the greatest number.’ This belief was introduced by Jeremy
Bentham (1748-1832). Another major figure in utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill
(1806-1873) amplified the theory in the nineteenth century, believes
Happiness is not constant, “but moments of such, in an existence made up of few
and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided predominance
of the active over the passive, and having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect more
from life that it is capable of bestowing.” Mill
also believed many people misunderstood utilitarianism, he believes utility is
pleasure in itself, and the absence of pain, often referring
to utility as “the Greatest Happiness Principle.”

In
2006, leader of the Conservatives, David Cameron, made a famous speech on the
general well-being of the UK. David Cameron promised a new age of government,
he claimed that the governments purpose was not only to promote economic growth
but to also promote happiness for individuals, “It’s time we admitted there’s more to life than money
and it’s time we focused not only on GDP but on General Well Being.” This
raises the question, is it the goal of the state to maximise happiness?

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Measuring happiness
is extremely difficult as happiness is subjective and people often have
different means of happiness. Despite this, the World Happiness Report,
released by the United Nations, measures the happiness of citizens in 155
states and ranks them. There are 6 variables that are considered when assessing
the levels of happiness in the report; GDP per capita, freedom to make life
choices, social support, life expectancies, perceptions of corruption and
generosity levels. Another measure of happiness would be the OECD ‘Better Life
Index’ which measures happiness of the 35 members of the Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) these countries include; 22 EU
member states, including the UK, Germany, France and Italy. Outside of the EU,
Japan, Canada, Australia and the US are also included in the OECD Better Life
Index. The Better Life Index presents date gathered from 50 indicators
including; housing, education, income, health and work-life balance.

The US declaration of Independence
and the UK Beveridge report, published
in 1982, laid the foundation for Britain’s welfare state, referred to ‘the
happiness of the common man’ as
the basic objective (Beveridge,
1942, 171). Despite major states such as the US and UK having objectives of ensuring happiness of all citizens, this may not
necessarily be a primary, or even secondary goal for states, as focus tends to be on other sectors.

Nearly every states primary focus would be the economy, most policies are
made to achieve macroeconomicobjectives. An
example of this would be the UK’s approach to reduce unemployment, which peaked in 2011 at 8.5%, the
unemployment rate has now fallen to 4.3%. Although some may think this has led
to greater levels of happiness, this is definitely not the case. The quality of jobs has been diminishing and the levels of zero hour contracts are at their
peak. Although employment rates have risen, the satisfaction of the jobs are most likely not increasing. There have
been many more economic policies implemented that may have had an effect on
happiness. One recent example of this would be the reforms to the UK child tax
credit, George Osbourne announced that families will no longer be able to
receive financial benefit for more than two children, anyone who has a third
child after April 2017 will not get any money to account for the extra child.

This may cause certain households to struggle economically and have an effect
on the general levels happiness. Most decisions made by the state are made to improve government revenue and macroeconomic
performance rather than providing
utility to its citizens.

Another primary focus
of the state is foreign affairs and it’s sphere of influence on a global scale.

The classical realist model believes that all states and governments act in
their own interest due to human nature and in the pursuit of power. The quest
for power can
be seen
through war, conflict and military expansion. Most states focus on external
power and influence rather
than focusing on maximizing happiness
domestically. An example of this would be the USA’s attention on military and
foreign affairs, over 50% of America’s GDP in 2016 was spenton military spending.

It has the largest military spending in the world at $611 billion. In order to maintain the superpower
status America has, it’s attempt to expand militarily has been on the rise
since the Cold War ended. The US army personnel is the second
largest and is
considered to be the best
trained and most powerfully equipped army in the world. Most wars the US have
been unfavourable, US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq caused huge outcry in
America, causing protests across the
the nation. Americans felt unsafe and felt there was
no need to intervene and go to war with the Middle Eastern countries. A state
that does not involve itself with conflict and war also contributesto a
happier citizens.

Political
utilitarianism argues that it is the sole goal of state to maximise happiness. If
the government were attempting to improve the levels of happiness in a country
there would need an information base, it needs to measure with great accuracy
how happy citizens of the state are. Once the cause of happiness is broken into subcategories, the government can now begin to
consider policies that will improve certain sectors that increase happiness.

Democratic decisions and the political leaning of the state have a huge impact
on happiness of citizens. Success in sustaining peace, the rule of law, and an
effective democracy matter significantly.

There is very strong correlation between how democratic a state is and how it
has an effect on overall happiness. The 10 happiest countries in the World
Happiness report, all have a Polity IV score of 10, making them full
democracies. On the other end of the spectrum, countries towards the bottom of
the rankings have autocracies or ineffective governments, examples being
Zimbabwe and Syria. Being in a democratic country however, does not make
everyone happy alone. The government could also target individuals with certain policies too. These can be more specific to individuals, examples being policy reforms to healthcare, schooling,
employment and the economy. According to Professor
Sir Angus Deaton, a British economist and
professor, something that is good on average, may not be good for individuals. For example, if the
government conducts a nationwide survey on happiness, and finds that people
without kids are happier than those with kids, does that entitle the government
to prevent people from having kids? Every household is different, finding
policies that will increase the happiness for all citizens will be extremely
difficult.

Libertarianism is a
laissez-faire political philosophy suggest peace, social harmony and prosperity is achieved by “as much
liberty as possible” and as “little government as necessary.” The concept of
libertarianism suggests the role of the government should be minimal, in
terms of economic and legal intervention, in
order to preserve the liberties
for an individual. Though there is no direct correlation between libertarianism
and utilitarianism, utilitarian’s may be libertarians, this depends on whether
libertarianism maximizes happiness for a large number of people in a
state. Therefore, the best way of achieving happiness would be to minimise
state intervention completely. As stated above, there are many variables that contribute to levels of
happiness and libertarianism may only satisfy a select few.

To conclude, governments need to
gather this data and take it serious, also making the information available to
the public. I don’t think you should replace everything a government does by
targeting happiness but it should definitely be considered. If all decisions
were to
be based
on the levels of happiness it would produce for the public, this would erode
the role of the state completely. The concept of “maximising” happiness, seems
impossible as happiness means different things to different people. If the
government was to attempt to increase the happiness of its citizens, it would
need to understand what makes individuals in the state
happy, whether this is economical or personal healthcare. The state would need
to gather information which measures the happiness of the entire population,
not the average, but the full range of happiness and misery. Once the causes are
identified the state can
then implement policies to achieve happiness.

However, most decisions made by the state do not prioritize the
happiness and well-being of its citizens, as shown by the cuts in the NHS and
public sector pay, being one example of many.