“National happiness” is more difficult to measure than “national income”. But should governments seek maximum per capita values for either variable? Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper did not think so. I agree.
Karl Popper believed that government cannot know what people want (indeed, perhaps we barely know this ourselves). But what it can know – and measure – is human suffering. Hunger, ill health and poverty are things that are straightforward to measure. Popper therefore argued that government should not set itself to the goal of maximising happiness, growth or “utility”, but to the minimisation of suffering, an index where its success or failure could very easily be assessed. Unlike his better-known concept of the “open society”, it is striking that this aspect of Popper’s philosophy has been largely ignored.
Carne Ross, “Hunger, ill health and poverty are simple to measure“, letter to the editor, Financial Times, 7 August 2012.
After Karl Popper (1902-1994) died in the UK, his ashes were transported to his native Vienna and buried next to the body of his wife. Two years ago I visited the grave and snapped a picture, which I posted here.