My colleague Benjamin Radcliff, author of the Political Economy of Human Happiness, argues happier people live in countries with strong social safety nets and labor unions.
The relationship could not be stronger or clearer: However much it may pain conservatives to hear it, the “nanny state,” as they disparagingly call it, works. Across the Western world, the quality of human life increases as the size of the state increases. It turns out that having a “nanny” makes life better for people. This is borne out by the U.N. 2013 “World Happiness Report,” which found Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden the top five happiest nations.
Conservatives may be equally troubled to learn that labor unions have a similar effect. Not only are workers who belong to unions happier, but the overall rate of happiness for everyone — members and nonmembers — increases dramatically as the percentage of workers who belong to unions grows, reflecting the louder political voice that organization gives to ordinary citizens.
Take it a step further and we can conclude that people will be able to have richer and more rewarding lives when the social surplus is used to support the welfare of the majority of the population and when workers have a democratic say in how that surplus is produced.
The United States will truly deserve the distinction of being exceptional when it rejects the austerity agenda that continues to be peddled as the solution to our current economic and social problems and embraces a more generous future.