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Happiness, Economics and Politics

Towards a Multi-Disciplinary Approach

Edited by Amitava Krishna Dutt and Benjamin Radcliff

This timely and important book presents a unique study of happiness from both economic and political perspectives. It offers an overview of contemporary research on the emergent field of happiness studies and contains contributions by some of the leading figures in the field.
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Chapter 11: Democracy and Happiness: What Causes What?

Ronald Inglehart


Ronald Inglehart Throughout the two decades before the explosion of democracy that occurred around 1990, reported happiness levels showed strong linkages with all of the widely accepted measures of democracy. The national level correlations between happiness and the Freedom House political rights and civil liberties scores were in the 0.7 to 0.8 range – a remarkably strong linkage that could be interpreted to mean that over half of the total variation in a society’s level of happiness could be attributed to its level of democracy; or conversely, it could mean that a society’s level of democracy largely reflected its happiness level. Correlation is not causation, and this linkage could reflect any of the following things: (1) living under democratic institutions makes people much happier than living under authoritarian institutions; or (2) high levels of subjective well-being are conducive to democratic institutions; or (3) the correlation could be spurious, due to the fact that both subjective well-being and democracy are strongly correlated with some other variable such as high levels of economic development. Solving this puzzle has far-reaching implications. If the linkage is not spurious and democracy makes people happy, this provides a strong additional argument on behalf of democracy; while if high levels of happiness are conducive to democracy, this can lead to a better understanding of how democracy emerges and flourishes. Using World Values Survey data on happiness levels from 1981 to 2006, and the Freedom House measures of democracy levels from 1972 to 2005, this chapter analyses the relationships...

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