Towards a Multi-Disciplinary Approach
Edited by Amitava Krishna Dutt and Benjamin Radcliff
Chapter 12: The Causal Link between Happiness and Democratic Welfare Regimes
Charlotte Ridge, Tom Rice and Matthew Cherry In a recent article Radcliff (2001) provides substantial empirical support for an important and ideologically charged thesis: social democratic welfare regimes make people happier. He reaches this conclusion after an exhaustive examination of both aggregate- and individual-level data across 15 industrialized democracies in the latter decades of the twentieth century. Subsequent cross-national work supports the finding (Pacek, 2006; Pacek and Radcliff, 2008) and new research on the US states shows that people tend to be happier in states with more liberal governments and policies (Alvarez-Diaz et al., 2006). Clearly, this work is potent and controversial. Not only does it claim that life is better under one type of government than others, it makes the claim with respect to human happiness, perhaps the most meaningful measure of a good society. Given the significance of the thesis, it is especially important to test it thoroughly. The research to date has done a fine job of statistically linking happiness to left-leaning regimes and distributive social welfare policies. These empirical associations are certainly strong evidence in support of the thesis, but they may not be the final say on the matter. We contend that the proponents of the thesis may have been too quick to equate correlation as causation. In this chapter, we take a step back and start from the position that the causal direction of the statistical link between happiness and politics may run either way, or even be spurious. After briefly outlining the causal...
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