Tax Hike A Path to Greater Happiness, Suggests Former Economics Reporter

Eduardo Porter, an economics reporter now on the Times editorial board, submits a signed editorial to the Times' Monday readership, and it's a doozy.

Porter's "All They Are Saying Is Give Happiness a Chance," reads like a serious plea for the federal government to regulate the pursuit of happiness - as if there aren't about 300 million definitions of it in the United States alone.

"The framers of the Declaration of Independence evidently believed that happiness could be achieved, putting its pursuit up there alongside the unalienable rights to life and liberty. Though governments since then have seen life and liberty as deserving of vigorous protection, for all the public policies aimed at increasing economic growth, people have been left to sort out their happiness.

"This is an unfortunate omission. Despite all the wealth we have accumulated - increased life expectancy, central heating, plasma TVs and venti-white-chocolate-mocha Frappuccinos - true happiness has lagged our prosperity. As Bobby Kennedy said in a speech at the University of Kansas in March 1968, the nation's gross national product measures everything 'except that which makes life worthwhile.'"

He goes on to say that using happiness to guide policy "could be tricky," but then cited vague studies that found "Nonmonetary rewards - like more vacations, or more time with friends or family - are likely to produce more lasting changes in satisfaction."

"This," Porter pronounced in triumph, "swings the door wide open for government intervention." What sort? Well, Porter thinks nothing could lift the country's spirits more effectively than an across-the-board tax hike.

"More broadly, if the object of public policy is to maximize society's well-being, more attention should be placed on fostering social interactions and less on accumulating wealth. If growing incomes are not increasing happiness, perhaps we should tax incomes more to force us to devote less time and energy to the endeavor and focus instead on the more satisfying pursuit of leisure.

"One thing seems certain, lining up every policy incentive to strive for higher and higher incomes is just going to make us all miserable. Happiness is one of the things that money just can't buy."