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The Political Economy of Human Happiness: How Voters' Choices Determine the Quality of Life Paperback – May 24, 2013

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 214 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (March 25, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107644429
  • ISBN-13: 978-1107644427
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #821,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A growing number of social scientists and policy makers are starting to explore the implications for public policy of the newly emerging measures of happiness. I highly recommend for their consideration this pathbreaking, scholarly, and judicious work."
Richard A. Easterlin, University of Southern California

"One of the most intellectually sophisticated, empirically convincing, and politically relevant books I have read in years. Radcliff's central conclusion - that the principal determinant of the quality of human life is the degree to which public policies empower citizens against the arbitrary power of the market - could hardly be more compelling or more persuasively argued."
Alex Pacek, Texas A and M University

"This is a splendid and very courageous book. Based on an unusually impressive amount of high-quality data and using sophisticated analytical techniques, Benjamin Radcliff succeeds in answering a question that few of his colleagues have dared to pose: What type of public policies creates and increases human well-being? The answer is as profound as it is radical. In a time when the relevance of political science is under attack, this book is the answer."
Bo Rothstein, August Röhss Chair in Political Science, University of Gothenburg

"We will never agree on matters of ideological taste, but we can agree on facts. This book demonstrates how facts about happiness can be used in the ongoing debate on the welfare state. Although it may not tell the last word, it shows the way to evidence-based consensus building."
Ruut Veenhoven, Emeritus Professor, Erasmus University Rotterdam

"[T]he book provides an eloquent demonstration of how a fundamental departure in the objectives of government - aiming for meaningful and happy lives for the greatest number of citizens - underlies the origins of public policy in the United States and in modern social democracies more generally. It also shows the new tools that well-being metrics provide to assess how well different governments are doing in meeting that objective. The book is a worthwhile read for scholars and students of economics, political science, philosophy, and public policy."
Carol Graham, Journal of Economic Literature

Book Description

This book is devoted to applying the data, methods, and theories of contemporary social science to the question of how political outcomes in democratic societies determine the quality of life that citizens experience. Benjamin Radcliff seeks to provide an objective answer to the perennial debate between Left and Right over what public policies best contribute to human beings leading positive and rewarding lives.

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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This book is a pleasure to read.
Citizen John
I suppose my one real criticism of the book is that for the general reader, the enormous quantity of evidence the author builds begins to become tedious after a while.
Amazon Customer
He goes so far as to say "The market economy is one of humanity's greatest achievements," and he is clearly writing as a friend of the market.
21st Century Scholar

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By 21st Century Scholar on September 27, 2013
Format: Paperback
I spent much of the past summer reading books on "happiness economics," a couple of which I have previously reviewed here. This was easily the most rewarding of these books, and the one I wish in retrospect I had read first. This book has a number of strengths that prompt that comment. The first is the way that it is organized. It begins with the history of happiness both as an idea but more specifically as a subject of politics, using the debate between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison at the time of the American Founding as introducing what we would today call the progressive and the conservative approaches to how government can best help individuals in their "pursuit of happiness." It was an inviting and fun introduction to the subject.

Chapters Two and Three are marginally more challenging, but still entirely accessible to someone (like me) who is neither an economist nor a specialist in this area. The first of those chapters develops a simple bu powerful conceptual model for thinking about the role government, tracing out how the basis of a market economy produces the two logical tendencies we see in politics in general: the basic struggle between left and right over the control of public life. The second is a summary and an analysis of all the conventional arguments we see for and against "big government" and economic regulation and so on--nothing exactly new, but a beautiful summary for anyone interested in a rigorous treatment of those matters (and one that I think is fair to both sides). It is also a chapter though that one could skip without missing the main thread of argumentation if you really didn't want to have these arguments rehearsed.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Citizen John TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 24, 2013
Format: Paperback
This book is a pleasure to read. One of my favorite literary genres is that of `happiness,' or what Aristotle called the `good life.' I started this journey with Martin Seligman's 2004 book, Authentic Happiness. I also got interested in Blue Zones - geographic locations where people live longer. Comparisons of happiness throughout the world fascinates me.

Various studies performed by the United Nations and other entities rank Denmark as the happiest country on earth. Denmark has laws and political policies that almost seem extreme by American standards. Access to health care is a basic civil right in Denmark. Their gender equality laws are perhaps the most advanced in the world. Danes have high voter turnout; they make choices about happiness.

In The Political Economy of Human Happiness, Benjamin Radcliff examines statistical research on happiness. Radcliff identifies and interprets patterns that hold internationally and also across states within the U.S.

Professor Radcliff finds that government plays a major role in human happiness. This shows that what government does about education, healthcare and employee rights has a measurable bearing on our happiness. Empirical evidence cited throughout the book supports government taking an enormous role in our lives.

Big government is a difficult concept for me and partly what motivated me to read the book. I've witnessed some extraordinary inefficiency in the operation of government. I don't believe our government can operate efficiently and wonder how things are different in Denmark, Canada and generally in Western and Northern Europe.

Years into the Great Recession, I am prepared to accept the merits of Professor Radcliff's findings.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Barry N. Bishop on November 18, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This volume sets out to demonstrate empirically that the citizens of any country are happier when they exist in what is termed a "welfare state" and when the market is externally controlled and regulated democratically. Professor Radcliff marshals an impressive amount of data from different studies to prove his thesis. Since I am not a social scientist I am not the best judge of his empirical success. He clearly does not begin the study in a neutral position--he stands on the "left" and attempts to show that the argument of the "right"--that an unregulated, free market creates conditions for the optimal level of freedom of all people--has been flawed for centuries. One wonders if, since he attempts to prove what he believes in advance, his argument might be circular. With that caveat, however, I find myself rather convinced by his argument--but then I may not have started from a neutral stance either.

The thesis regarding happiness is stated in the Introduction: "Happiness, then, is a function of public policy--and thus a result of our collective choices as citizens in electing the governments that make policy." (p.9) That might appear altogether too grandiose except that his eventual definition of happiness is fairly limited: "What we hope to measure and eventually to explain is nothing more--and nothing less--than the degree to which people enjoy their lives." (p. 78) Examining studies of exactly how much people enjoy their lives in different societies with different market policies and different levels of welfare, Radcliff's project is to show that with more market control and with a greater social safety net all people are happier, including those who own and manage the means of production and commerce.
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More About the Author

Benjamin Radcliff is Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. His current research focuses on the social scientific study of happiness within the multi-disciplinary field sometimes labeled "happiness economics." He has published articles on the connections between politics and happiness in major peer reviewed scholarly journals, including the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, Perspectives on Politics, and Social Forces, among other journals. This research program culminated in his 2013 book "The Political Economy of Human Happiness" (Cambridge University Press).

Radcliff's earlier academic work attempted a radical reinterpretation of the implications of social choice theory for democratic thought; this work culminated in a 2000 article in the Journal of Politics that won the award for best article published in the journal in that year. Radcliff has also written articles on political participation, elections, and public policy outcomes in the industrial democracies and across the American States, with a special focus on the role of organized labor. His articles on these subjects have appeared in the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, and a variety of other journals.

Radcliff has also written on non-academic topics, including the craft beer movement, has written rock music criticism for The Trouser Press, and is coauthor (with his wife Amy Gille-Radcliff) of the book "Understanding Zen," which attempted to provide an accessible introduction to that notoriously difficult subject.

He has been a fellow at the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, and will be a Fulbright Scholar in residence at the Roosevelt Study Center in 2014.

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