Monday, March 23, 2009

Is happiness in the struggle?

A recent speech by Charles Murray (of The Bell Curve) to AEI has been getting a lot of attention in the liberal blogs (here and here at least). The point of his argument seems to be that happiness can only come from struggle, and that comfort is the enemy of happiness.

Up to a point, I agree. Individual growth (and happiness) can only happen when reliance on others is detached from a safety net.

But I guess I am a little confused by the implications Murray draws when he argues against welfare programs. Would this mean that people in poor countries with no welfare or social programs of any kind are happier than those in Europe and the US? As Brad DeLong says: "It's a wonder that Charles Murray doesn't come out against water treatment plants--after all, unless you fear that today might be the day your baby dies of dysentery, you can never be truly happy..."

If we believe that parents care about the happiness of their children above all else, why do all of the rich not support a 100% estate tax?

I offer then this challenge to Murray and all members of AEI: Given that they love their children very much and wish them true happiness, each should refuse to pay for their children's schooling, entertainment, housing and cars, support a 100% estate tax and leave all of their money in their wills to create an institute dedicated to ensuring there is a 100% estate tax in this country.

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