Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Measuring - and Reporting - Happiness

While I'm doubtful that the government can directly boost people's happiness, and wary of any attempts at its trying to do so, I do welcome recent moves towards policies aimed at improving well-being, rather than economic growth. As I argued in my last post, money is only means to an end, not an end in itself. I'd rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable.

It seems that the Office for National Statistics has recently published figures showing how happy we are. Sadly, even the BBC's coverage leaves a lot to be desired. First, I read this story, which says: "When broken down, Northern Ireland had the lowest life satisfaction rating - 21.9% - compared with 24.3% for England, 25.3% for Wales and 22.6% for Scotland."

It's not clear exactly what those figures mean, but on reading this other story it seems that they are completely misleading, since the latter article says: "People in Wales and England are less satisfied with their lives than people in Scotland and Northern Ireland ... England and Wales had similar proportion of adults giving a low rating for "life satisfaction" - 24.3% and 25.3% respectively. There were fewer people with low life satisfaction in Scotland (22.6%) and Northern Ireland (21.6%)"

In other words, the two articles give directly contradictory information using the same statistics: a fine example of innumerate journalism...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Seeing Beyond the Economic?

A lot has been made of the (potential) economic benefits that the Olympics are set to bring, not only to London but the whole of the UK. Even Scotland, it is claimed, will receive a sizeable economic boost. Moreover, it was recently announced that Sunday trading laws would be temporarily suspended in England and Wales, to allow shops to benefit from increased custom during the games.

It's difficult of course to quantify the economic benefits that may result from the Olympics, since it won't be clear whether particular contracts are due to the games or not or how the economy would have fared had the games not taken place. This has led some to question whether the benefits will be as significant as some (such as the government) claim - or, in other words, whether the money spent on the Olympics is really a worthwhile investment. Even if the Olympics do turn a profit, could that money have been better invested, say in infrastructure improvements?

Unfortunately I can't find a link to this, but it was somewhat gratifying this afternoon to hear a spokeperson on the radio saying, in effect, that even if the economic benefits of the games are negligible, they may be a good way of spending public money if people enjoy them. While I'm not sure myself that they are the best way to spend public money, it's pleasing to hear someone take a non-instrumentalist viewpoint.

Not everything we do ought to be driven towards making more and more money. Money ought to be a means to an end, not an end in itself. Indeed, if the only point of making money was to make more money then it would be arguably without a point - the point is that we can spend it to acquire other things that we value. Thus we ought to recognize that there are things that are worth spending money on, whether or not they produce an economic return.

If this thinking were to receive more recognition, then politicians might come to apply similar reasoning to education. Presently they almost invariably focus on providing the skills necessary for the economy, but education ought to do more than that: it ought to be something that is worth spending money on, rather than simply a means to making money.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cruft on Leveson

As I write, my colleague Rowan Cruft is being interviewed by the Leveson inquiry - live streaming here. (This should, I understand, continue to be available later.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Biased Coins

I've come to quite like Richard Wiseman's Friday puzzles - though sometimes the answer's obvious and sometimes it's a rather infuriating trick question. This recent one, on how to choose randomly with a biased coin, is of course right up my street. Richard's answer was posted here. Clever, but I (and others) think that this was cleverer than needed, given the set up of the question. I explain why in my comment here. I think epistemic randomness is sufficient here, so only one toss is needed.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Don't Panic

Afraid posting's been slow because, between work and watching football/tennis, I've been rather busy of late, but I thought I'd just put in a quick plug for Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Philosophy, in which I co-authored a chapter. Note that this is published by Palgrave-Macmillan, rather than one of the usual popular philosophy publishers (like Open Court), but it is of much the same ilk - a lighthearted introduction to some philosophical issues raised in/by/through Douglas Adams' HHGTTG.