December 09, 2016

We’re experiencing a movement of unhappiness, says former UK PM David Cameron

In his first major speech since leaving office, David Cameron revealed he believes the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump are part of a “movement of unhappiness” about the state of the world

He told students at DePauw University, Indiana, that Western leaders must take steps—what he termed a “course correction”—to help those who feel left behind by globalization
Cameron highlighted the Brexit referendum, the election of President Trump, and the constitutional referendum in Italy in his responses to post-speech questioning. He feels that the outcome of the Brexit vote was a result of both cultural and economic concerns, a parallel he draws with the US presidential election result. Alternatively, he believes the current political turmoil in Italy is linked to the euro and the lack of a single fiscal tax system across the euro area emphasizing member countries’ economic differences.

“Ultimately,” Cameron stressed, “how 2016 goes down in history will depend on what political leaders do next.” He believes that if “our democracies are flexible enough and our leaders are aware enough, they will correct […] the problems that they face. So you will see a greater emphasis on trying to help those who are left behind.”

Cameron highlighted policies including a higher minimum wage and tax cuts for low-income workers as measures aimed at helping to address such concerns.

Jo Ritzen has written for IZA World of Labor about happiness being the key to a productive economy, and having a job being key to individual happiness. He says that “if a government wishes to ensure national well-being, as well as greater productivity, it should put full employment center-stage among the goals of its economic policy.”

Xi Chen notes how low status and a feeling of relative deprivation are both detrimental to health and happiness. He also mentions an intriguing body of empirical studies which suggest that relative deprivation, as individuals compare themselves to others or experience unfulfilled expectations, is a potential source of social unrest that can lead to political violence. Monitoring relative deprivation may therefore help governments identify such risk at an early stage and take effective measures to reduce tensions.

Related articles: 
Happiness as a guide to labor market policy, by Joe Ritzen 
Relative deprivation and individual well-being, by Xi Chen
Can “happiness data” help evaluate economic policies?, by Robert MacCulloch
Read more IZA World of Labors papers about the role happiness plays in labor market policy