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photo: Frijters Professor Paul Frijters
Professorial Research Fellow, CEP Wellbeing Programme, LSE

Closing the border can do more harm than good to national wellbeing.

April 2017
Wellbeing of EU citizens increases on average with free movement within the EU.Response
This is a difficult question to empirically evaluate as there are conflicting pieces of evidence and no obvious empirical means of settling the question. We for instance know that free movement within the EU comes with more economic opportunities for individuals, as well as the opportunity to go to places more to one's general liking (such as the weather one enjoys), which is generally good for wellbeing. Yet migrants often are less happy than the natives due to the unfamiliarity of the culture they live in and the lack of family and friends left behind. Plus, migration has a negative effect on the social relations of those left behind, though it might improve their economic lives when migrants send home remittances or provide opportunities for others to join them. So short-run effects might well be negative. On balance and over the long-run though, migrants become citizens and free movement within the EU increases the pressure for all countries to adopt pro-growth and pro-wellbeing policies (so as to keep their populations), which I expect will increase wellbeing.Agree

The UK closing its borders for EU nationals who want to work in the UK after Brexit would harm both UK wellbeing and that of the rest of the EU.Response
Again, a question on which there is no certainty, merely educated guesses. Still, the uncertainty amongst the EU nationals already in the UK after Brexit (and their ability to stay and be joined by others) would be a major negative of closed borders, as would the harm to the UK economy. Agree

Understanding the effect of policy on national wellbeing

March 2017
Despite dozens of years of research, we still know precious little about what policies increase national wellbeing.Response
Unfortunately, this is true. We know a lot about wellbeing and can often say what will not work, but to be able to offer policies that with near certainty make a large positive improvement on wellbeing is rare. This is essentially because the research community has been more focussed on explaining individual wellbeing rather than predicting and manipulating national wellbeing.Agree strongly

In order to find out what raises national wellbeing, we need to have thousands of randomised controlled trials in all major areas of national policy.Response
An ongoing program in major Western countries of trialling policies and seeing what works is badly needed, particularly in education, social policy, and health. Agree

Wellbeing Effects of Anonymous Donation of Eggs and Sperm

February 2017
Donating gametes (eggs, sperm) via clinics as anonymous donors is one of the highest return-to-effort things individuals can do to increase overall wellbeing.Response
The available evidence is that IVF-conceived children are usually healthy, with only very small elevated risks of particular defects (Lu and Yin 2013). Similarly, we know from work on registries of donor-conceived children in the West that the children are usually quite happy and that the family of the donors are often proud of the donation if they knew about it (see Beeson, Jennings and Kramer (2013)'s analysis of online survey data from the Donor Sibling Registry). Hence both on the receiving end and on the donating end, donation has positive effects that create a wanted and relatively happy child. In terms of cost, those for men are truly minimal in terms of the proportion of their their life-time gametes production they are donating, nor is there a significant time-investment of the donation itself. The costs to women of donating their eggs appears much higher in that it involves hormone treatment and can thus be highly unpleasant for months, but considering the effect is a whole life the cost-benefit would still appear to be huge. If there are any major costs, it would have to be to public sensibilities on the issue, such as a moral code that it is somehow improper to have children conceived in this way, even if it is because couples looking for a donation have major fertility problems. I fail to see the wellbeing rationale for such a code though. Lu Y, Wang N, Jin F. Long-term follow-up of children conceived through assisted reproductive technology . Journal of Zhejiang University Science B. 2013;14(5):359-371. doi:10.1631/jzus.B1200348. Beeson, Diane, Patricia Jennings, and Wendy Kramer. "A New Path to Grandparenthood Parents of Sperm and Egg Donors." Journal of Family Issues (2013): 0192513X13489299.Agree strongly

The right of a child to know who their donor was when they turn 18 outweighs (in an overall wellbeing sense) the possibility that this right-to-know leads to a shortage of donors and reduces the number of donor-conceived children.Response
This clearly relates to the practise in many Western countries to mandate that a donor child has the right to know, usually when turning 18, who their biological mother or father was. In the UK such a law came into force in 2005 after pressure from groups of donors. The question is whether this likely has had a net wellbeing loss. I see this as a purely empirical question of the importance to wellbeing of two different rights: the right to know and the right to exist. The question is whether the right to know has resulted in less donations, and then whether the happiness loss of non-existence is sufficient to outweigh the happiness gain of the donor-child knowing who their biological father/mother was. Whilst solid data on both are hard to come by, the 'normal lives' lead by the average donor children suggests a very large loss of non-existence, both for them and their caring family. The happiness loss of not knowing has not been established by experimental studies, though we do know that autonomy and a sense of control over one's life is important for wellbeing and hence there is likely to be some loss of not knowing, and there is evidence that donor children often want to know with whose assistance they were conceived (Beeson, Jenning, and Kramer 2011). As to whether the loss of anonymity reduces donation, the available evidence is that there are large drops in donation after loss in anonymity, and that this was predicted in the case of the UK before the changes in the law in 2005 (Ian Craft et al. 2005 predicted a drop of around a third). That is one-third fewer chidren, implying that the 2 children who now know who their biological parent was have had that knowledge come at the cost of a whole forgone life. That seems a very high net wellbeing loss. As an illustration of the problems, a recent 2-year drive by the NHS to get more donors yielded almost no donors. D.R. Beeson, P.K. Jennings, W. Kramer; Offspring searching for their sperm donors: how family type shapes the process. Hum Reprod 2011; 26 (9): 2415-2424. doi: 10.1093/humrep/der202 Craft, Ian, et al. "Will removal of anonymity influence the recruitment of egg donors? A survey of past donors and recipients." Reproductive biomedicine online 10.3 (2005): 325-329. Disagree strongly

Organisational structures on workers' wellbeing

January 2017
Employees in more hierarchical organisations have higher levels of wellbeing than those of flatter organisations.Response
The available evidence suggests hierarchy and unhappiness go together: whilst the level of hierarchy is hard to measure, larger bureaucracies and large organisations will usually be more hierarchical (more layers and more control), and we know that workers are on average happier in smaller organisations. We also know they thrive with more autonomy, more trust, and personal input, which are features of flatter organisations. The most important effect of hierarchy on wellbeing is probably via increased bullying and anxiety. Salin (2003) surveyed the large literature on bullying and found that many large bureaucratic organisations have organisational structures that encourage bullying. These include a power imbalance between the bully and the target, and a low risk of getting caught or punished for bullying. In addition, specific circumstances within these organisational structures actually reward bullying according to Salin's survey. Employees who succeed in sabotaging colleagues who are potential “competition” for the bully are promoted, especially in organisations with high internal competition. Salin, D. (2003). Ways of explaining workplace bullying: A review of enabling, motivating and precipitating structures and processes in the work environment. Human Relations, 56(10), 1213–1232. http://doi.org/10.1177/00187267035610003Disagree

Tilting the tax and subsidy mix in favour of more hierarchical organisations (in a revenue neutral manner) would probably improve the wellbeing of employees.Response
The opposite is more likely to be true: since flatter organisations are likely to lead to happier employees, tilting the tax/subsidy balance in their favour is probably wellbeing improving, both in terms of higher job satisfaction and overall satisfaction with life. Unfortunately, bigger and more hierarchical organisations are probably better suited and more successful at lobbying government for lower taxes and higher subsidies than smaller and flatter organisations. So the prevailing tax and subsidy mix is probably tilted against flatter and smaller organisations. Regional experiments with the tax and subsidy mix should be done to ascertain where the truth lies in this matter.Disagree

Wellbeing and Public Holidays

December 2016
Do you think that populations on average have higher wellbeing during major festive periods like Christmas?Response
I looked at the US Galup data, which surveys 500 to 1000 respondents each day since 2008 on the question where they see themselves in the ladder of life. The week of Christmas had higher responses compared to the surrounding week, though December as a whole had lower responses than other months, still suggesting that on average the festive season is indeed, festive.Agree

Do you think on balance that average wellbeing would rise if there were more mandatory public holidays in your country?Response
It is a classic argument in the literature on happiness and wellbeing that individuals are strongly affected by relative considerations and that we are thus locked into a status race whereby we work to hard to afford what the neighbours can afford. Mandatory holidays break this status race and forces individuals into taking more leisure and spending more time with family and friends, which I expect to improve wellbeing, particularly since our societies are so rich that the extra production is not really needed.Agree