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photo: Helliwell Professor John Helliwell
Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Southern California

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
A lot is known about the social, institutional and economic supports for national well-being. Attention is appropriately turning to develop and test alternative ways of enabling people to live better lives in their neighbourhoods and nations. There are many experiments in train, and some welcome efforts to share the results. Well-being appears to be improved most, and most reliably, where a lot of attention is given to the 'how' as well as the 'what' of policy design and delivery. In particular, mechanisms and policies that build and sustain mutual trust through shared initiatives, fuelled by generosity and friendship, seem to work best.Neither agree nor disagree

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
Yes, these are helpful, but equally important to seize on natural experiments and other benchmarking methods that permit a broader range of alternatives to be tried. First rule is to measure the well-being of all participants before, during and after the interventions, along with key mediating variables, of which various measures of trust are fundamental. And be prepared to be surprised by what you find, whether for not you have registered your initial hypotheses.Agree

Organisational structures on workers' wellbeing

January 2017
Employees in more hierarchical organisations have higher levels of wellbeing than those of flatter organisations.Response
The best evidence for this is that for more than 2 million employed respondents in the United States, life evaluations are much higher for those who regard their immediate supervisor as a partner than for those who regard the supervisor as a boss. The difference, favouring those working in the less hierarchical partner-type organisations, is very large - 0.4 points on the 0 to 10 scale used for the Cantril ladder life evaluations. Disagree

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
Tax systems should be simple and neutral across business forms. The magic of flatter organization structures needs to be discovered and implemented by those who run organisations and chosen by those looking for good jobs.Disagree

Wellbeing and Public Holidays

December 2016
Do you think that populations on average have higher wellbeing during major festive periods like Christmas?Response
In places where there are surveys that can catch daily effects, people are more likely to feel happy on weekends and statutory holidays. There are no corresponding effects for life evaluations, and appropriately so, since the life evaluations relate to lilife in general, and not a specific day. (For the related evidence, see http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/jhelliwell/papers/Helliwell-Wang-SIR2013.pdf).Agree

Do you think on balance that average wellbeing would rise if there were more mandatory public holidays in your country?Response
Most Canadian provinces tend to have about one statutory holiday per six-weeks. Not much evidence about whether more would be better. Stat holidays pose problems for families with multiple jobs and child care issues. In general more time together with family and friends a real positive, but if it means not making the last crowded ferry home, then the pleasure is diluted. For many families there would be more happiness from an increase in workplace flexibility, thus permitting family holiday to be created when most suitable.Neither agree nor disagree