I have a new piece in the Open Democracy 'happiness debate', looking at how 'wellbeing' statistics are being designed and presented in ways that purport to represent what each of us feels and values. I term this the 'personalisation of the public interest'. As I argue:
Once experts accept that individuals are authorised to evaluate their own lives, rather than have them evaluated by professionals, it quickly follows that they gain the right to evaluate national performance too. This is not quite the post-modern babble of talk radio and BBC message boards, but nor is it the classically modern pronouncement of hard, professionally-endorsed fact. Feelings and impressions now help to constitute who and how we are as a nation.
As with the personalisation of public services, this ‘personalisation of the public interest’ is driven initially by fear on the part of policy elites. Blairites feared that unless public services caught up with the ethos and techniques of the private sector, that individuals could turn against the public sector altogether. Similarly, the motivation for the OECD’s work, and the Sarkozy-commissioned ‘Stiglitz enquiry’ - , was a fear that individuals no longer believed what ‘official statistics’ were telling them. In particular, the introduction of the Euro in 2002 meant that ‘official’ inflation rates became out of kilter with how individuals felt about their own purchasing power. In this sense, ‘wellbeing’ is a rearguard concession to the media and opinion-formers, who demand the right to describe how society is really doing.
As ever, if you'd like to comment on the article itself, please do so underneath the Open Democracy article itself.