Governing with the Goal of Happiness
Our real goal in life is happiness. Promoting happiness should be the primary goal of government, and it will be in my administration.
The Declaration of Independence says that the purpose of government is to promote “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Strangely, it does not mention maximizing GDP growth.
What is the primary goal in life? I think it is happiness. Ultimately, each of us primarily wants to be happy. We want money, a good romantic relationship, friends, a meaningful job, a great new phone, a million TikTok followers, and other things, but we want those ultimately because we think they will make us happy. (By happiness of course, I do not mean just pleasure but something deeper than that. And I should say that to become happy, perhaps the best strategy is to focus on others and making them happy.)
Since happiness is our primary goal as people, it should also be the primary goal of government. I don’t think it is. Our government and our system behave like their primary goal is maximizing aggregate GDP growth—not even per capita GDP or individual economic wellbeing but just aggregate GDP, the total size of the economy. That will not be my primary goal as governor; my primary goal will be to increase the average level of happiness or per capita happiness, including especially minimizing depression and loneliness.
We should measure and track those things with at least as much care and specificity as we measure and track economic measures like GDP. That is how you should judge me as governor and that is how Tim Walz should be judged as governor.
We are a social species and most of our happiness comes from interacting with other people. But the lockdown response chosen by Tim Walz and Anthony Fauci was to deliberately isolate everyone from each other -- order everyone to stay home, close restaurants, bars, churches, health clubs, schools, and businesses, and for the businesses that remained open order everyone to work from home if possible. And order everyone to wear masks so we cannot see each other’s faces. The policy was literally to reduce contact with other human beings as much as possible and, for the contact that cannot be prevented, order people to wear masks so they cannot see each other’s faces. If you wanted a policy deliberately designed to make people unhappy, you could not have come up with a better policy.
And it succeeded. We went from 8% of the U.S. population in major depression pre-lockdowns to 27% in the midst of lockdowns. We chose to throw 63 million Americans into major clinical depression in a failed attempt to reduce upper respiratory tract infections from a disease 1.7 times deadlier than the flu.
Tim Walz and Anthony Fauci effectively chose to maximize depression. I will choose to minimize it.
So here are a few proposals to promote happiness:
(1) Do the opposite of every policy of the lockdowns:
Go to church, synagogue, or mosque more, not less.
Go out to restaurants with friends more, not less.
Shake hands and hug more, not less.
Get married and have a big wedding.
If a loved one dies, have a funeral and invite everyone to it.
Meet in person more, not less.
Work together with your colleagues if possible, not isolated at home.
Go to a health club more, not less.
Travel more, not less.
(2) Replace the Mask Mandate with a Name Tag Request! . I cannot take credit for this idea. I think Kramer on Seinfeld first suggested it. I would propose that the state officially ask all of us to wear a name tag like this:
The state can produce them on demand for people. These say “Minnesota Nice” on them, which I hope provides a reminder to us to be nice to one another and helps promote the state as a state with nice people. We can have blank ones available outside of stores and establishments, urging people to fill them out and wear one, the same way we had masks available outside of every store.
I thought of this as a contrast to the mask mandates. Masks were a visual reminder to be afraid of one another and that we were in a supposed catastrophe and we should all be depressed. They prevented us from seeing each other smile and made both verbal and nonverbal communication more difficult and thereby discouraged bonding with people and meeting new people. A name tag request, in contrast, would help us meet and bond with one another and be a visual reminder to be nice and friendly to one another. It would promote happiness and fight loneliness and depression.
(3) The "Minnesota Siesta." Walk outside for at least 15 minutes every Thursday between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon, with businesses required to give all employees at least 15 minutes off in that time frame. Let's call this "The Minnesota Siesta." Again, for individuals this would be a request, not a mandate. But for businesses it would be a mandatory to give all workers at least 15 minutes off in that hour to participate. Walking is the best exercise there is and almost anyone can do it. This policy would promote being outside, exercising, and meeting others, particularly your neighbors. Other than owning a dog, those are the three best things you can do to be happier.
(4) Mandatory dog ownership. Just kidding about this one. I would not make owning a dog mandatory. But it is a great way to be happier and we should promote and not discourage dog and cat ownership. Currently many apartment buildings and rental units, especially for low income people, do not allow dog or cat ownership. I would require all rental buildings with 5 or more units to allow both dogs and cats in at least 80% of their units and rental housing with fewer than 5 units to pay a tax on each unit where they choose to forbid dog or cat ownership.
Some of these proposals may strike you as whimsical, but I am serious about them. Ordinary politicians propose tax breaks to bring some business to town that will hopefully generate a few jobs for a few years. That does nothing to make us happier, and happiness is really what we are after in life. My proposals above really will help to make us at least a little happier, less depressed, and less lonely.