Acton Institute Powerblog

Politicians and the Pursuit of Happiness

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In this week’s Acton Commentary I conclude, “The American people do not need politicians to tell them what happiness is and how it should be pursued.”

I admit that I didn’t have this quote in mind (or I would have used it!), but Art Carden (follow him here and read him here) notes the following from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations:

What is the species of domestic industry which his capital can employ, and of which the produce is likely to be of the greatest value, every individual, it is evident, can, in his local situation, judge much better than any statesman or lawgiver can do for him. The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.

And following up on the folly of political-driven homeownership for all, Reuters (HT: Drudge) reports that the “New American Dream is renting to get rich.”

The payoff? “So while home ownership may sound glamorous, you need a lot of money to make it work, without much guarantee of positive returns in a post-bubble era.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • I don’t need home-ownership to sound glamorous.  I own a home mostly to not listen to people walking on floors above me or playing their loud music, to not annoy my neighbors (too much) and for privacy.  I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of it as “the American Dream” per say, or desired to own it to fulfill any sort of lofty ideal.

    I read an article that made a lot of sense to me.  If you’re not planning on moving in 5 years you should buy a house, otherwise you’re just throwing money into a rent sinkhole.

    I guess people rent for peace of mind in knowing they don’t have to do more work, which is reasonable.  I bought a house for peace of mind as well, though I guess it’s a different kind.

    As for politicians telling people what to buy… when will they realize there are trade-offs to both renting and buying and just let it go?

  • Roger McKinney

    And yet there are millions of Americans who think their vision of happiness is so good, so important and so virtuous that they want to force it on the rest of us who are too stupid to agree with them.

    They remind me of a cousin when I was a kid. Our mothers bought baby chicks for Easter. We put out a pan of water for them and went outside to play. Later we came back and found them all dead. My very young cousin had decided that they were thirsty and needed to drink, but the chicks wouldn’t cooperate. So he held their heads under water trying to force them to drink.