One of the many great things about America’s Founding Fathers is that the Declaration of Independence refers to “unalienable rights” including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But there’s not even a suggestion that it is the job of government to provide happiness.
Brazil’s politicians have a different view of such matters. They’re considering an amendment to the nation’s Constitution that would create a similar right, but with the expectation that it would be the job of government to provide happiness.
There are two huge problems with this approach. First, government can’t give something to one person without first taking it from another. So if politicians decide that this new “right” to happiness means more redistribution of food and housing (things supposedly “guaranteed” by the Brazilian Constitution already), then that means more government coercion through the tax system. Second, happiness isn’t achieved by being a moocher. Dependency breeds resentment, not joy.
It would be simple to dismiss this proposal as a hollow political stunt, but there actually are many things that Brazil’s government could do to open doors for the poor, such as enforcing property rights, opening markets, deregulating the economy, and lowering tax rates. Then poor people would have the ability to achieve true happiness by improving their own lives rather than kowtowing for crumbs from a corrupt political elite.
…a bill to amend Brazil’s Constitution to make the search for happiness an inalienable right is widely expected to be approved soon by the Senate, which reconvened Tuesday. The bill would then go to the lower house. …supporters say the happiness bill is a serious undertaking despite the revelry, meant to address Brazil’s stark economic and social inequalities. “In Brazil, we’ve had economic growth without the social growth hoped for,” said Mauro Motoryn, the director of the Happier Movement, a non-governmental organization backing the legislation. “With the constitutional amendment, we want to provoke discussion, to seek approval for the creation of conditions in which social rights are upheld.” Similar explorations of officially finding happiness have been pushed by other governments. Both Japan and South Korea include the right to happiness in their constitutions, and earlier this month, the British government detailed plans to begin a $3 million project to measure citizens’ well being. …The bill before Brazil’s Congress would insert the phrase “pursuit of happiness” into Article 6 of the constitution, which states that education, health, food, work, housing, leisure and security – among other issues – are the social rights of all citizens.