Friday, August 25, 2006

What is happiness, really?

In today's column, Polly Toynbee tells us that:

it [Sweden] tops the international happiness league

Which international happiness league?  Not this one, which asks about "life satisfaction", where it is Switzerland that tops the league table.  Not this one, which is the proportion of people saying they are happy less the proportion who say they are unhappy, where it is Iceland which comes out on top.  Balnchflower and Oswald's paper "Happiness and the Human Development Index: The Paradox of Australia" (pdf link here) has Mexico in prime position.


UPDATE: In the comments to the piece on Comment is Free, commenter Persian says:

Polly also repeats what seems to be one of her idees fixes, namely that unlike other Europeans, Swedish women have a lot of children. From the Council of Europe's website -

Sweden’s “roller-coaster” fertility rate has received international attention. In the 1980s fertility rates grew rapidly and reached 2.14 in 1990 – one of the highest fertility rates in Europe at the time. Since the early 1990s fertility is again declining rapidly. The economic recession, increased unemployment and and less generous family policies were contributing factors. In 1999 the total fertility rate reached an all time low of 1.5 and in 2002 the total fertility rate was 1.65.

So probably Polly's not updating her facts.

The link to the Council of Europe website is here

I'm shocked.  Is she really not updating her facts?  Well, she also writes:

Nor was the "scandal" of a minister using her official credit card to buy a bar of chocolate - but she had to resign.

Gosh.  You wouldn't think that actually happened in 1995 would you?


UPDATE 2: The case of the "minister using her official credit card to buy a bar of chocolate", as Polly described it, gets more and more interesting.  In a paper written by two academics at Lund University, called "Pack-hunt journalism – ruthless journalism as the norm in the media society" (pdf link here) comes this description of the scandal:

After the Social Democrats’ election victory in 1994 Mona Sahlin re-entered the Government on 7 October, this time as both Deputy Prime-Minister and Minister for Equality. Almost at once she began to use her official credit card for private purposes, first for three cash withdrawals, each of 2000 SEK, then for some clothes purchases and hiring a car, and then again further cash withdrawals. After officials had spoken to her about the matter she promised to put the card away, but she didn’t pay off the outstanding debt, which totalled 9,855 SEK. On 28 December 1994 she again used the card to pay a bill of 9,187 SEK for a hired car. It was not until 6 February that she paid the original 9,855 SEK, while the car-hire bill remained unpaid, and more cash withdrawals were made (Aftonbladet 1995).

On 7 October 1995 Expressen revealed her cash withdrawals. In her defence Sahlin claimed that she had mixed up her cards. The following day she changed her story and instead claimed that it was an advance of salary. The then Prime Minister, Ingvar Carlsson, commented by noting that she had paid the money she owed. Not until 10 October did Sahlin pay the car-hire bill that had been outstanding since 1994. On 12 October it was revealed that she was still using the card, despite her promises not to use it for private purposes (Aftonbladet 1995). On the following four days all the Swedish daily and evening papers, as well as the radio and TV channels were filled to the brim with revelations about Sahlin’s various expenses and payment difficulties, including among other things that she had not paid a school bill on time. The leader columns of the Social Democratic papers criticised her, saying that she had damaged the Party.

On 16 October 1995 Mona Sahlin held a press conference [...] She made a long statement in which she accused the journalists of a witch-hunt against her. “You take pictures through the kitchen window and say she is hiding indoors […]You pry into the bedrooms with your tele-lenses. I feel dirty but I wonder how you feel, you who have been part of what I am describing […]” (Sahlin 1996: 295). [...]

At the same time the Public Prosecutor was making preliminary enquiries. And in the speculations about who should succeed Ingvar Carlsson, Mona Sahlin became more and more of an outsider. To get as far away as possible from all this fuss, she booked a holiday for herself and her family. In Mauritius. To be able to keep in touch with the Ministry, she took her secretary with her – whose stay was paid from public funds. When she came home her holiday destination was the main subject in all the headlines. In its leader on 6 November the evening paper Expressen wrote:

"The journey to Mauritius was for many yet another proof that the political classes now consider themselves above the people they represent. Not only is Sahlin behindhand in paying her bills at the play-school, while supplementing her pay with public funds, but she goes off to the millionaires’ island too. And she even has the cheek to take her secretary with her at the tax-payers’ expense."

On 10 November the pressure became too much and Mona Sahlin resigned. The Public Prosecutor then dropped his enquiry and she decided to give a first press conference. Erik Fichtelius was at the microphone. He asked whether she had now paid all her play-school bills. Yes, I think so, she replied. She thought wrong. Fichtelius said he had just checked up, and it seemed that there was still an unpaid school bill, and a reminder was on its way. Once again other media started to investigate, but eventually the media coverage died down. She returned to Government three years later and her political career seemed to pick up speed again. There the journalistic pack-hunt against Mona Sahlin might have ended. But history repeats itself.

In November 1999 it emerged that Mona Sahlin had received 98 parking-tickets in two years, of which 32 had gone to the public Debt Collector. Once again the pack-hunt set off. Scarcely a year later, in August 2000, came the next blow – the revelation that her file had been noted because she was three months late in paying a supplementary tax bill of 40,000 SEK. For Sahlin, who had launched a Social Democratic campaign under the motto “It’s great to pay taxe [sic]!”, this was yet another reminder that she didn’t practise what she preached. In case she had forgotten it, the media were only too ready to refresh her memory. In 2002 came the next media posse, when it was discovered that a double ban had been put on Sahlin’s Volvo, because she had neither put it in for its MOT test nor paid the annual vehicle tax (Molin 2002). In contrast to the first pack-hunt, however, none of the subsequent ones led to her resignation.

This was not about a chocolate bar, however much Mona Sahlin would like it to be.  From the same paper referenced above comes this quote:

She [Mona Sahlin] explained at a press conference long after the matter had been discovered that she had occasionally bought a Toblerone on her official credit card.

I think this is known as "playing it down".  It's a shame to see the gullible buying the line.

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