In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government

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9780671611002: In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government

Respected author, scholar, and columnist Charles Murray has long challenged accepted notions of public and social policy issues. In this volume, originally published in 1988, Murray presents a persuasive and practical argument that reconsiders commonly held beliefs of what constitutes success in social policy by examining the scope of government and its role in people’s pursuit of happiness.

In Pursuit begins by examining James Madison’s statement:  “a good government implies two things; first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can best be attained." Murray exhibits a thoughtful, accessible writing style as he considers such basic, important questions as whether individual efforts or government reform should be responsible for dealing with society's problems. Drawing from his minimalist-government viewpoint, Murray proposes that government not try to force happiness on the people with federal policies or programs but, rather, that it provide conditions that enable people to pursue happiness on their own.

Murray also proposes that the pursuit of happiness be used as a framework for analyzing the efficacy of public policy, and he comes to the conclusion that Jeffersonian democracy is still the best way to run society, even in today's complex society. The author states, "Jefferson and his colleagues were right more universally than they knew. In particular, they understood that the vitality of communities and the freedom of individuals are intertwined, not competitive."

Charles Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. He has written numerous books, including Coming Apart, Losing Ground, and Real Education. He is perhaps best known for coauthoring the 1994 New York Times bestseller The Bell Curve with the late Richard J. Herrnstein.

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From Publishers Weekly:

Murray, a senior research fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and the author of Losing Ground , launches a relentlessly unfocussed argument which includes the thesis that Jeffersonian democracy is perfectly applicable in the contemporary United States. Assuming that the pursuit of happiness should be a criterion in making public policy, he explores the enabling conditions of that pursuit (access to material resources, safety, self-respect prominent among them), then draws a fuzzy linkage between them and the concepts of challenge, competency and autonomy. His conclusion is that the pursuit of happiness is rooted in Edmund Burke's "little platoons" of work, family and community, and that the government, in order to encourage, nourish and protect these elemental functions, should keep interference to a minimum. He argues for "a radically more decentralized and limited government." Alas, Murray does not say how this might be brought about. First serial to National Review; Conservative Book Club dual main selection.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal:

Murray's best seller, Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980, touted the virtues of small government. In this latest work, again sure to please conservatives and provoke liberals, he proposes that government not try to make people happy, but instead provide "enabling conditions" that ease their pursuit of happiness. These conditions notably include minimal welfare to provide merely the staples of life. Further attention to needy persons, he contends, should be provided by communities and local institutions. He acknowledges that his approach is especially difficult in poor inner cities with their alienation, impersonality, etc., but he nonetheless believes that typical governmental welfare only perpetuates poverty. A sophisticated treatment with potential broad appeal. David Steiniche, Missouri Western State Coll., St. Joseph
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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