The paper thematizes the problematic relationship between economy and happiness covered by economist Robert Michels (1876-1936) in his book “The Economics of Happiness” published in 1918. In this book Michels, as a true frontier scholar, provides, well in advance of the acquisitions of modern “science of happiness”, an interdisciplinary reading of the different determinants of happiness and of their interactions, courageously refuting the monistic and reductionist paradigm of neoclassical economy dominant in his epoch. The hedonistic conception of happiness conceived by Michels echoes that formulated by Jeremy Bentham, but Michels, unlike the Utilitarians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, gives it an unexpected twist, by postulating heretically that happiness is the ultimate goal of economy and that wealth is only a means to achieve it. In establishing the primacy of happiness as the main purpose of economic activity, Michels follows in the footsteps of Neapolitan and Milanese Civil Economists of Enlightenment with whom he had other theoretical points of consonance which the paper highlights. However Michels’ conception of happiness differs from Civil Economists’ notion because it is primarily based on individual pleasure and not on relational goods, because it is disconnected from those components of gratuitousness which are immanent to sincere relational goods, because it is detached from the search for Common Good. Finally the paper illustrates the multidimensional and innovative public policies which Michels suggests for the achievement of happiness by invoking a wide range of integrated interventions to be carried out by the State and by the workers’ unions.
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