Politicians of all stripes are now competing for public favor by offering an almost endless array of expensive enticements. Voters can choose from a wide variety of tax cuts or new spending proposals for all the good things that Americans are supposedly entitled to - more education outlays, safer neighborhoods, more health care, a cleaner environment, a more modern military establishment, and other worthy causes. Any detached observer of this process must conclude that Santa Claus has come out of his annual hibernation early this season.
Nevertheless, no matter how anxious they may be for electoral success, all of the political candidates are demonstrating a great deficiency of imagination. Despite their long lists of "goodies" aimed at different interest groups, no one now running for office seems to have the audacity to promise the voters the ultimate entitlement, which, of course, is happiness.
What would be more enticing to wavering voters than a Full Happiness Law? Who could oppose such a progressive measure? It would be necessary, of course, to do much more than merely promulgate a full quota of happiness for every American. The pristine proposal itself might suffice for the current presidential campaign - and it would likely dominate the debates.
Yet, having participated in transition planning for several presidents, I understand the importance of developing the detailed positions in advance. How else could the new administration hit the deck running on Jan. 20, 1997? Of course, those details would not be released until shortly after the presidential inaugural.
For starters, the effort would require the establishment of a new Cabinet-level Department of Happiness. The Secretary of Happiness would be charged with the responsibility for promptly and fairly distributing happiness across the nation. An obvious array of subdivisions would be necessary, under the supervision of the inevitable assortment of deputy secretaries, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, deputy undersecretaries, assistant deputy secretaries, and so forth.
Surely, at the outset, a substantial group of talented sociologists and lawyers would have to be recruited to staff the section charged with defining what happiness is and, then, how full is full. Another section, boasting an array of economists and political scientists, would wrestle with a host of more specific questions: What is the desirability of privatizing the federal responsibility? Should happiness stamps be distributed to each resident? Who licenses the happiness providers?
A very large division, comprised primarily of statisticians and market researchers, would be required to survey the populace to determine the current state of happiness. They also would be charged with identifying any shortfalls to be filled. A closely related division would have the responsibility of developing the specific programs, which can be drawn upon to close the gap between the status quo and full happiness.
The largest division of the new department would, of course, be charged with carrying out the programs which provide the requisite amounts of happiness to each citizen (or will the effort cover all residents, legal and otherwise?). A great variety of talents would be required for this endeavor, ranging from experienced bureaucrats to broad-gauged manufacturing experts to providers of transportation and communications services. Clearly, the provision of full happiness would help to generate full employment in the United States
Finally, an investigative division would be set up to ferret out recalcitrant individuals who are not taking full advantage of the programs and benefits of the Department of Happiness. Suitable punishments would have to be devised. Volunteers could be relied upon to carry them out. After all, how could full happiness be achieved without full citizen participation?
*Murray Weidenbaum is chairman of the Center for the Study of American Business at Washington University in St. Louis.