Mises Institute of Scotland - Austrian Economics & the Liberty of Man

The Tangle of Well-being

by admin

In the fifth chapter of Hayek’s road to serfdom, the chapter opens with a quote from Kirkcaldy’s son Adam Smith. It is as follows:

“The statesman  who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load  himself with a  most  unnecessary  attention,   but assume  an  authority  which could  safely  be trusted  to  no council and  senate  whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous  as in the  hands  of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.”

In modern Scotland, there is only limited support and government moves towards controlling the economy as a whole. Certain aspects are identified as being most in need of the tender touch of the totalitarian state. At present these are:

Land Ownership



Now you might be surprised at this starting point; how can a government who believes it should have more limited control over the economy seek to take the lead in raising every single child in the land? The answer lies with the Scottish model of government, an entirely new beast using ideas from America, from the UN and influenced by the manifest failure of both Soviet style state control and western welfarism. This mode of Government seeks to enlist the individual, with their unique creativity, in state directed ways. The state therefore is to define the outcomes required of us. We are free to engage our individual brilliance, but only insofar as this generates the required outcomes. This is an attempt to ape freedom without permitting genuine liberty to emerge.

Hence the Scottish Government have defined the outcomes of  child rearing, land use and economic activity and claim the right to continue to do so forever-more. In the area of family life, woe-betide those whose children fail to meet this specification; or those who some government official predicts will fail, for the mere belief in the mind of our wise overlords that the interests of the child may be affected in the future is enough for early intervention.

The key word is well-being. For a sample of the government propaganda on this subject, see these links:

Wellbeing explained to Young People

Scotgov page on wellbeing


Well-being is everything, and to improve well-being we are told we need state involvement in private family life; all in the interests of the child you understand. And well-being is now enshrined in primary legislation, the Children and Young Peoples Act. So what, you might be wondering is the definition of well-being? That dear reader , is not so clear:

Well-being is not a beach you go and lie on. It’s a sort of dynamic dance and there’s movement in that all the time and actually it’s the functionality of that movement which actually is true levels of well-being (Nic Marks, Radio 4, 7 January 2012).

Clear yet?

“a complex, multi-faceted construct that has continued to elude researchers’ attempts to define and measure it” (Pollard and Lee 2003)

How about now? The short answer is it cannot be defined, it is happiness, it is all encompassing satisfaction, in Glasgow it might be expressed “How are ye, in yersel?”.


Hayek saw this issue in the 1940’s and wrote about it in Road the Serfdom

The “social goal”, or “common purpose”, for which society is to be organised, is usually vaguely described as the “common good”, or the “general welfare”, or the “general interest”. It does not need much reflection to see that these terms have no sufficiently definite meaning to determine a particular course of action. The welfare and the happiness of millions cannot be measured on a single scale of less and more. The welfare of a people, like the happiness of a man, depends on a great many things that can be provided in an infinite variety of combinations. It cannot be adequately expressed as a single end, but only as a hierarchy of ends, a comprehensive scale of values in which every need of every person is given its place. To direct all our activities according to a single plan presupposes that every one of our needs is given its rank in an order of values which must be complete enough to make it possible to decide between all the different courses between which the planner has to choose. It presupposes, in short, the existence of a complete ethical code in which all the different human values are allotted their due place.

So Hayek saw, what few in contemporary Scotland can see; that state control of general well-being means state control of the ethical code by which we live our lives.


What, dear reader, could be more totalitarian than that?