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Are Americans happy?

Wednesday, August 08, 2012    

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WASHINGTON - Ben Bernanke wants to know if Americans are happy.

The Federal Reserve chairman said Monday that gauging happiness can be as important for measuring economic progress as determining whether inflation is low or unemployment high. Economics isn't just about money and material benefits, Bernanke said. It is also about understanding and promoting "the enhancement of well-being."

Bernanke and Fed policymakers rely on reports on hiring, consumer spending and other economic data when making high-stakes decisions about the $15 trillion ($1.3 quadrillion) US economy. The Fed's dual mandate is to maintain low inflation and full employment.

"We should seek better and more-direct measurements of economic well-being," Bernanke said Monday in a video-taped speech shown to a conference of economists and statisticians in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After all, promoting well-being is "the ultimate objective of our policy decisions."

Bernanke acknowledged that many people aren't too happy right now. Unemployment rose in July to 8.3 per cent, and economic growth has slowed sharply from the start of the year. He called the recovery "frustratingly slow" when he testified to Congress on July 17.

Aggregate statistics can mask important information about how individual Americans are faring, Bernanke says.

His speech Monday was the latest foray into a relatively new specialty in economics known as "happiness studies." Bernanke attracted widespread notice when he spoke about the economics of happiness in a May 2010 commencement address at the University of South Carolina.

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