According to an article dedicated to positioning happiness at the top of our list of motivators, individualism, capitalism, and self-promotion are out. The author states that “the desire to be happy is central to our nature. And, following the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, I want a society in which people are as happy as possible and in which each person’s happiness counts equally.”

The article is a non sequitur, and its reasoning is nugatory. For instance, the author contends that the incentive structures of pay raises for better performance are out of tune with our natural tendencies. Because of this, they should be nixed.

We should be sceptical of institutions which give greater weight to rank, such as performance-related pay (PRP). The idea of PRP is that by paying people for what they achieve, we provide the best possible system of incentives. Where we can measure people’s achievement accurately, we should pay them for it?people like travelling salesmen, foreign exchange dealers, or racehorse jockeys. And where achievement depends on a team effort, we should reward the team, provided their performance can be unambiguously measured.

But management gurus are often after something more: they want a year by year alignment between individual pay and individual performance. The problem is that in most jobs there is no objective measure of individual performance, so people must in effect be evaluated against their peers. Even if the scores purport to be objective rather than relative, most people know how many are in each grade. The effect is to put them into a ranking. If everybody agreed about the rankings, it would not be that bad. But studies have shown quite low correlations between one evaluator’s rankings and another’s. So a lot of self-respect (and often very little pay) is being attached to an uncertain ranking process that fundamentally alters the relationship of co-operation between an employee and his boss, and between an employee and his peers.

I for one see nothing wrong with ranking, something the author continuously claims is unfair and unproductive. I think it is entirely fair to pit the performance of group members against each other in order to evaluate results. How else will we get better at whatever we happen to be doing? Maybe we could just give them all a lollipop, I hear that increases happiness by a few percentage points.