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And richer people are happier than poor ones—though just how much is a source of argument (see article). Ask a bunch of 30-year-olds and another of 70-year-olds (as Peter Ubel, of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, did with two colleagues, Heather Lacey and Dylan Smith, in 2006) which group they think is likely to be happier, and both lots point to the 30-year-olds.

Ask them to rate their own well-being, and the 70-year-olds are the happier bunch.

Mr Townshend may have thought of himself as a youthful radical, but this view is ancient and conventional.

But some economists, unconvinced that there is a direct relationship between money and well-being, have decided to go to the nub of the matter and measure happiness itself.

In 2008 France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, asked two Nobel-prize-winning economists, Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz, to come up with a broader measure of national contentedness than GDP.

Then last month, in a touchy-feely gesture not typical of Britain, David Cameron announced that the British government would start collecting figures on well-being.

“We ran a conference about it, but nobody came.” Since then, interest in the U-bend has been growing.

Its effect on happiness is significant—about half as much, from the nadir of middle age to the elderly peak, as that of unemployment. David Blanchflower, professor of economics at Dartmouth College, and Mr Oswald looked at the figures for 72 countries.

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