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Peter Richard Grenville Layard, Baron Layard FBA (born 15 March 1934) is a British labour economist, currently working as programme director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics.
His early career focused on how to reduce unemployment and inequality. He was Senior Research Officer for the famous Robbins Committee on Higher Education. This committee's report led to the massive expansion of UK university education in the 1960s and 1970s.
Following research on happiness begun in the 1970s by economists such as Richard Easterlin at the University of Southern California, he has written about the economics of happiness, with one theme being the importance of non-income variables on aggregate happiness, including mental health.
His main current interest is how better mental health could improve our social and economic life. His work on mental health, including publishing The Depression Report in 2006, led to the establishment of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme in England. He is co-editor of the World Happiness Report, with John F. Helliwell and Jeffrey Sachs.
Layard assisted Claus Moser on the Robbins enquiry, and later developed a reputation in the economics of education (with Mark Blaug at LSE), and labour economics (in particular with Stephen Nickell). He advocated many of the policies which characterised the New Labour government, particularly the New Deal, partly by founding the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. One approach he took is based on the idea of welfare-to-work, where social welfare payments are structured in a way that encourages (or forces) recipients back into the job market.
As well as academic positions, Layard worked as an advisor for numerous organisations, including government institutions in the United Kingdom and Russia.
In 1990 he was founder-director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. where he is presently programme director.
Layard became active in the study of what has since come to be known as happiness economics. This branch of economic analysis starts from the argument that income is a bad approximation for happiness. Based on modern happiness research, he cites three factors that economists fail to take into consideration:
From these observations, Layard concludes that taxes serve another purpose besides paying for public services (usually for public goods) and redistributing income. The third purpose is to counteract the cognitive bias that causes people to work more than is good for their happiness. That is, taxes should help citizens preserve a healthy work-life balance.
In 2005 Layard published the book Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, in which he emphasised the importance of non-income variables on aggregate happiness. His book summarises the prior empirical findings produced by economists such as Richard Easterlin, David G Blanchflower, Andrew E Clark, Rafael Di Tella, Robert MacCulloch, and Andrew Oswald. In particular he stressed the role of mental health and argued that psychological treatments ought to be much more widely available.
In 2014, with the clinical psychologist David M Clark, he published the book Thrive: The Power of Evidence-Based Psychological Therapies, in which the authors demonstrate the potential value of the wider availability of modern talking therapies, and include a chapter on mental illness prevention.
Layard has shown that mental illness is the main cause of unhappiness.
In 2015, he was co-author of the report that launched the Global Apollo Programme, which calls for developed nations to commit to spending 0.02% of their GDP for 10 years, to fund co-ordinated research to make carbon-free baseload electricity less costly than electricity from coal by the year 2025.
Recent research on happiness questioning part of Baron Layard's thesis and suggesting that people do obtain happiness from increased income forms part of ongoing investigations into the Easterlin Paradox.
Peter Richard Grenville Layard is the son of John Layard. He was educated at Eton, where he was a King's scholar; at King's College, Cambridge (he is a member of the semi-secretive Cambridge Apostles society); and at the London School of Economics.
In 1991, he married Molly Christine Meacher, who was formerly married to Michael Meacher. Molly, styled Lady Layard between 2000 and 2006, was herself created a life peer in 2006 as Baroness Meacher. They are one of the few couples to both hold titles in their own right.