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After dinner speech: Not an ordinary pig

By Steven Schwartz - posted Thursday, 17 August 2023

I've heard many after-dinner speeches. I have been in the audience listening to them, and I've been up in front giving them. I've been to so many that I decided to make a study of speeches. And I am happy to say that I have discovered the secret ingredient to a successful after-dinner address. Surprisingly, it's not the topic of the speech or how well it is delivered. The secret ingredient is length-the shorter, the better. And tonight, I can assure you that I intend to strive for true greatness.

So, in the interest of efficiency, I'm going to give you my takeaway point right up front. What I want you to remember from my speech tonight is that some pigs are very special. I know what you are thinking - what's this guy on about? But have patience; all will become clear.

It may seem strange to ask this question after such a wonderful meal, but I wonder if anyone in the audience tonight is finding the world a little hard to bear. If you are, I want you to take heart-the government is here to help you. No longer will economists, those dismal Cassandras, focus solely on making and spending money. In future, the goal of economics will be to make us all happy.


Governments in the UK, Canada, and America have replaced the boring job of balancing their ledgers with the more exciting task of spreading joy through the land. In Australia, we now have a well-being framework that encourages flexible and shorter working hours and longer, better-paid maternity and paternity, child care, and other forms of leave. I am certainly not against these things, provided, of course, that employers and employees can make them work.

But to tell you the truth, I'm not sure these measures will spread joy through the land. An election is always imminent. Instead of timid little demands, this is an opportunity to extract big whoppers from would-be governments. So here is my idea of a true happiness platform:

Fellow citizens vote for us, and we will devote every working hour to improving your personal life and making your relationships happy. As our first measure, we will require all single people to enrol in government-subsidised dating services. That's right - if we are elected, even the most desperate among you will be guaranteed a date every Saturday night.

For those new to the mysteries of romance, we will provide free training videos. These will include all genders and dispositions. To help maintain your intimate relationships, once you form them, our centralised message bank will automatically send a reminder to your mobile phone one week before your partner's birthday or your wedding anniversary. In addition, tax deductions will be allowed for government-approved champagne, flowers and chocolates.

Now I may be just an old grump, but as you can probably tell, I'm a little dubious about the idea that government legislation can make us happy. As I see it, if laws made people happy, we would already be the most jovial people on earth because every aspect of our lives is already subject to one law or another. There are laws governing smoking, drinking, schooling, working, buying, selling, driving, raising children, travelling, holidays, and even dying. Nothing is too small to be left to chance.

Has this led to worldwide happiness? Hardly There's a pandemic of depression circling the globe. No one is happy, and I humbly suggest that less, not more, legislation is the answer.


According to the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, "People who conceive life to be a pursuit of happiness must be chronically unhappy." Happiness is not a goal of its own; it is a by-product of using one's abilities and living up to one's potential. It comes from satisfying relationships and fulfilling work. Without these things, all the laws in the world will make little difference.

Happiness is also closely related to freedom, including from governments who want to make us happy. Governments often assume they can make better judgements about people's welfare than they make on their own. Unfortunately, world history does not support this assumption. There have been many more bad governments than good ones. To protect freedom, we must guard against those who seek to legislate it away, but we must also defend it from ourselves. World history is not full of good governments, and it is not full of good voters either. Remember, Adolph Hitler, was elected to office.

Chiselled in stone at the Rockefeller Centre in New York is the legend:

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This article was first published on Wiser Every Day.

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About the Author

Emeritus Professor Steven Schwartz AM is the former vice-chancellor of Macquarie University (Sydney), Murdoch University (Perth), and Brunel University (London).

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