Department of I just don’t believe this

Remember the debates on whether/why conservatives are happier than liberals?  Here is a new contribution, from Jamie Napier and John Jost::

In this research, we drew on system-justification theory and the notion that conservative ideology serves a palliative function to explain why conservatives are happier than liberals. Specifically, in three studies using nationally representative data from the United States and nine additional countries, we found that right-wing (vs. left-wing) orientation is indeed associated with greater subjective well-being and that the relation between political orientation and subjective well-being is mediated by the rationalization of inequality. In our third study, we found that increasing economic inequality (as measured by the Gini index) from 1974 to 2004 has exacerbated the happiness gap between liberals and conservatives, apparently because conservatives (more than liberals) possess an ideological buffer against the negative hedonic effects of economic inequality. 

I am not at all committed to the view that conservatives are truly happier than liberals, whether adjusting for relevant demographics or not.  But to think that if liberals are less happy, it is because of they suffer under a greater awareness of economic inequality…that to me is dubious.  We’re simply being told that conservatives are more happy because they enjoy living with evil.  You’ll notice that the paper does not provide a single piece of causal evidence for this claim.  (And do you recall the results that conservatives give more to charity?)  A simple alternative model (but not the only one) is that people have a certain amount of unhappiness in them and they channel their political discontents to fill that unhappiness. 

This paper is drawn from a long list of new papers devoted to attacking markets, linked to a Harvard Law conference, and I thank Daniel Klein for the pointer.


Because we all know that the main reason people are unhappy is due to their inability to cope with economic inequality, rather than divorce, drugs, fatherlessness, selfishness, poverty, etc.

...Or that a person's objective economic conditions create a propensity to have a certain political view, i.e. where they perceive the maintenance of their well being, or change of circumstance is best championed.

Although I don't think it's SO outrageous to state the right wing ideology - i.e. individualistic ideology - would allow one to feel less implicated in the social conditions of others...

Another alternative: conservatives are less likely to try and change the system that causes inequalities.

Clearly if this were true, liberals should be much happier today than yesterday after Obama signed the (highly) symbolic Lily Ledbetter Act. Likewise, conservatives should be much less happy.

I think this shows that a relative measure of well being (Gini) should not be regressed on a subjective measure of happiness. Conclusions should also not be drawn.

In general but not in total, conservative or right-wing ideology is generally focused less on radical changes and more on maintaining the status quo and incremental improvement (reduce public sector, deregulate, etc). People who would be attracted to this would probably be happy with their lives.

On the other hand, left wing ideology in general but not in total often stands for radical change. Large expansions in public programs. It often, at least in America, finds every marginalized, improvised, or oppressed group and champions their causes. Many a poor person will happily hang up their ideology for government hand outs. Ideology doesn't feed you. People less happy with their situation are more likely to be proponents of radical change.

Maybe? I think my comment is muddled but I don't have time to refine it.

"We're simply being told that conservatives are more happy because they enjoy living with evil."

By George! I think he's GOT it!

I wonder if the symbolic nature of presidential ideology has any impact. That is, is it possible that liberals have been less happy than conservatives during the era of George W. Bush? Similarly, will conservatives find that Obama's supreme court appointments, foreign policy, etc. is getting their goat and become less happy for the next 4 or 8 years? Maybe nothing there, but it just crossed my mind.

Nice post, Tyler.

But I cry that you must enter into the degraded, corrupt, impoverished, and impoverishing "liberal v. conservative" semantics. Doing so, is, in a way, surrendering everything.

Oh, the terrible dilemmas of success!

Do you know if they have any plans to translate that paper into english?

Economic inequality is evil? You'll never be happy.

How could anyone but an evil person be happy with evil? Why not condense the sentence and say “ I think conservatives are evil?† I am conservative and I say reality is potentially adverse. That is not necessarily anyone’s fault. i.e. not necessarily evil.

apparently because conservatives (more than liberals) possess an ideological buffer against the negative hedonic effects of economic inequality.

This appears to translate to "conservatives are less envious".

it's because conservatives read freakonomics and liberals read krugman

Liberal "scientists" will always, do to the weakness of their own ideas, attempt to delegitmize their opponents through bogus research. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, we're supposed to all wring our hands over how uncaring and unsympathetic evil conservatives are to the plights of the poor. After all, if you don't support liberal welfare state policies, you hate the poor!

Tyler, you make it sound like income inequality is evil. I see no reason why that should be so, per se. Is society A where the top earner makes 100x the bottom earner more evil than society B where the top and bottom earner make the same, but both make half of the bottom earner in society A? I doubt you think so, so why did you say what you did?

Admittedly, I didn't read the article, so maybe it makes sense in context of the article? I'm not certain income inequality in and of itself can actually be evil under any circumstance. It seems a neutral concept.

I have three, vagely related, observations:

1. John Jost is also the co-author of "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition" (Psychological Bulletin,2003), which stated that conservatives are inclined to authoritarianism, need for closure, order and controls, and (you guessed it), "ideological rationalization (social dominance, system justification)". It was very much reviled by conservatives, but I have seen much, much worse studies.

2. Benabou and Tirole published in 2006 "Belief in a Just World and Redistributive Politics" (The Quarterly Journal of Economics), which attempts to explain variances in acceptance for inequality and their relationship to ideology. I was utterly unpersuaded.

3. There seems to be a relationship between perception of relative status and happiness; see "The Status Syndrome" by M. Marmot.

It is a fact that that most conservatives and libertarians are agnostic with respect to inequality, although it is not true that they are not agnostic with respect to poverty. But I find it unbelievable that a large majority of them are just rationalizing ex post.

Oh, one more thing: Jon [not John] Jost is the director of "All the Vermeers in New York", which I think Tyler may like.

Several hypotheses:

1. Liberals are more status-conscious than conservatives. Test: Are liberals who are at the top of the status heap in their neighborhoods/workplaces more happy than liberals who aren't?

2. Conservative beliefs regarding income inequality match reality better. Test: Are conservatives who live in areas with lots of abortions less happy than those who don't?

3. Liberal beliefs regarding income inequality produce guilt in wealthy liberals and envy in poor liberals. Test: Are liberals who live in racially integrated neighborhoods (or whose children attend racially integrated schools) happier than those who don't?

4. Conservatives believe that financial success or failure is generally deserved. Test: Are wealthier conservatives happier than poor conservatives? Alternate test: is there a significant difference in medium-term happiness between liberals and conservatives who have been laid off for cost-cutitng versus those fired for poor performance?

Happiness is relative, it is only measured by how one feels. What is the cause and efffect here? Is it, if I am a happy person therefor I am more likely to be a conservative? Or is it, I am a liberal therfore I will be unhappy?

Personally, I am happy not because of how much money I have or the party I most closely align with, rather, I am happy because I am self reliant (Emerson not Freakonomics), I have values that work, and most importantly, I have a great family. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I was born with a realistic perspective. I am in the US, not Rwanda. God bless!

I think that your spin — "We're simply being told that conservatives are more happy because they enjoy living with evil. — is a bit harsh (and "more happy?") but it certainly tracks in the right direction.

Yes, conservatives are more willing to live with "evil" because they think evil is inevitable and that humans are not even remotely perfectible.

Oh come on, the answer to this is so blatantly clear. Religion, the opiate of the masses, makes people happy. The pleasure center of the brain is lighting up like crazy when religious people are praying/meditating/speaking in tongues/quoting the bible/throwing stones at "sinners" or "infidels"/blowing themselves up/proselytizing, etc. Neurotheology and fMRIs of religious people are extremely interesting.

Religion is a mental disorder, but it's also a crutch used to make people happy, help people ignore/forget their problems, assist people in fitting in within a group, and allow people to feel superior to others.

American conservatives (i.e. Republicans) are far more religious, and their politics more religion-oriented, than American liberals (i.e. Democrats). Thus, it makes complete sense that republicans are on average more happy than democrats. But it's not real happiness, no more so than the euphoria caused by heroin or cocaine. Insofar as American liberals are more likely to use drugs, statistics show that's not true... even if it were so as to make the conservative/liberal happiness quotient more equivalent, I would expect many people not to admit drug use because it's illegal. Unfortunately, religion is not only perfectly legal, it's protected and even celebrated.

Another reason conservatives are likely happier than liberals is that they readily accept, and have no qualms about hypocrisy. It must feel nice to spend all day bashing homosexuals, calling them sinners and disgusting, diseased, morally bankrupt, evil people, and then spend all night having homosexual sex, a la the Ted Haggards of the conservative world. Or spending all day advocating locking up drug users and zealously supporting drug prohibition, while at the same time being addicted to illegally-acquired OxyContin, a la the Rush Limbaughs of the world. I'm not saying no liberal is ever hypocritical, but liberal hypocrisy is nowhere near as blatant, and on the grand scale of conservative hypocrisy. Living one's life with a "do as I say, not as I do" attitude certainly generates happiness. Having to be accountable and consistant to others is a huge downer...

You guys are assuming that average liberals and conservatives know much about economics. Both don't, including conservatives who may religiously repeat the "free market" slogan, but do in reality project patriarchal and moral notions on the economy.

This becomes more obvious in a country with multiple political parties.

Liberals in Austria are better educated and have higher incomes. They feel pity not for themselves, but for the working class. The working class is frequently described as "without hope", "losers of globalization", with "no prospects in life". When you actually talk to blue collar types, which most liberals don't, they actually seem quite happy with their economic circumstances. They usually start volitional training at the age of 15 and don't get a high school degree, mostly because they find school hard and boring and prefer to learn hands-on skill to earn money now, so they can afford to buy a car or go on vacation and start a family early.

The Austrian working class votes right wing, because they are the ones experiencing competition from immigrants for jobs and affordable housing. The austrian right wing parties are left wing populists on economic issues.

Wealthy conservatives on the other hand believe that their higher income reflects their higher virtues and dilligence, rather than higher IQ in an economic context where IQ matters.
A conservative journalist of an austrian business and economics magazine wrote an article about a year ago, in which he lamented that welders are earning to much nowadays. More in fact than some college graduates he knew. This is supposedly a problem, since the market is supposed to reward higher education and not filthy proles who get their hands dirty.

Poor conservatives (farmers) on the other hand don't like the market at all. Prices are all wrong for them and hard work on a family farm that has been passed down from generations is supposed to provide good income in their mind. Tradition and effort is supposed to pay off.

It is needless to say that the austrian conservative party are limited governement supply siders, who want to trim down the welfare state. Except of for farming, in which case quotas, subsidies are fine for them, as well as subsidies for the farmers health insurance, which couldn't otherwise sustain itself.

Conservatives are pro market, wherever market outcomes happen reflect their moral story of how things are supposed to be.

@Ethnic Austrian:

Low-income, low-education working-class voters in Austria overwhelmingly support the left-wing socialist (in US terminology one would say "liberal") SPÖ, and occasionally nationalist parties such as FPÖ and BZÖ (whose protectionist economic positions are much closer to those advocated by US Democrats than to those promoted by US Republicans). High-income, high-education upper-middle-class voters however overwhelmingly support the centre-right ÖVP (libertarian on economic issues, conservative on social issues, similar to the GOP), as well as LiF and Greens.

Why are conservatives, libertarians, classical liberals, right-wingers happier than "liberals", social democrats, socialists, left-wingers? First idea: People on the right tend to have higher income, are more likely to have children, tend to be more religious than people on the left. Wealth/success, children/family, religion/faith often make people happier, so it is not very surprising that right-wingers are happier than left-wingers. If there is a positive correlation between A and B, and a positive correlation between B and C, then there is often (not always!) a positive correlation between A and C.

However, if it turns out that even controlling for income, children and religiosity right-wingers tend to be happier than left-wingers, then there must be something far more fundamental. My assumption: Conservatives, libertarians and classical liberals tend to be happier than "liberals", social democrats and socialists, because we on the the right intuitively appreciate to a higher extent the intrinsic beauty of our world, the deep Hayekian insights of emergence and spontaneous order, the idea that many of the greatest marvels in our universe emerge spontaneously without any design: the human brain, prices, law (as opposed to legislation!), morality: "Our morals are not and cannot be the product of design but are the result of a natural selection of traditions." (Hayek)

Tyler, why don't you believe the data? It's been echoed several times in various studies. Closing your eyes doesn't make reality go away.

>the results that conservatives give more to charity

FWIW, it's worth noting that if contributions to churches are excluded, the two sides are in parity.

There is no secret formula to happiness, but there is something empowering and fulfilling in truly believing that you are in charge of your own destiny, that your greatness is only limited by your imagination and energy. Because conservatives feel empowered they are naturally happier. People who feel victimized are naturally going to be unhappy. The liberal message tells those that will listen that they are victims; victims of circumstances beyond their control, victims of a system that has left them behind, victims of socioeconomic circumstances that won't allow them to succeed. And not only are they told they're victims, they're made to believe that they must rely on the almighty government to alleviate their misery.

Often liberals who have achieved socioeconomic success (and there are plenty of them) feel apologetic. They've achieved some measure of personal fulfillment but they can't enjoy it. As a whole; however, the guilt they feel is never quite motivating enough to actually DO something positive to help others... like contribute to a charity. There's nothing like having a liberal politician tell you how patriotic it is to pay taxes, when he himself couldn't even freely donate a portion of his wealth to help the poor. Isn't it more rewarding and fulfilling to give because you want to rather than to give because the government says you have to?

Check: it's amazing that saying negative things about religion is "hate speech" (or "hate literature"). I don't hate religious people because it's unfair to hate someone over what they are, when they had no choice in the matter - like skin color, race, where they were born, etc. Religion is no different (although I bet you think it is). People don't choose their religions, they are infected with them. It's not like you started as an agnostic, researched all the world's religions, and settled on Christianity or Islam or Judiasm or Mormonism, etc. You are whatever religion your parents and community infected you with. Different manifestation of the same mental disorder.

There's nothing hateful about it.

As a much much happier liberal since November, December, January 20th, and noting what appear to be signs of unhappiness in self identified conservatives, Limbaugh and House Republicans come to mind, I think we need to see whether conservatives remain happier than liberals.

And after listening to this guy Tyler Cowen on This American Life earlier today, I will be interested in a comparison between Cowen and Krugman's happiness in a year when Obama's stimulus is working and Keynes is considered proved to be a right.

(ps, like Milton Friedman, I don't see Friedman's monetary theory and "Keynesian" theory to be incompatible, and in fact they must be considered together.)

"But to think that if liberals are less happy, it is because of they suffer under a greater awareness of economic inequality...that to me is dubious."

The portion of the paper quoted does not mention a greater awareness of inequality. It says the difference is in the *rationalization* of inequality. That's far less dubious.

Now, the concept that "people have a certain amount of unhappiness in them and they channel their political discontents to fill that unhappiness?" That crosses the line from dubious to downright crackpot.

No, i'm not an ex-mormon. I've never been religious. About 5-8% of the human population has a genetic immunity to religion.

In Check: As a Christian would say, "hate the sin, love the sinner." I don't hate religious people, I just hate religion.

I don't know what your definition of "hate literature" is, but I'd say calling for the extermination of a particular group of people based on traits with which they were born (skin color, nationality, eye color, hair color, height, etc.) is a minimal prerequisite to "hate literature." It would be nice if religion vanished, but I'm not saying religious people should be herded up into concentration camps, worked and starved to death, and incinerated in crematoria. Insofar as I believe religion to be a communicable disease, I think quarantine is appropriate, especially since there is no known cure (a small percentage of those infected do go into remission, but nobody knows why - it's much like AIDS in that respect).

For what it's worth, and in response to your claim that I create a stereotype, I do realize that not all religious people are homicidal idiots. But the more fundamentalist they are, the happier they are. "Knowing" that you communicate personally with the creator of the universe, who loves you, constantly interacts with you and influences your world, and with whom you have a personal two-way relationship is the halmark of a serious mental disorder, but it certainly provides happiness. One of the symptoms of religion is extreme euphoria - so there is a positive correlation between religiosity and happiness.

You can see this in their eyes. I can spot religious extremists/fundamentalists merely by looking at their eyes. The eyes of an atheist look quite different from the eyes of a evangelical christian, fundamentalist muslim, mormon, jew etc.

So you agree there's nothing hateful about saying homosexuality is a disorder with which people are infected without their choice?

Yes, I agree 100% with that statement, although I think it's genetic and not communicable. You can't "catch" gayness, but you can "catch" religion. They're both disorders, though (homosexuality is a "disorder" insofar as "the penis goes inside the vagina" is clearly normative, but there's nothing "immoral" about it and homosexuals should have all the rights that heterosexuals have).

I'd be willing to look at a series of photographs of people's faces/eyes, some of whom are known atheists/agnostics and some of whom are known to be religious fundamentalists, and I bet I can tell with at least 90% accuracy which are which.

I remember the first time I saw one of those commercials for that on-line dating service... not, the other one... the "founder" of the company was in the commercials talking about how their online service matches people best, yadda yadda, and the first time I saw the guy I immediately said "that guy is an evangelical fundamentalist Christian" - the ad neither said nor implied anything about Jesus or religion. I later learned that he is, in fact, a fundamentalist evangelical christian and refuses to adapt his website to support homosexual matching. There was an article about it, and it confirmed my suspicion. It was all in his eyes. You know the guy I'm talking about? E-Harmony, that's the one. I was able to identify the e-harmony guy as a fundamentalist christian within the first 3 seconds of a 30 second commercial. And no, he was not wearing a cross or any religious symbols.

As for working for TSA, which I know you say in jest, Americans still can't grasp that religion is the enemy, and they'd go apeshit if there was "religious profiling" used at airports. They don't mind as long as it's not their religion, of course, but as soon as people are held up and questioend simply because they're faithful Christians, the TSA would be immediately shut down. Of course I'm the first to concede that Muslims are more of an immediate threat than Christians. But it's all the same mental disorder, just different strains. People who hear auditory hallucinations all suffer from the same condition, it doesn't matter whether they're hearing the voice of Elvis Presly, Jesus Christ, Orville Redenbacher, or Allah.

Insofar as I believe religion to be a communicable disease, I think quarantine is appropriate
@ Bruce

Or clearly identify carriers by large yellow stars they wear on their clothing so that people can exercise due caution?

Taking your posts to the logical conclusion then, National Socialism (circa 1937) is your ideal political system. A nice mix of heavy government regulation, price, wage and rent controls to assist the working class, and the odd bible burning. Have I missed anything?

How does identification have anything to do with quarantine? We don't make people with ANY communicable disease wear identifying marks. And the Nazis didn't consider judiasm a communicable disease, they blamed jews for all their economic problems and racial impurity.

As for my comment about hating religious people/religion, I do hate religious extremist and fundamentalists, and insofar as religion is not their choice, I think deep down I believe they still have some degree of control over their actions, if not their thoughts. While the islamic suicide bomber had no choice in becoming a muslim and wanting to kill the infidels his particular god-book dictates he must kill, I do believe he has ultimate control over his actions. Otherwise it would be unfair to hold them accountable for their actions (95% of the population can't be permitted to have an automatic insanity defense - society would collapse). I acknowlege the inconsistency in my statements, though. I was talking more about the "stereotype" religious people I described than all religious people. At the end of the day, it's hard to separate "hatred of the sin" from "hatred of the sinner" ... I have yet to see any Christian actually do it. "God hates fags" so they "hate fags"... etc. Show me a Christian who hates the sin of homosexuality yet supports gay rights and has openly gay friends. I hate religion, and while I don't absolutely, positively, hate every non-atheist in the world, I'm not fond of religious people. The more religious they are, the less I like them. If you go to church once a year, support gay rights and abortion, and call yourself a christian I don't really have a problem with you. The bottom line, I suppose, is when someone's religious beliefs (the manifestation of their mental disorder) begins to interfere with my rights and the rights of others, and begins to intrude upon my life, then I hate them. I don't want to kill them, I don't want to torture them, and I don't want to exterminate them. I'd like to cure them if it were possible.

your position seems to be that it's not hate until there's mass extermination. Which is it?

You were talking about "hate literature" not general hatered. Hate literature is a particular type of writing, Mein Kampf, all the neonazi stuff. At the very least it calls for the destruction of a paticular group of people. Saying "I hate X" may not be very nice, but it's not "hate literature" ... not that a 2 paragraph blog post qualifies as literature from the outset.

Regardless, I reserve the right to say I hate someone without others invoking Godwin's Law and calling me a Nazi.

There is no pre-existing right to life. Two dividing cells have no rights.

Moreover, those who claim to be pro-life absolutely love the death penalty. So there is no viable claim about "protecting every life" since they actively campaign to murder people. Using the ickiness of partial birth abortion (I assume that's a pro-life gross bloody abortion picture... hip replacements are gross and icky, too) as a proxy for banning all abortion is not something I'm going to fall for.

You actually don't have to support abortion, you just have to not want to impose your morality on others. You can hate abortion and still acknowledget that it should remain a legal option for those who want it, and I have no problem with you. Of course, such people are extremely rare. When religious people think something is "immoral" they want to force their opinion on everyone by making it the law of the land.

And don't tell me we got all our legal rules, laws, and morality from a higher being/religion - we didn't. You say you don't believe in a divine source of all being, (just human beings?) so maybe you won't say that... we'll see.

Regardless, I reserve the right to say I hate someone without others invoking Godwin's Law and calling me a Nazi.

I would normally consider it a major social lapse too, and have never suggested it before, but I believe it's appropriate here for two reasons:

1. The forced "quarantine" (and the implied curtailing of civil rights) on the basis of belief is exactly what they are remembered for.

2. You frequently and happily assign the label of "fascist" on your site to just about anyone you don't agree with. I think this opens the door for reciprocal behaviour.

And that, my friend, is all I have left to say on the subject. Apologies to everyone else who had to sit through it.

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