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.


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