Tuesday, November 26, 2013

More American Exceptionalism

The 2005 Gallup International Voice of the People Survey was conducted in 66 nations (Gallup International is not affiliated with the Gallup Poll--the American survey was conducted by TNS Intersearch).  One of the questions was "Have there been times in the last 12 months when you and/or your family have not had enough to eat?"  In the United States, 3% chose "frequently," 8% "sometimes," 15% "rarely," and 74% "never."  If you count those responses as 1, 2, 3, and 4, that gives an average of 3.53.  As you might guess, that was not the highest score:  Denmark had 0.3%, 1%, 1% and 98%, for an average of 3.97.  The United States did not even rank in the top half:  we were 36th.  In this respect, the United States was about even with the less successful transition economies:   similar to Lithuania, Croatia, Moldova, and Romania, but behind Poland and the Czech Republic.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Who killed the Kennedys?

In 1981, a Louis Harris survey asked people whether certain events "were the act of one individual or part of a larger conspiracy?"  The events were the assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King and the attempted assassinations of Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan (the attempt on Reagan had taken place just a few days before the survey).

A factor analysis showed a general factor of believing in a conspiracy vs. one individual (between 10 and 18 percent said they weren't sure on the questions--I put them in an intermediate category).  People who believed they were conspiracies tended to be younger, less educated, poorer, and non-white.  None of those differences are very surprising (although the effect of income was stronger than I expected), but I was interested in exploring the age differences.  Was there a clear break between generations or a gradual shift from young to old?  Unfortunately, the Harris survey didn't record exact age, just eight groups.  However, those groups fell pretty clearly into three categories:  people born in 1947 or after were most likely to believe that they were conspiracies and people born before 1932 were least likely.  People born 1932-46 were almost exactly in the middle.  Stereotypically, this was the "silent generation," but to a large extent it was also the generation that made the 1960s the 1960s.

PS.  There were also some political differences:  people who voted for Jimmy Carter were less likely to think that they were part of a conspiracy, and so were people who called themselves moderates.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


A few weeks ago, the New York Times published an interview with Eugene Fama, co-winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Economics.  At one point, he talked about a favorite book, F. A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom.  He said "it's a philosophy, of course:  it's not empirical."  That's a strange assessment:  even the title of the book is an empirical proposition.  That proposition hasn't been supported by the 70 years of history since Hayek wrote:  the condition of people in countries like Britain, the United States, and even France can't be classified as serfdom without some risk of terminological inexactitude.  However, the main hypothesis of the book could be interpreted more broadly:  government intervention in the economy, even when supported by the majority, reduces freedom.

The World Values Survey includes the following question, "Some people feel they have completely free choice and control over their lives, while other people feel that what they do has no real effect on what happens to them. Please use this scale where 1 means 'none at all' and 10 means 'a great deal' to indicate how much freedom of choice and control you feel you have over the way your life turns out."  That seems like a pretty good measure of freedom.  The ranking of countries:

 "Puerto Rico"                8.28
 "Venezuela"  8.14
 "Colombia"                   7.97
 "Trinidad and Tobago"        7.88
 "New Zealand"           7.87
 "Mexico"                     7.74
 "Andorra"                    7.72
 "United States"         7.72
 "Canada"                     7.66
 "Finland"                    7.59
 "El Salvador"                7.50
 "Sweden"                     7.50
 "Australia"                  7.49
 "Guatemala"                  7.48
 "Brazil"                     7.46
 "Cyprus"                     7.44
 "Jordan"                     7.43
 "Norway"                     7.43
 "Taiwan"                     7.41
 "Uruguay"                    7.41
 "Dominican Republic"         7.37
 "Switzerland"                7.36
 "Indonesia"                  7.34
 "Argentina"                  7.33
 "Malaysia"                   7.31
 "Singapore"                  7.25
 "Great Britain"         7.25
 "Viet Nam"                   7.24
 "Zambia"                     7.20
 "Slovenia"                   7.19
 "Chile"                      7.17
 "Ghana"                      7.09
 "Peru"                       7.09
 "Romania"                    7.07
 "China"                      7.06
 "Kyrgyzstan"                 7.06
 "South Africa"               7.03
 "Nigeria"                    6.93
 "Philippines"                6.92
 "Thailand"                   6.92
 "Iran"                    6.85
 "Germany"                    6.83
 "Uganda"                     6.82
 "South Korea"                6.74
 "Hungary"                    6.69
 "Spain"                      6.69
 "France"                     6.67
 "Algeria"                    6.66
 "Netherlands"                6.63
 "Saudi Arabia"               6.60
 "Rwanda"                     6.52
 "Croatia"                    6.49
 "Poland"                     6.48
 "Serbia"                     6.45
 "Italy"                      6.34
 "Hong Kong"                  6.32
 "Czech Republic"             6.29
 "Georgia"                    6.27
 "Moldova"                    6.27
 "Slovakia"                   6.26
 "Russian Federation"         6.25
 "India"                      6.20
 "Ethiopia"                   6.17
 "Mali"                       6.12
 "Lithuania"                  6.06
 "Serbia and Montenegro" 6.03
 "Bosnia and Herzegovina" 6.00
 "Bangladesh"                 5.98
 "Estonia"                    5.98
 "Morocco"                    5.92
 "Macedonia"                  5.92
 "Tanzania"                   5.80
 "Japan"                      5.78
 "Zimbabwe"                   5.77
 "Egypt"                      5.72
 "Burkina Faso"               5.70
 "Turkey"                     5.67
 "Armenia"                    5.66
 "Iraq"                       5.65
 "Azerbaijan"                 5.61
 "Latvia"                     5.56
 "Bulgaria"                   5.53
 "Ukraine"                    5.42
 "Albania"                    5.37
 "Belarus"                    5.20
 "Pakistan"                   4.68

It seems clear that people in more affluent countries feel that they have more "free choice and control," which makes sense.   There also seem to be some cultural differences:  many Latin American countries rank near the top, and most East Asian countries rank low.  There are some rankings of "economic freedom," defined in a way that Hayek would approve of, so it would be pretty straightforward to see if there is a correlation after controlling for these factors.  I've intended to do something like this for a while, so maybe this will motivate me to get started.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Some people may be Rooshans, and some may be Prooshans

In September, I wrote about differences in working hours between the US and Europe.  According to the OECD, Americans aged 15-64 are employed for an average of 25.9 hours per week, while French are employed for an average of only 17.5 hours.  Some of this is because of differences in the typical "full-time" work week, and some of it is because of differences in unemployment, but some of it is because more people retire early in Europe.  Why do people retire early?  One possibility is because they want to, but another is that people who lose their jobs and may be unable to find new ones.  If they're old enough to qualify for some kind of retirement benefits, they may retire even though they would prefer to be working.  According to some people, that's the situation in much of Europe because of "structural rigidities" that make employers reluctant to hire people.

It occurred to me that one way to investigate this would be to look at the "life satisfaction" of people by work status.  Unemployed people can be expected to be considerably less satisfied than employed people.  People whose retirement was "involuntary" would be more like unemployed people in terms of their satisfaction.  So in countries in which a lot of retirement was involuntary, retired people would be less satisfied relative to employed people.  The Eurobarometer surveys, which have been conducted in EU countries since the 1970s, contain a question on satisfaction with your life.  The United States isn't included in the Eurobarometer, but the same question is asked in the Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System.  I used them (specifically the Mannheim Eurobarometer Trend File and the 2009 BRFSS) to get be following figures, which represent the difference in average life satisfaction between retired and employed people.  Positive numbers mean that retired people are more satisfied than employed people; negative numbers mean less satisfied:

France        0.14
Ireland        0.06
Luxembourg     0.04
NIreland       0.04
Britain        0.01
WGermany       0.00
USA            0.00
Spain         -0.02
Netherlands   -0.03
EGermany      -0.03
Sweden        -0.04
Finland       -0.06
Italy         -0.07
Austria       -0.07
Belgium       -0.08
Denmark       -0.08
Greece        -0.09
Norway        -0.20
Portugal      -0.20

In the US, Britain, and Germany there is little or no difference between retired and employed people.  In southern Europe and Scandinavia, retired people are on the average less satisfied.  But in France, retired people are considerably more satisfied than employed people.  This supports my conclusion in the earlier post:  that the French work less than Americans because that's the way they want it.  

This may help to explain something Paul Krugman wrote about the other day:  why many people are so negative about French economic policy, even though by objective standards the French economy is not doing badly.  Krugman says it's because France recently raised taxes rather than cut spending.  But I think it goes deeper than that:  see this New York Times editorial from 1997.  A lot of American commentators just seem to be bothered by a country that prefers short work hours and early retirement, even more than by high taxes.  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Getting ahead

A 2010 Gallup survey asked "What do you think matters most for getting ahead in life today:
A good education, (or)
Hard work, (or)
Saving and smart spending decisions, (or)
Knowing the right people, (or)
Coming from a wealthy family, (or)
Natural ability, (or)

The survey also asked the usual questions about political party preference and liberal-conservative ideology, plus a question about whether you would call yourself a supporter of the Tea Party, an opponent, or neither.  I combined those three questions into an index of political views:  higher numbers mean more liberal.

The following table shows the number of people who chose the different answers and their average political views.
                     N    Political views
Wealthy family       46     .64*
Natural ability      27     .35
Good education      334     .25*
Other                27     .11    
Luck                 16     .09
Right people         61     .06
Saving & Spending   123    -.20*
Hard work           240    -.41*

The asterisks indicate that we can be confident that the mean is different from zero (that is, that people who choose the answer are more liberal or more conservative than the average).

For me, the most interesting thing is that people who say "good education" are substantially more liberal than those who say "saving and spending decisions" or "hard work."  All of those things are commonly accepted as justifications for inequality, in contrast to coming from a wealthy family, knowing the right people, or luck.  That is, almost everyone regards it as fair that jobs requiring more education should offer higher wages.   So why is there such a big difference between people who think education is most important and people who think hard work or saving and spending decisions are most important?    One possibility is that people don't think that access to education is fairly distributed:  they think that getting a good education depends on family background or where you live.  Another possibility is that they don't think of a good education as entirely your own accomplishment:  after all, schooling is provided by the government.  Unfortunately, this seems to be the only survey that offered a choice between "good education" and "hard work," although a number have given people a choice between some variant of hard work versus family background and connections. So we can't tell if this is something new.

During the last presidential election, Rick Santorum (BA, MBA, JD) once called Barack Obama a "snob" for saying that college education for everyone should be a policy goal.  He was widely criticized for this, but it sounds like he knew his audience.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tax or spend

In 2001, a survey sponsored by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Fund asked "Do you think that the country can afford a major program to provide health insurance for most uninsured Americans, which might require a tax increase to pay for it or do you think that the country can't afford a major program?"  79% said the country could afford it, while 18% said we couldn't.  This question was asked to a randomly selected half of the sample.  The other half were asked  "Do you think that the country can afford a major program to provide health insurance for most uninsured Americans, which would mean much more government spending or do you think that the country can't afford a major program?"  74% said we could and 23% said we couldn't.

The difference between the responses to the two questions isn't statistically significant at conventional levels.  But among Republicans,  72% said we could afford a program which "might require a tax increase" and only 62% said we could require a program which "would mean much more government spending."  Among Democrats and Independents, there was no difference in responses to the two questions.  The difference among Republicans only is (barely) significant at the 5% level.  This isn't overwhelmingly strong evidence, but it suggests that Republicans are more negative about "government spending" than about taxes.