Saturday, October 17, 2015


1.  In a post earlier this month, we saw that people who were less satisfied with their financial situation were more likely to be Democrats.   Common sense suggests that the relationship will differ depending on income.  By and large, Democrats favor higher taxes and more spending on social programs, while Republicans favor lower taxes and spending.  The higher your income, the more you benefit from low taxes and the less you lose from cuts in social programs.  So a high-income person who's dissatisfied with their financial situation stands to improve it by voting Republican.  I looked for an interaction using the Pew data, but there wasn't much evidence of one.  While I did this, I had the feeling that I'd done this before, probably several times, with the same lack of results.

So to remind myself, I'll write this down:  even among people with high incomes, dissatisfaction with your financial situation goes with more support for the Democrats.  Of course, people have lots of reasons for choosing one party over another, so what if we look more specifically at opinions on redistribution?

The General Social Survey has a question "So far as you and your family are concerned, would you say that you are pretty well satisfied with your present financial situation, more or less satisfied, or not satisfied at all?" and one that asks them to place themselves on a 7-point scale going from "the government in Washington ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor, perhaps by raising the taxes of wealthy families or by giving income assistance to the poor [to] . . . the government should not concern itself with reducing this income difference between the rich and the poor."  If you regress the opinions on redistribution on financial satisfaction and income, the estimate for financial satisfaction is -.317 (a negative sign means dissatisfaction goes with support for redistribution).  If you break that down by income level, that's -.367 for people with family incomes of under $40,000, -.245 for people between $40,000 and $90,000, and -.119 for people with incomes of $90,000 and above.  The pattern implies that there's some value of income above which the relationship would change direction, but even in the highest income group distinguished by the GSS ($150,000 and up), dissatisfaction goes with more support for redistribution.

2.  In a post from 2013, I remarked that Barry Goldwater had been left out in an account of how the Republicans lost black voters.  Then last week I saw a piece by Andrew Rosenthal  which said "The Republicans moved way past conservatism long ago. ....  Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, even Ronald Reagan would be apostates in this Republican Party."  That is, Goldwater is lumped in with two relatively moderate Republican presidents.  As I said in my post, the memory of Goldwater seems to have mellowed--people don't recall how extreme he was.  I don't know well he'd get along personally with the Republicans in Congress today, but his politics would fit right in.

3.  I ran across an obscure article by Robert Solow.  Of course, Solow is anything but obscure--Nobel winner in economics, former president of the American Economic Association, etc.--but this article has been cited only twice according to Google Scholar (it was a brief contribution to a symposium in honor of another economist).  It contains some comments on econometric modelling (and by extension, quantitative analysis in the social sciences) that I found interesting:
 "For all our fancy talk about testing hypotheses and estimating structural parameters, I think that econometric modelling has actually made very little progress in doing those profound things. . . . Instead, I think, the main function of econometric modelling is rather to provide very sophisticated descriptive statistics."  He did not mean this as a criticism:  "The important thought I want to get across is that there is nothing undignified about econometrics as descriptive statistics rather than hypothesis-testing."

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