Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

All of us immediately recognize these powerful sentences as being part of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. Happiness is an important concept and has been the object of increased study in political science and comparative politics. Ronald Inglehart (he of World Values Survey fame) argues that there is a strong relationship between happiness and democracy across countries. Inglehart writes:

Correlation is not causation, and this linkage could reflect any of the following things: (1) living under democratic institutions makes people much happier than living under authoritarian institutions; or (2) high levels of subjective well-being are conducive to democratic institutions; or (3) the correlation could be spurious, due to the fact that both subjective well-being and democracy are strongly correlated with some other variable such as high levels of economic development.

Solving this puzzle has far-reaching implications. If the linkage is not spurious and democracy makes people happy, this provides a strong additional argument on behalf of democracy; while if high levels of happiness are conducive to democracy, this can lead to a better understanding of how democracy emerges and flourishes. Using World Values Survey data on happiness levels from 1981 to 2006, and the Freedom House measures of democracy levels from 1972 to 2005, this paper analyzes the relationships between happiness and democracy in order to determine what is causing what.

How happy are Americans? How happy are Germans, Chinese, or Brazilians, for that matter? Who are the happiest people on earth? According to the new World Database of Happiness, it’s the Danes, Swiss and Maltese. Is this a political cultural trait, as Inglehart assumes, or are there structural and institutional factors at work? All three countries are rather small, and European. (Malta and Denmark are, additionally, amongst the most homogeneous states in the world, and this could be having an effect, given new research by Robert Putnam on the potential socially, politically, and economically detrimental effects of ethnic diversity.) Americans, by the way, are ranked #25 in level of happiness.

Reading Questions on Political Culture

Here are questions for the three assigned readings. (Note that I have uploaded a video on Blackboard that explains how to interpret the numerical results from regression analysis.)

Please come to class prepared to answer the following questions:

General Questions

After having read the three required articles, what is your assessment of the concept political culture? Is there evidence that national political cultures exist? Do you have reason to believe that political culture is a concept that can be adequately defined? Can we use the concept political culture to account for cross-national patterns in various political phenomena? How does each of the
authors use the concept political culture and what is their assessment of its utility as an explanatory mechanism in comparative politics?

Inglehart, Ronald–“The Renaissance of Political Culture”

  • What is the significance of Figure 1 n p. 1206?
  • Is there a correlation between life satisfaction and level of economic development [see Figure 2]? Explain.
  • Why does Inglehart analyze the phenomena i) life satisfaction, and ii) interpersonal trust?
  • What is the logic underlying the relationship between culture and economic development as outlined in Weber’s “the Protestant Ethic?”
  • The relative growth rates of Protestant as against non-Protestant countries in the 1970s and 1980s seems to undermine Weber’s “Protestant ethnic” argument. How does Inglehart reconcile the argument with the empirical evidence?
  • What is post-materialism and what is the relationship bebetween post-materialist values and economic growth?

Continue reading “Reading Questions on Political Culture”

Do national cultures exist? Do supra-national cultures exist?

Here is a map from Ronald Inglehart’s World Values Survey organization web site. The site allows users to analyze data collected by the World Values Survey in dozens of countries around the world. We are reading Inglehart’s The Renaissance of Political Culture this week and will analyze the importance of political culture for understanding political outcomes, such as democracy and economic development. Are some cultures more compatible with democracy and economic growth than others? Is culture a more compelling framework for testing political phenomena than is rational choice?

Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World

This map reflects the fact that a large number of basic values are closely correlated; they can be depicted in just major two dimensions of cross-cultural variation


South Carolina Democratic Primary, Institutional Legacies, and Generational Change

In class on Thursday, I defined institutions and described some of their major characteristics, the most important of which is that an institution endures, sometimes despite the significant impetus for change driven by changing political, social, economic, and technological sources. Last night’s Democratic primary exit polls in South Carolina provide a glimpse into the institution known as the Democratic primary and how that institution has endured over time. Here is a portion of the exit polls from CNN:


Notice the three red boxes, which confirm that Obama was able to win a landslide victory in South Carolina despite receiving only 15% of the 60-and-older non-black vote. So what, you may respond, a pattern has emerged showing Obama captures much more support from the under-30 crowd than the over-60 cohort. But if you look at the over-60 black vote, you’ll see that they voted overwhelmingly in favor of Obama. The complete story here is the institutional legacy of the Democratic party in the South and the impact of generational change on the nature of the party. When we cover political attitudes and ideologies in about two weeks time, we’ll read Ronald Inglehart’s work, in which he highlights the importance of inter-generational changes in attitudes brought about by exposure to epoch-changing events. Lyndon Johnson’s signature on the Civil Rights Act in 1964 was just such an event.