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.

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


Comparative Welfare States in Advanced Industrial Economies

In a couple of weeks, we–in PLSC240–will address the topic of political economy.  We’ll compare states around the world with respect to institutions such as tax regimes, openness of borders to goods and services imported from abroad, and also with respect to welfare state spending.  Andrew Gelman has posted on his blog a review–which will be published in Political Science Quarterly–of a new book by Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza, titled Why Welfare States Persist.  Not surprisingly, the answer is that they are publicly popular.  What is more interesting, though, is why the size of the welfare state differs amongst countries with relatively similar income levels.  Can you can think a cultural explanation?  Institutional?  Rational Choice?

Rich capitalist democracies around the world differ widely in their welfare states—their systems of government-provided social support–despite having comparable income levels. Brooks and Manza report that welfare state spending constituted 27% of GDP in “social democratic countries” such as Sweden and 26% of GDP in “Christian democratic countries” such as Germany, but only 17% in “liberal democracies” such as the United States and Japan. These differences are correlated with differences in income inequality and poverty rates between countries.

In their book, Brooks and Manza study how countries with different levels of the welfare state differ in their average policy preferences, as measured by a cross-national survey that asks whether respondents think the government should (a) provide a job to everyone who wants one, and (b) reduce income differences between rich and poor. Brooks and Manza find that countries where government jobs policies and redistribution are more popular are the places where the welfare state is larger, and this pattern remains after controlling for time trends, per-capita GDP of the country, immigration, women’s labor force participation, political institutions, and whether the ruling party is religious or on the left.

Next week, you will have a chance to test this hypothesis when we comparatively analyze public opinion attitudes around the world using the World Values Survey.   Is this relationship real?  Does it apply to states that are not advanced industrial economies?  We’ll find out next week.

Political Culture and Economic Outcomes

What kind of an impact does political culture have on political and economic outcomes and are there systematic differences across countries? In this new paper, Alberto Alesina and Paola Guiliano use data culled from the World Value Survey to demonstrate an effect between the strength of family ties (which they argue are different across cultures) and economic outcomes.

Here is the abstract and a link to the paper:

We study the importance of culture, as measured by the strenght of family ties, on economic ehavior and attitudes. We define our measure of family ties using individual responses from he World Value Survey regarding the role of the family and the love and respect that children eed to have for their parents for over 70 countries. We show that strong family ties imply more reliance on the family as an economic unit which provides goods and services and less on the market and on the government for social insurance. With strong family ties home production is higher, labor force participation of women and youngsters, and geographical mobility, lower. Families are larger (higher fertility and higher family size) with strong family ties, which is consistent with the idea of the family as an important economic unit. We present evidence in cross country regressions. To assess causality we look at the behavior of second generation immigrants in the US and we employ a variable based on the grammatical rule of pronoun drop as an instrument for family ties. Our results overall indicate a significant influence of the strength of family ties on economic outcomes.

You hopefully remember the graphic of the tripartite division of society that was shown in class last week. The family, as we mentioned, is one of the fundamental institutions of civil society and the level of involvement of the family in economic decisions and economic output varies greatly across countries. As Alesian and Guiliano observe:

Stronger family ties are associated with lower labour force participation, especially that of youngsters who stay at home longer, and that of women who have traditional roles in these societies as “guardians” of the household, fostering and protecting family ties. Thus stronger family ties mean more is produced at home and less in the market. Since official statistics only take market-production into account, countries with larger home production may have a downward bias in their measure of per capita GDP. This may also suggest that it is NOT the lack of child and care facilities that make women stay at home (an argument that one always hear as a self-evident truth, for instance in Italy), but it may be – right or wrong – the result of a family choice.