Bryan Caplan  

Why Are the Neurotic Anti-Market?

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In the Press... Michael Lewis on AIG...
The man in Roomette 3, Car No. 11, was a sniveling little neurotic who wrote cheap little plays into which, as a social message, he inserted cowardly little obscenities to the effect that all businessmen were scoundrels.

               -Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

The association between Emotional Stability and conservative economic attitudes might be understood in similar, but differently-valenced terms. The positive pole of this trait is associated with emotional security and hardiness. The negative end (sometimes labeled "Neuroticism") is associated with a tendency to feel anger, guilt, and sadness. Thus, people scoring low on Emotional Stability may be more prone to feelings of guilt or pity for those in need and may, in turn, support liberal economic policies intended to help these populations.

   -Alan Gerber et al, "Personality Traits and the Dimensions of Political Ideology"

Ayn Rand once again anticipates modern social science: Critics of the free market are more neurotic (i.e. lower in Stability) than proponents.  As Gerber et al note, there is more than one way to interpret this pattern, but I'm inclined see it in cognitive terms.  First pass:

People high in Stability realize that, objectively speaking, life in First World countries is good and getting better all the time.  As long as government leaves well enough alone, our problems will take care of themselves. 

People low in Stability, on the other hand, habitually blow minor problems out of proportion.  Even when they live in First World countries, they manage to convince themselves that the sky is falling.  Their typically neurotic response is to beg for Big Brother to save them from their largely imaginary problems.  When government solutions don't work out, they misinterpret it as further proof that life is hopeless - not that their "solutions" were ill-conceived.

P.S. If the neurotic are moderately more prone to anti-market bias, I wonder how much more inclined they are to pessimistic bias?


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The author at Health Care BS in a related article titled Are Critics Of Market-Based Health Reform Simply Neurotic? writes:
    Most of the progressives I know and read seem reasonably intelligent, or at least not exceptionally stupid. Nonetheless, they often adopt positions that make a mockery of critical thinking. Take their bias against market-based health reform: They ca... [Tracked on July 9, 2009 7:41 AM]
COMMENTS (26 to date)
Thomas writes:

Conservatives have their worries too, many of them ill-conceived.

Terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, illegal immigrants, etc.

I am not sure the link between whining and liberalism is as strong as you may think.

Student writes:

Does this imply that academics and journalists are also more neurotic, because they are more likely to identify themselves as supporting liberal economic policies (academics outside the econ and business departments anyways)?

El Presidente writes:

Bryan,

People high in Stability realize that, objectively speaking, life in First World countries is good and getting better all the time. As long as government leaves well enough alone, our problems will take care of themselves.

I see. So, anybody who disagrees with this is obviously emotionally unstable. That's rather open-minded. Good to know you aren't dogmatic or anything. Perhaps you should substitute 'materially' for 'objectively' and qualify the last statement with "[...], I think.", or ,"[...], if previously observed patterns persist indefinitely and if we are content to think that other people's problems needn't be our concern."

hacs writes:

See "Psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and Narcissism
in the Five-Factor Model and the HEXACO model
of personality structure",Kibeom Lee, Michael C. Ashton, 2004.
--------------------------------------------
Abstract
We investigated the relations of the ‘‘Dark Triad’’ personality traits—Psychopathy, Machiavellianism,
and Narcissism—with the variables of the Five-Factor Model and the HEXACO model of personality
structure. Results (N = 164) indicated that all three Dark Triad traits were strongly negatively correlated
(rs = -0.72, -0.57, and -0.53, respectively) with the HEXACO Honesty–Humility factor. Psychopathy
and Machiavellianism showed moderate negative correlations with Big Five Agreeableness (rs = -0.39
and -0.44, respectively), but Narcissism did not (r = -0.04). However, Narcissism correlated positively
with Big Five Extraversion (r = 0.46) and HEXACO Extraversion (r = 0.49). Correlations among the Dark
Triad variables were explained satisfactorily by the HEXACO variables, but not by the Five-Factor Model
variables.
-------------------------------------
Maybe, there are some incompleteness in the big five model.

[unicode characters converted to minus signs per original abstract at http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=16678551 --Econlib Ed.]

David R. Henderson writes:

Thomas,
Bryan will probably prefer to speak for himself, but I think your point about conservatives is well-taken. As you may know, Bryan has spent a lot of "ink" going after the unjustified fear of illegal immigrants. This is yet another part of the upset against free markets that Bryan talks about.
David

Zxcv writes:

There are distinctly libertarian forms of neurosis, probably not often seem among successful libertarian economists, such as clinging to the gold standard or guns and fantasizing of some escape from the Collective (Vermont Republic, floating platforms, Somalia, etc.)

Milton Recht writes:

See ABC's 20-20 co-anchor John Stossel's post today, "Hating Business."

"The MSM [mainstream media] so hates conventional business that it leaps to celebrate any exceptions. Hence the fawning stories about people growing "organic" food, “sustainable” living, etc. The fact that these are fringe businesses which may or may not thrive -- that they are less "sustainable" than the big agribusiness operations that feed millions for far less money -- doesn't stop them...."

http://blogs.abcnews.com/johnstossel/2009/07/hating-business-.html

Keziah writes:

Thomas,
Terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, & illegal immigrants "ill-conceived" worries? Really? I think you are just as full of it as this article. Some of you liberals wouldn’t know a terrorist if it blew up NYC, oh wait they tired that already!

Matt C writes:

You may be right about what goes on in the heads of neurotic statists.

However, a libertarian can get neurotically wound up worrying and fretting about what Our Leaders are doing and where it's going to lead. I get caught up in this sometimes. I'm certainly not the only one.

I agree that being scared of the future is neurotic, but I don't see that being scared of the future is especially biased toward statism.

Floccina writes:

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
Henry Louis Mencken

Les writes:

As I read the postings I am reminded of how wise economists are to focus on revealed preference.

Why waste time on sheer speculation about what emotions might be swirling around, invisible inside human heads or hearts?

Dave writes:

Anyone who thinks illegal aliens are not a threat to the economy, traditional American values (which are changing for the worse for many reasons), and are not helping destroy the fabric of our nation just need to come to New York City - Queens or The Bronx in particular - and open their eyes. Oh, also go to the local criminal court and see which demographic makes up 80 percent of the dockets; better still go to an emergency room and see how your average worker and his family of six get their basic healthcare; or, go to a supermarket and wait in line behind some pregnant woman with two kids buying 4 gallons of milk, ice cream, etc with her WIC vouchers; or ...
Anyone who thinks that these people are not a problem should be required to have them live in their neighborhoods and go to school with their children.

David R. Henderson writes:

Dave,
Some of your points are well-taken. But how would going to an emergency room tell you anything about "how your average worker and his family of six get their basic healthcare?" You can't impute any important average from that observation.
Best,
David

Dave writes:

Mr Henderson
Yes,you are right. In NYC and other sanctuary cities the number of illegals using the emergency rooms are probably higher so my observations are skewed - but I have seen entire families in ER's.
I was being rhetorical - I apologize.
However, for the above poster(s) to just dismiss the illegal alien issue outright is disingenuous. Its easy to "brush off" an issue when you don't see it on a daily basis. However, if I could find reliable stats, I'm sure I could show that the benefits from illegals are far outweighed by their burdens.
Oh and I'm not going to mention the fact that real debate on this issue has been squelched by the MSM inasmuch as anyone who opposes illegals is branded a racist. Guess what - the illegals I see the most in my neighborhood are Irish, not people from South America or Mexico.

Brandon Robison writes:

Thomas and others,

The more I talk to conservatives, the less I feel they are truly as "free market" as they like to think they are.

ps. I once considered myself a conservative.

Lauren writes:

Hi, Dave.

I agree with you that some data would be really helpful. There is no doubt that those who do not pay taxes who make use of emergency rooms put a strain on the beneficence of hospitals and taxpayers. And there's also no doubt that the adjustments are more painful in some particular cities and regions that have traditionally been the first stopping points of the huddled masses.

All the same, it's a leap to assume that seeing whole non-English-speaking families in emergency rooms or courtrooms means that the families are illegal. Doubtless some are, but without data it's hard to know, and a little xenophobic to guess.

I happen to do volunteer work teaching a weekly English class to incoming refugees. They are all legally brought into the United States by various local religious groups, which help support them financially until they get established. I know that they sometimes go as family groups to the hospital for emergency care; but sometimes only one person is ill and the others are there to try to help translate or for moral support or to help with critical decision-making or because a child is the one who is ill and the mother cannot afford costly babysitting for the other children or because several people in the family are all exhibiting a high fever at the same time and the family is scared. But all the same, were I to be sitting in the emergency room with a whole family group, I might wonder--and were I not to know better, perhaps I might leap to the wrong conclusion about their legality, their insurance situation, etc.

Of course, this is--like yours--just one example and not indicative of averages.

In thinking about the costs and benefits of aliens--both legal and illegal--it's important to weigh in the next generation as a plus. Historically, the children of immigrants do well in school and are highly motivated in America. Sometimes they are the taxpaying breadwinners in their families because they speak the best English, even foregoing college to help their siblings get even better chances. The 4th of July is a treasured holiday about freedom to them in ways I cannot imagine. It is hard to measure these benefits of the next generation and motivated enthusiasm about learning American ways, but there is no doubt that America was on net bettered by the hard labor of immigrants and their children interacting with the estabished system already in place here.

Which is not to say that there are no burdens or painful adjustments, or that studying these burdens is not a useful way to reduce their size.

Steve Sailer writes:

Are there ethnic differences in neuroticism and thus in political opinions? For example, I would bet that Woody Allen is farther to the left politically than the average entrepreneur who has been as successful as Allen has been.

MDP writes:

Lauren - In thinking about the costs and benefits of aliens--both legal and illegal--it's important to weigh in the next generation as a plus. Historically, the children of immigrants do well in school and are highly motivated in America.

What about the grandchidren (and so on)? Please see Generations of Exclusion: Mexican Americans, Assimilation, and Race: "... [W]hile Mexican Americans make financial strides from the first to the second generation, economic progress halts at the second generation, and poverty rates remain high for later generations. Similarly, educational attainment peaks among second generation children of immigrants, but declines for the third and fourth generations." (from Amazon's 'product description')

Steve Sailer's commentary on the book is also worth looking at.

Lauren writes:

Bryan tries to flesh out a cognitive argument for an observed correlation between being neurotic--or low-Stability--and political leanings. I think these two sentences exhibit some slippage in terms of logic:

Even when [people low in Stability] live in First World countries, they manage to convince themselves that the sky is falling. Their typically neurotic response is to beg for Big Brother to save them from their largely imaginary problems.

I think that second sentence assumes the conclusion: that low-Stability results in a tendency turn to the government. Just because someone perceives the sky is falling doesn't mean his response is to turn to the government for help. Why would a typically neurotic response be to turn to Big Brother? The second sentence simply asserts that they do so.

A few generations ago, government oppressions of some of those First World countries in Europe spawned massive emigrations to the United States. The sky was falling all around those folks when they forsook everything they knew including family and friends to hide children in carts or sell their belongings to buy passage to the United States. They certainly didn't neurotically turn to those governments to help, since it was obvious that those governments weren't going to help. The interesting questions are: did they or their children, even after these horrific experiences with government, on coming to America start seeing the government here as Big Brother; and if so, why?

I have to admit that all these arguments trying to tie political leanings to being neurotic or to cognitive patterns with inherently loaded names such as "stability" make me a little squeamish. I do think that a successful explanation of political views, including views of markets, will end up being more toward the cognitive line of reasoning--in the sense of logical/rational as opposed to emotional/psychological. However, I think it's more likely to have something to do with the lower transactions costs of taking as one's own political views the views of whatever group you associate with. That could mean anyone from family to friends to movie stars to community leaders to teachers you are surrounded by or admire.

As a teen--a "neurotic"--caught up in the drama of the Vietnam War, I ran pretty far to the left in my views. The government certainly wasn't the solution--it was the enemy. That very same hippie generation, though, also distrusted big business. (Pretty much anyone over age 30 was the enemy. Happily, the genetic predisposition of humans to age tends to mute that logical error.) What causes certain political views to get associated with each other for long periods in history--on ostensibly logical grounds at a given time and place--strikes me as a very important question.

I would argue that trying to explain these shifting associations of political views with loaded terminlogy of the times such as "neurotic" or "stability" or "positive/negative" is in itself nerve-wrackingly close to becoming a tool of political propaganda rather than an actual hypothesis with explanatory power. Of course, it's hard to talk about these subjects at all because tempers about how political views are characterized often run close to the surface.

Lauren writes:

MDP: Thanks! Sailer's review was particularly interesting and thoughtful. I'm tempted to buy and read the book, which looks to be very well-researched.

There seem to me to be two current politically-oriented reactions to discovering that a particular group is stagnating--for example, not taking advantage of the educational opportunities for which the United States is renowned. One is: Why and what can we do about it? The economic response to that is there must be some cost--not necessarily financial but possibly so--to those subsequent generations getting educated. By identifying that cost and working on reducing it we will then be able to reap the generations' worth of future rewards that we believe typically come once a group becomes more assimilated into and contributive toward evolving American values.

The other is: let's just throw them out of the country (or keep them out) so we don't have to deal with so many generations of this adjustment, which is costing us as taxpayers as well as with cultural discomfort and upheaval, particularly in some areas of the country, big time. That's a legitimate view on economic grounds (though I have to admit that it pains me so deeply on humanitarian and ethical grounds that I work hard to address the economic issues when arguing with friends.) Note that we couldn't argue for that same keep-'em-out/send-'em-back solution with blacks because they'd been forcibly brought here as slaves. That we now take pride in having struggled so hard to achieve a country where Obama actually can get elected as a popular President with widespread votes crossing racial and cultural lines suggests that for some cultural groups, educational achievement and assimilation may indeed take more than four generations.

Dave writes:

Lauren
Well I admire your enthusiasm (I assume it is youthful)
One of the differences I see with immigrants - illegal and legal- is that they come to the US 1) showing no real intention to assimilate, at the very least any desire to learn English 2) with a cynical view of government, but, at the same time an attitude that the government exists as the principal provider of housing and healthcare and a secondary provider of food 3) with a very low tolerance for crime, particularly vandalism, and petty theft, and 4) with a real sympathy to gang culture, gansterism, whatever you may want to call it, as an almost alternate immigrant "government" within the US fed state local.
Oh, and churches that want to bring people here should pay for them, and I mean PAY. I am particulalry angered at the Catholoc church (I used to be a member) priests seem to have no problem preaching about the need for a welfare state.
That being said, I don't want to be "that guy" who hijacks the comments.
I do invite Thomas, who originally started me on this rant, to come to New York City, ride the 7 Train - to see the third world landscape of vandalism and wonton destruction in the street s along the line - and to listen to the Babble and then come to our local court house and see how many people who are arrested are here illegally. He can then come to a public school and see more destruction.

Jason Calley writes:

Mention was made above that conservatives have their own set of fears, a set which includes both terrorists and illegal aliens. Needless to say, the conservative posters responded that such fears were well founded, just as the liberals think that their fears of business and climate change are well founded. Life is too short to disabuse the liberals, but you conservatives out there...think a moment. If terrorists really are a valid fear, and illegal aliens (numbering about 20 million here in the US) are a valid fear, then how do you reconcile those two mutually exclusive beliefs? I mean, if we are being overwhelmed by undocumented, unchecked, illegal aliens literally just walking unimpeded into our country, how on earth is it possible that the terrorists have not figured out that THEY could just walk in too? Seriously, think about it. All tests of airport security have failed miserably, and yet we have had no new terrorist attacks in eight years. Millions of people from all over the globe come here totally unchecked, and yet we have no attacks. See any thing odd with this picture?

The truth is, the terrorists are just the latest bogeymen, dreamed up and reported (with just enough funding to make it plausible to the unthinking) on the MSM so that you will cough up your freedom and your money to the sociopaths who run our country. Just like global warming is a fantasy to scare you into paying a tax on every erg of energy you use, terrorists are a made up scare.

Listen, you KNOW the people and politicians you see on TV are liars. Why do believe anything they say?

Tom writes:

Lauren writes this interesting comment: "As a teen--a "neurotic"--caught up in the drama of the Vietnam War, I ran pretty far to the left in my views. The government certainly wasn't the solution--it was the enemy. That very same hippie generation, though, also distrusted big business."

The left who are typically supportive of big government solutions for everything also typical hate the military portion of the government. So what Lauren writes is not suprising. Also, the (neurotic?) distrust of big business (but not of big government) is typical of the liberal side. Perhaps the same can be said on the opposite side for conservatives. Can someone explain the liberal side of distrust of the military but not of big government?

Stephen Z writes:

Lauren wrote: "Note that we couldn't argue for that same keep-'em-out/send-'em-back solution with blacks because they'd been forcibly brought here as slaves. That we now take pride in having struggled so hard to achieve a country where Obama actually can get elected as a popular President with widespread votes crossing racial and cultural lines suggests that for some cultural groups, educational achievement and assimilation may indeed take more than four generations."

I'm not sure how this follows. Barack Obama is not descended from slaves; his ancestors were more likely to have sold slaves than to have been sold as slaves. One could easily draw the lesson from President Obama that what we need is more skills/education based immigration.

Lauren writes:

Hi, Stephen Z.

Yeah, my sentence structure was too contorted. I realized after I posted it that it could be confusing. You certainly read it one way it could be read. But, what I meant was this:

While for Obama himself the Presidency only took his one generation as an American, the groundwork for black Americans to be able to attend and be hired by the kinds of schools he was at, much less for him to be vaulted into high office the way he was, was a groundwork laid with a struggle that lasted way longer than four generations for black Americans.

In the context of the discussion about the immigration styles of certain cultural, racial, or national groups, that to my mind should count as one of the plusses of not taking the throw-'em-out/keep-'em-out strategy even if the costs along the way loom large. With that strategy, we'd probably never have had a black President--and certainly not by 2008. (There actually were plenty of people in America in the 1960s-70s who despicably did argue for that strategy.)

I meant to emphasize the pride that I believe was felt by most Americans--regardless of their political beliefs or race--that America has come so far since the time of slavery that a black President could be elected at all. It's hard to put a financial value on the national sense of pride involved for sticking out so many years of racial tensions, bigotry, and strife, or the value of being able to draw on multiple cultures for our leadership going into the future; but in economics the costs and benefits are not solely about money.

Hope that logic is a little clearer.

Monte writes:

Lauren,

I meant to emphasize the pride that I believe was felt by most Americans--regardless of their political beliefs or race--that America has come so far since the time of slavery that a black President could be elected at all.

This could have been our experience 12 years prior had Colin Powell accepted the GOP nomination. Not only would we have felt a national sense of pride, we would have been rewarded with a popularly-elected black President who brought considerably more political skill and experience to the table (and, I suspect, a more nuanced view of market failures and the ability of government to correct them).

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