Republicans are Happier

The Pew poll mentioned below confirms a longstanding trend: Republicans say they are happier than Democrats. This year, 45% of Republicans said they were “very” happy as opposed to 29% of Democrats. That's a big gap! Here's the the 30+ year trendline from Pew:

This stability is interesting in part because, I take it, that the demographic composition of Republican and Democratic voters has changed not insignificantly over the last 30 years. Is that right? Anyway, what accounts for Dem.-Rep. gap? Well, it's not income. Republicans report themselves as happier at all points on the income distribution, as this Pew graph shows:

So what's the deal? Here's the Pew folk

[The regression] analysis shows that the most robust correlations of all those described in this report are health, income, church attendance, being married, and, yes, being a Republican. Indeed, being a Republican is associated not only with happiness, it is also associated with every other trait in the cluster.

Clean-livin' Christians are more likely to be in good health, go to church, be married, and vote Republican.
What doesn't the study mean? In today's Colorado Springs Gazette, hometown paper of the Focus on the Family folk, I am quoted thus:

Does membership in the GOP really make people happy? Probably not, said Will Wilkinson, who studies happiness for the Cato Institute. The bliss is probably connected to some other facet of life that also inclines people to be Republicans, he said.
“People might read that and say, ‘I’d like to be happy, maybe I should be a Republican.’ It definitely doesn’t mean that,” Wilkinson said.

Sorry Dobsonites!
Assuming that the entire Dem.-Rep. difference doesn't disappear when controlling for demographic variables, what psychological traits would you guess predict both higher self-reports and Republicanism?

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

68 thoughts

  1. Going Galt works in Atlas Shrugged because the handful of “real producers” are several orders of magnitude more competent than (essentially) everyone else.
    In the real world, however, competence is more uniform – if John Galt is 100% productive, there are lots of people who are 99% productive, etc.
    For me, this is one of the major flaws in AS (that, and the complete lack of any realistic comprehension of children) – there are always people willing to step up and who are capable of doing a pretty good job.
    If we killed off (or jailed or exiled) the most productive 1% of the population, the economic output would drop, but it would not go to zero, or negative. And in a few years, younger folk who were growing into their most productive years would step up and fill in the gaps. John Galt is immortal, because he is fictional. In the real world, people get old and their productivity declines.
    Also – If you’re already making $1 million/year, being reduced to $900,000 by government fiat seems like a terrible thing, and you might abandon the system (stop producing). But for the person 5-10 years younger than you, who hasn’t ever made more than $100,000, that $900,000 looks pretty frakkin good! It’s all relative.
    And you’re totally right, Will – we are all Eddie Winter, at best. But if Dagny abandons Taggart Transcontinental, is it unreasonable to assume that Eddie could run the railroad, at least moderately competently?

  2. “But insofar as this is all about taxes on the wealthy (as the link to Malkin suggests) it’s a bit hard to see tax rates somewhat exceeding the Clinton era’s as a move over some inflection point from the tolerable to the completely outrageous.”
    When you consider the effects of lifting the income limit on payroll taxes and limiting deductions on charitable contributions (only the first such limitation of many more to come I expect), along with the return to Clinton-era marginal income tax rates, the Obama fiscal burden may be more onerous than you think.
    More important though, the inflection point we’re faced with may not be with respect to marginal tax rates at the highest level, but rather, as Michael Boskin points out
    in today’s WSJ, with respect to another aspect of Obama’s agenda – the use of refundable “tax credits” (or what I would call “welfare”) to push over 50 the percentage of our population that are net receivers of government largess. A dangerous tipping point in a democracy.

  3. Rand’s creation of Objectivist Supermen helped make her novels compelling. At the same time, the focus on supermen created expectations that could be destructive to her followers. Although Rand herself stated that her characters were romantic ideals, and did not exists in real life (except for her and Branden….go figure), plenty of people who fell in love with Roark, Galt and the rest also excoriated themselves for not living up to those standards.
    Of course, others just grow out of the Rand phase.

  4. I’m worried that our money, which might otherwise have gone to capitalize real innovation, will be confiscated in order to finance government directed “investment” instead. Our economy can readily absorb a passel of drop-out Willerses (though Eddie never quits!). It’s the misdirected capital embodied by the Stadlers and their Project Xes that really hurts.
    I know. The government-assisted development of the computer, the internet, the human genome project, mobile ad-hoc networking, driverless cars, network-based collaborative computer systems, supercomputers, space exploration, radar, the Digital Library Initiative, nanotechnology, speech recognition, etc. are so useless and have so little to do with our economic advancements over the past century! Get out of the way, government!

      1. (1) At the least we have to concede that government-funded basic research is consistent with explosive technological growth.
        (2) It would be wise to pay attention to Chris’s excellent rambling rant on where technology comes from. The main point is that government-subsidized basic research, for all its flaws, fills a vital hole because knowledge spillovers from basic research are a significant positive externality. Private companies rarely have the patience to think to themselves, “maybe I should engage in a decades-long, possibly-fruitless attempt to develop a revolutionary quantum computer.” Any company that thinks like this will be eviscerated in the marketplace.

      2. The exception I will mention here is that massive, extremely well-capitalized technology companies sometimes have the money to consider long-term research projects. Google, Xerox, Bell Labs (oops, now defunct), etc., do fund interesting research, through private capital.
        One problem with this model is that the companies have no incentive to share information with the broader research community, which can lead to such companies becoming “information sinks.” Sometimes this doesn’t happen in practice because the people who work on research think profit is grimy. But a well-run private research initiative won’t share any more information than it needs to. Government funding for research, by contrast, typically carries with it an ethic of information sharing which maximizes the possibility of knowledge spillover.
        I think the ultimate question, as always, is empirical — there are pluses and minuses on both sides. But I have a pretty strong belief that:
        1) There is a nonzero subset of especially long-term, risky technological research projects for which the standard economic logic regarding knowledge-spillover positive externalities is valid;
        2) Even for some of the slightly less risky (but still risky) stuff that could be funded by Microsoft or PARC or whoever, we need to consider the possibility that IP law and corporate logic will sometimes preclude desirable knowledge spillover.

      3. For all you know, if government let people keep 50% more of their income there would be a hell of a lot more innovation. Those advances you cited are nice, but we might have 5 times that without the government sucking up capital.

      4. That’s possible, but it’s also possible they would cost 5 times as much and GDP would be 20 times as much.
        Do you think government is efficient?

  5. MK-The government’s contribution to each of those varies, and the necessity of those contributions is debatable. But even if we grant that the government was instrumental and essential in every one of those cases, Wilkinson’s point about the general tendency of governments to misallocate capital stands. In other words, even if the government succeeds sometimes (and they do), it may still be inefficient at the macro level.

    1. Exactly. The argument is that private sector investment tends to more effective than government investment, not that the return to government investment is zero. Increasing government investment does not kill innovation but tends to provide smaller returns relative to the private investment it has crowded out, leaving most of us worse off.

      1. Haha,
        Here the government is spending trillions of dollars to replace all the funds the private sector “misallocated” so the economy doesn’t collapse and we still hear the chorus of phony praise of private markets.
        When will you guys accept the fact that capital markets are no different than Vegas, the trick is to collect the profits when you luck into a good bet and make others pay for all your losses?

      2. I should ignore a folk-Marxist statement like “capital markets are no different than Vegas,” but I can’t resist. If that’s what you truly believe, alphie, then let’s play a little game.
        I will put $100 a month in index funds, or some such diversified investment with exposure to the capital markets, and you can put $100 a month in an FDIC-insured savings account. Oh hell, if you really want to, I’ll let you invest in Treasuries so you can earn a few percent. The winner of our contest gets a lucrative retirement 30 years from now.

      3. Dan,
        People who invested in the stock market at its peak back in 1929 didn’t break even until 1960, over thirty years later.
        What’s your time line on this bet?

      4. I already said my timeline is 30 years, my estimate for a typical career. I assume your 1929 to 1960 statement refers to the graph of the DJIA or S&P or something like that. Those, of course, only track capital gains; they don’t include dividend payments, which are usually a couple percent a year.
        Furthermore, I’m not talking about lump sum investments. Those indeed can be susceptible to the “random walk.” We can leave that to the testosterone-laden Ivy leaguers on the trading desks. I’m talking about investing consistently over time and allowing the interest to compound. “The Snowball,” the title of Warren Buffett’s book (liberals are fans of Buffett, right?), is a metaphor for this effect.
        Really, my original point is this: put your money where your mouth is. If you believe that stock markets are a roulette wheel, then don’t put any money in any equity, any 401(k), or any Roth IRA. Let it sit in an FDIC-insured account, and we’ll see which one of us does better.

      5. I personally like the old timey split:
        – government funds basic research, without patent
        – industry funds applied research, for patentable IP
        I think much of the confusion in modern policy comes from a muddying and mixing of those philosophies. With my old-time division, government funds thing too basic and scientific to be commercial any time soon, no crowding out, but a wellspring for future commericailzation.

      6. The ‘crowding out’ is a capital consideration and does not go away if you wave a magic wand. If you take X dollars out of the private market and give it to government (for whatever: research, donuts, Obama hats), that is X dollars that can’t be privately invested (where it is more efficient).
        The big anti-government argument that liberals don’t seem to understand is that government is inefficient. They somehow think they have the magic want to make it efficient, but that is a fallacy. There are systemic issues why government can’t be very efficient. Profit motive driving competition and innovation being the big one. Another is that the government likely won’t go bankrupt; a company has to adapt and reach a certain level of efficiency or it goes out of business.

      7. I get the economic term and know that I use it more generally.
        If you are simply worried about spending, then under my proposal you are worried about the amount, if any, the government should spend on basic, noncommercial, research.
        But if you go there, you should acknowledge that few in a mixed economy are likely to do that basic research. Much of it would probably migrate overseas.
        Now, in the non-formal sense, we do have a mess and different kinds of crowding now, don’t we? As say universities and medical companies race for competing patents?

      8. Do you think competition is bad?
        I am worried about every dollar the government takes from the private sector and puts into the public sector. Government is just not as efficient as the private sector.

      9. I guess we’re agreed that it is a bad investment for the public sector to compete with the private (or attempt it) then.
        The only time it’s justified IMO is when the academics will put their results in the public domain, as the genome racers did.
        It also goes back to my feeling as a taxpayer that I should only pay once. If I fund someone’s research, I don’t think they should charge me for the resulting IP.

      10. Well, you’ll end up paying for it anyway when the private company patents their product developed due to piggy-backing on your gov’t funded research. But maybe I’m just being a smart ass.
        I can agree that private and public shouldn’t compete. But of course we also need to identify correctly what public and private do better and not fetishize either one like many ideologues do, especially on the right. For instance, Student Loans, where we know that the government can do it much more efficiently than private banks. Or Air Travel where we’ve seen deregulation lead to better service and cheaper fairs. Or Health Care Insurance where we’ve witnessed our private system outperformed in quality and cost by our own public programs (Medicare and VA) and by countless other countries.
        The key is to identify who should handle what, and let them go about their business. In terms of research, I’d have to lean toward gov’t here as the incentive to spend billions on crap like 4 redundant dick-hardening drugs tends to get in the way of researching things that might actually be useful for our society.

      11. I’m assuming there would more of a fan-out, and less monopoly of IP when the underlying science is public domain. The companies would have patents, but competing ones, rather than say one licensee of some NASA tech owning the market.

  6. The productive people that withdrew from society went to Galt’s Gultch, but that does not mean they stopped ‘working’ and ‘producing’. They decided to stop working for the moochers and looters. However, they never quit working for themselves. So, the dream is not to quit working and remain in this society, but to find some sort of secluded island somewhere that would only be inhabited by productive individuals.
    Of course, you would give up a lot of the conveniences of our advanced society, but it still has sort of a romantic feel to it, no?

      1. Would you give this up. Exactly zero people are going to do this including that nice christian girl you keep linking too. And besides, I’m pretty certain that she’s already a net-taker. If she has money, it’s because of a spouse or family. No way she helps our economy.
        Should our brave Galters leave their unproductive stay at home spouses if they have them? Talk about a drag on the productive. Whew!

      2. Wow, typical condescending liberal crap.
        ‘No way a Christian girl could actually make money!’
        Keep shouting and screaming about how open-minded you are, maybe one or two fools will believe you.

      3. My Christian wife makes 6 figures. I was making fun of her fake piousness and the fact that her plan is really really stupid.

  7. “I’m worried that our money, which might otherwise have gone to capitalize real innovation, will be confiscated in order to finance government directed “investment” instead.”
    As far as I can tell, for at least the past decade “our money” has gone not to capitalize real innovation, but for the creation of worse-than-useless financial instruments (and financial “experts”) that have nearly destroyed our economy. 10, 20, 30 years ago the choice might have been to give our money to either “Bill Gates” or “the Government”, but now the choice is apparently between “the CEO of Goldman Sachs” or “the Government”. Given that choice, I choose “the Government”. At least that way, we might get something useful (universal healthcare, high-speed rail, high-speed broadband to the home, etc.).

    1. Yea, cause we all know how well the postal service, FDA, department of education, FBI, etc are run. In fact, why don’t we just give all of our income to the government because gov experts know whats best for us even more so than we do. It will be perfect because we will all work to support our fellow man and we will have such cool momuments and such to boot… I hear Cuba is pretty nice this time of year.
      This is my first time reading anything on this blog, so I am honestly not sure what kind of ‘bar’ i stumbled into, but you might want to check out some stuff on the Austrian Business Cycle Theory. While you are at you can snoop around and see that much of the present crisis can be attributed to gov intervention (ie the FED), which caused an improper allocation of capital, and not so much the fault of the ‘free market’ as the mainstream media has you assume.

      1. Clearly you stumbled out a bar before writing your post. I love it how everything can be traced back to the big bad government. It’s storytime in conservative land. Everyone gather around.
        Don’t be so simple-minded. Sometimes government sucks and sometimes the free market sucks. Clearly both have sucked tremendously the past few years, but as much as I hate Bush, it’s pretty clear that the blame for this financial crisis lies at the feet of the Jon Galt’s bravely leading our financial sectors.

      2. The thing i find interesting is that you say the ‘free market’ sucks, but when have we ever had a truly free market? I realize that fact makes it hard to advocate it as an ideal because its never actually existed. However, it also makes it impossible to blaim this or any economic crisis on the free market. Is simple minded an insult? I view myself as being consistent and not willing to concede and inch to people who find comfort in the state’s ability to use force in order to reward individuals who have no right to be rewarded. Be that bankers with a bailout or individuals who took on too much debt.

    2. (universal healthcare, high-speed rail, high-speed broadband to the home, useless wars, bridges to nowhere, etc.)
      there added a couple to your rosy scenario of government action to make it more realistic

      1. You know, if the government had spent the last five years confiscating the salary of everyone involved in creating and trading in CDOs and used the money to build bridges to nowhere, the economy would be better off today.
        I don’t say that because I actually wish that had happened, but to try to illustrate just how phenomenally destructive Wall St. became.
        Look, the bridge to nowhere would have cost $400 million. But the Sept. 18 money market run nearly destroyed $5.5 trillion in wealth in a single day. The “John Galts” of the world very nearly burned down your neighborhood (and may still do so), but all you’re worried about is that that fire station down the street may have too many fire poles.

      2. I’m sorry, what law forced banks to write loans that could never be payed off? Clearly no one, since a few smart banks actually didn’t make stupid loans.

      3. The John Galts of the world haven’t ruined the economy. It is the Orren Boyles and the JimTaggarts who have ruined the economy, along with the Mr. Thompsons. Gotta read Atlas again.

    3. Of course nowadays the government is all too happy to hand our money to Goldman Sachs & similar, to the point where the government financial people are recruited from those exact companies & the decisions they make coincidentally help their corporate counterparts…
      I feel strongly tempted to respond to such a choice like you pose with “how ’bout neither?”.

  8. I read Atlas Shrugged decades ago and my recollection is fuzzy, but IIRC, the fictional employers in the story treated their workers very well. No doubt someone will correct me if I’m wrong about that. Regardless, my poor memory doesn’t negate the fact that in the reality of corporate America, hardworking guys like Eddie Willers get outsourced at the drop of a hat.

  9. I think business owners should “Go Galt” on tax day to protest the call to sacrifice, to show who is important to our everyday life, and that we will not tolerate tyranny. Shut down the economy for one day.

    1. Absolutely. Business owners are important. Unlike pesky government employed teachers, police officers, firemen, and members of the military.
      I tell you what. You have all business owners take tax day off. I’ll have all of these government employees take May 1st off. Let’s see which day sucks more.

      1. Not fair. Have the regulators take off; people who decide who can and can’t cut my nails, urban planners who hold up construction of everything and make it more costly, food inspectors who didn’t prevent all the outbreaks of disease, censors who decide who can and can’t have permission to broadcast on radio and TV. Then we will see which day is worse. Ayn Rand never advocated no police or military, although schools and fire departments should be privatized.

  10. We are a small business in the 10 to 20 employee range. We offer a software program that has been translated into many languages and provides a real, useful and cost-saving tool to individuals and small shops worldwide that allows them to do work they would otherwise have to pay high rates to a specialist to do for them. My husband designed and developed this tool himself and he continues to work 7 days per week supporting it. He is very passionate about his “baby” and wants to be the best at what he does.
    We had originally planned to begin development of a companion product for another base of potential customers and would have had to increase staffing by about 25% to cover the effort. We would be making an investment of several years before we could reach the stage to begin to turn a profit on it, but I believe in the long run it would have been as successful as our original product. Perhaps moreso because the potential customer base is larger. Most important to me, it would have meant even more time commitment from my husband and I have been worried about his health for a long time now.
    Based on the plans for increased tax rates and the attacks on small businesses, we have given up the idea of introducing this new product line. Why take the risk of several years development cost? Why put in the extra effort when the results will be taken away? We have committed to each other to spend more time on our personal lives and have no debt at this point.
    Having said all of this, for us this change has an upside. I would much rather have more hours today and more years tomorrow to share with my husband and our children. Pulling back may be the best thing for him. But as a result, there will be fewer jobs out there and our potential customers will continue to pay expensive hourly rates for services which they might have been able to perform themselves.
    We are at the level where we will be most effected by the proposed tax increases. But we are just small-time. No corporate executives in fancy suits, flying around in fancy jets at our company. But there are tens of thousands of companies like us. If many of us end up making the same types of choices due to the disincentives for creativity, then what will the result for our economy be?

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