Conservative Ideology & Economics

This is an interesting video, but not because I agree with this person’s views, especially not on economics (that is, to the extent I understand economics).

I have a different worldview. I’ve always been a liberal in a general sense. I’ve found insights from many social, religious and political systems of thought (anarchism, socialism and libertarianism; psychology, sociology and anthropology; Christianity, gnosticism and philosophy; Et Cetera), but I’ve never been drawn to identify with any single ideology… which to me seems like liberalism at its best (or, if you’re a conservative who hates relativism, liberalism at its worst).

I’ve never understood the ideological mindset, especially when dogmatic. I respect anyone who with self-awareness and intelligence can change their mind. As such, I have basic respect for how the guy in the video has been willing to change his opinions as discovered new info and new perspectives. Nonetheless, I don’t resonate with the life story he shares. I’ve come across a few people like him who started life off with an ideological version of Christianity and spent many years jumping from ideology to ideology hoping to finally find the one true ideology. It’s odd to me. Such a person sees the problems in the ideology they previously held, but they often don’t see the problem in the ideological mindset itself. This guy, however, does seem to have come to a point in his life where he is beginning to step back from the ideological mindset.

I’ve struggled with trying to understand the attraction to ideology. I’ve written about how ideology is more attractive to those with right-leaning worldviews and mentalities (Liberal Pragmatism, Conservative Dogmatism and The War on Democracy: a personal response). It apparently is rooted in the correlation between conservatism and thick boundary types, along with other psychological traits. An ideology is a thick boundary and becomes ever thicker the more dogmatic it is held.

Jost et al.’s (2003) meta-analysis confirms that several psychological variables predict political conservatism. The list includes death anxiety; system instability; dogmatism; intolerance of ambiguity, low openness to experience, and uncertainty; need for order, closure, and negative integrative complexity; and fear of threat and loss of self-esteem.

As a liberal, I find something inherently repulsive about the ideological mindset. I’m sure this is the reason why liberal atheists and conservative theists are always at each other’s throats. There is just some irreconceivable difference between these worldviews, these attitudinal predispositions.

Looking beyond my own biases, I wonder about the positive results of the ideological mindset. I can see how such a mindset would be beneficial in a traditional society, but there does seem to be benefits in general. From the same above link:

Recent evidence indicates that some existing stereotypes are not supported by the available data. For example,Brooks (2006, 2008) reports that conservative sengage more than liberals in charitable activities and people on the political right are nearly twice as happy as those on the left. The work of Napier and Jost (2008) shows that con-servatives tend to be happier than liberals because of theirtendency tojustify the current state of affairs and because theyare less bothered by inequalities in the society.

It’s kind of humorous. Conservatives are less bothered by inequalities and yet more likely to be involved in charitable activities.

I think some factors are being conflated here. In the US, conservatism correlates with religiosity. Being a part of a well established social institution such as a church makes one more likely to be involved in charitable activities. If this factor were controlled for, the difference might disappear. To clarify this, a study would have to compare church-going conservatives with church-going liberals or compare non-religous conservatives with non-religious liberals.

However, it’s possible that dogmatic people are more attracted to religion. A study would be necessary to compare conservatives and liberals in different countries. In a non-religious country, are non-religious conservatives more likely to be involved in charitable activities?

My other complaint about this kind of data is that liberals give more money and time by way of government and political activism. Unlike conservatives, liberals are bothered by inequalities. Liberals spend more time involved in political activism that the liberals themselves would perceive as charitable. Also, liberals are more likely to work as a public servant for less money than they would in the private sector because they like the idea of personally sacrificing in order to work for the common good. Furthermore, liberal states give more money in federal taxes than they receive in federal benefits, whereas the opposite is true for conservative states.

For some reason, social scientists (and pollsters) often seem to use a conservative definition of charity when measuring charitable activities. Still, that doesn’t undermine the charity conservatives do, even if they only do it because their minister told them to or because they’re afraid of going to hell.

– – –

There is one criticism of liberalism in this video which I don’t know if it is generally true but I know is true in my own case. I have an analytical mind & so I’m sure I could learn about the complexities of economics, but I’ve never had much interest in it. As for systems of ideas, philosophy, theology & politics seem more relevant to my own life than economic theories. As for systems of facts, sociology, psychology & anthropology often seem more based in concrete facts than economic theories.

I’m not sure if my liberal mindset has anything to do with my bias against or at least disinterest in economics. I’ve never understood the type of conservative, right-libertarian or anarcho-capitalist who sees all the world through economics. I don’t dismiss economics. It just seems like one small piece in a big puzzle. I wish I knew more about economics in the way I wish I knew more about anything and everything. But I don’t want to see the world through any single lense.

Still, it is a curious observation that liberals might have less interest or understanding of economics. Or. to be more specific, that a conservative would perceive liberals this way. I can’t see any fundamental reason that would make a liberal less capable of understanding economics.

It could be just that the two groups tend to understand economics differently. I think this relates to the ideological differences found in higher education.

Unlike the relationship between area of study and political stance with respect to social issues, a significant effect of area of study code group on self-rating of political stance regarding economic issues was found. Based on the post-hoc comparison, business and economics students were found to be significantly less economically liberal than the students in the biological/related lab sciences, social sciences and fine arts students.

Interesting. Business and economic students tend to be more fiscally conservative. I’d guess that business and economic professors, teacher assistants, and textbook writers also are more fiscally conservative.

Why is this the case?

A possible explanation for this could be that, because business students often encounter more economic problems in their curriculum than those studying other concentrations, their increased knowledge of the effects of economic issues could make them act more conservatively when considering these issues. Another explanation could be explained by the self selection theory; when students enter the university they have their political views and select their major by finding the one whose views most closely matches their own.

Does this mean that economically well informed people are more fiscally conservative for the very reason of their being economically well informed? Or is it just that business and economic departments are dominated by fiscal conservatives? Considering that fiscal conservatives have dominated American society since Reagan, it would seem that the latter possibility is more likely.

This could be tested by finding a school that has fiscally liberal business and economic departments. Assuming such things exist in this post-Reagan era: Would a fiscally liberal curriculum attract fiscal liberals? Or is business and economics inherently attractive to fiscal conservatives no matter what the bias? I could make an argument for the latter.

Conservatism as a psychological trait predisposes one to being more more focused in a thick boundary sense and predisposes one to be attracted to ideology (i.e., systematized ideas and beliefs). Economics is a very theoretical field, more coldly pragmatic. Unlike psychology or physics, economics seems to be less grounded in researched facts because it’s very difficult to study large systems involving so many factors (individual humans, cultures, politics, environment, international influences, etc). An economic theory is more pure, more absolute than a psychological theory. Many conservatives, especially fiscal conservatives, are suspicious of scientific research and most suspicious of social science research. Conservatives are attracted to economic theory for the very reason that it seems above all the messy subjective factors, whereas liberals love all the messy subjective factors.

Contemporary economics, as it is taught and practiced, fits the conservative worldview. But that isn’t to say that is the only or best way economics could be taught and practiced.

Additionally, I see one major problem that no one ever deals with. What gets called fiscal conservatism doesn’t seem very conservative. The meaning of conservative is to conserve, to maintain social order, to uphold institutions of authority, to resist radical change. Accordingly, what Americans call fiscal conservatism seems radically liberal in essence.

Fiscal conservatism in the form of laissez-faire economics is extremely unstable with booms and busts and with a wide variety of deregulation fiascoes.

Fiscal conservatism in the form of supply side economics (trickle down, Reaganomics) has led to increasing poverty and wealth disparity which also creates an unstable society with a lot of social problems.

Fiscal conservatism as a minarchism that sees military as the only role for government has undermined the government’s ability to regulate in order to maintain economic order and has created massive debt with military spending.

If fiscal conservatives are more well informed about economics, why has fiscal conservatism failed so massively at the very time when it’s held the most influence over the entire economic system of the US and of the world? And why do fiscally liberal countries like Germany have such strong economies?

If fiscal conservatives understand economics better, why are most liberal states economically better off than most conservative states? And why do liberals put more priority on balancing the budget deficit than any other demographic, are more willing to raise taxes and cut major expenditures to balance the budget?

To continue with more from the same link:

One interesting finding of this study was that, for each code group, the mean rating for political stance with respect to economic issues for each group was less liberal than their mean rating of political stance with respect to social issues, with the exception of the fine arts group, whose mean ratings did not differ. This means that, with the exception of the fine arts group, all code groups on average reported that they were less liberal economically than socially. This result is consistent with the findings of Hodgkinson and Innes (2001) in which all participants gave responses that were less pro-environmental when the condition involved an economic/environmental tradeoff. This implies that students in most areas of study become less liberal when an economic policy is in question. A possible explanation for this could be that people feel more directly affected by economic issues than they do by social issues, leading them to be more conservative in their perception because it is more likely to affect them. For example, having a neighbor who loses their job does not directly affect you, because your neighbor not having a job does not change your own circumstance. Yet, if a neighbor’s house is foreclosed on, this directly affects the person because it in turn decreases the value of their house and a person will more likely take greater caution in dealing with this issue than the previous one.

This once again shows the confusion in defining fiscal conservatism (and conservatism in general). What is conservative about helping oneself at the cost of others? What is conservative about destroying (i.e., not conserving) the environment? What is conservative about forcing future generations to deal with problems that we are creating now? What is conservative about putting greed and profit, ambition and hyper-individualism above all other values and issues?

Part of the problem is there are very few people putting economic issues in fiscally liberal terms. And Americans are notoriously uninformed and misinformed about social issues such as related to economic inequality and about scientific issues such as environmental science. Contemporary economics (along with contemporary politics, media, culture, etc) is dominated by a fiscally conservative worldview which has become so ingrained in our society that it seems like commonsense, that it seems like pragmatic ‘reality’.

It’s not surprising that, when presented with an issue in a fiscally conservative framework, many people give fiscally conservative responses. But that probably doesn’t say anything about the merits of fiscal conservatism. Nor does that probably say anything about the economic learnedness of those espousing fiscal conservatism.

To counter the conservative ideology, I’ll end this post with a video series that presents the argument for the fiscally liberal worldview.

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