Friday, September 22, 2006

Does capitalism breed selfishness? I am constantly reading in social science literature that capitalism breeds selfishness. The Soviets might not have had a decent standard of living, but, hey, at least they cared about each other. The World Values Surveys asked people how willing were they to help various groups: poor people, the sick and disabled, neighbors, etc. I calculated an index of the average of their answers, the higher numbers indicating less willingness to help:

"Selfishness" Index
Belarus (2000) 18.33
Lithuania (1999) 14.69
Ukraine (1999) 14.61
Russian Federation (1999) 14.13
Estonia (1999) 13.32
Latvia (1999) 13.00
Great Britain (1999) 12.26
Hungary (1999) 12.21
Denmark (1999) 11.80
Germany West (1999) 11.72
France (1999) 11.72
Bulgaria (1999) 11.71
Finland (2000) 11.66
Czech Republic (1999) 11.65
Romania (1999) 11.53
Northern Ireland (1999) 11.44
Poland (1999) 11.39
Germany East (1999) 11.28
Austria (1999) 11.23
Luxembourg (1999) 11.13
Greece (1999) 11.12
Portugal (1999) 11.11

World 11.8

Netherlands (1999) 11.05
Belgium (1999) 10.95
Slovakia (1999) 10.91
Slovenia (1999) 10.89
Italy (1999) 10.81
Iceland (1999) 10.78
Malta (1999) 10.51
Croatia (1999) 10.33
Ireland (1999) 9.88
Sweden (1999) 9.62

Funny how all those years of communism didn't produce boatloads of humanitarians, and how capitalism hasn't turned everyone into devils. Oh, but I can anticipate you good sociologists out there. Americans weren't asked the question, and you're absolutely positive that the uniquely wicked American system would put us at the very top of this list. It's a good thing they weren't asked the question, so you can hold on to that cherished notion. (As if the data would change your mind anyway).


Anonymous said...

Are there really still any armchair socialists who believe the Soviet bloc countries were havens of social idealism? Anyone with any first- or even second-hand experience of those regimes knows better. Attempts at compulsory altruism, imposed by the state, destroy genuine altruism utterly. That's the lesson of the Soviet experiment.

On the other hand, we should note that the Communists promoted a higher of popular culture (reading the classics, attending the symphony, that sort of thing - nothing "edgy") than their capitalist successors.

Intellectual Pariah (who's too lazy to log in this morning)

tggp said...

Regarding "high culture" you might be interested in some of Tyler Cowen's economic studies of that area.

Anonymous said...

My only contact with large numbers of Russians was in Sweden recently, where there were many Russian tourists. Their selfish queue jumping and general rudeness was quite shocking to me (Im British) and to Swedes.

Id be interested to know if this unpleasant behaviour is a product of recent history, communism or something much more innate to Russians.

Anonymous said...


could you summarize for me?


Rick Strange said...

Communism in Belarus is not past tense.

And Ireland has recently become a stand-out outpost of savage dog-eat-cat capitalism.

James Gwartney has a list of countries ranked by economic freedom.

At a first approximation, capitalism and selfishness are inversely related.

tggp said...

Comments aren't really the best place to summarize, so you should just go to Tyler's personal site, where you can find chapters from "In Praise of Commercial Culture", "Good and Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding", "Markets and Cultural Voices", "Creative Destruction: How Globalization is Changing the World's Cultures" and "What Price Fame" as well as articles written published in scholarly journals on the subject.

Anonymous said...

Oh, there's plenty of high art and arts funding in the United States. I was merely referring to my perception, during the 70s and 80s, that working-class people from the Eastern Bloc showed a markedly higher level of personal culture than their counterparts in the West. I suspect the main reason is that the Communists cracked down on junk culture, so the poor sods had no choice. But they benefited: compare a 25 year old Polish immigrant today with his counterpart in the 1980s.

Yeah, the 80s guy might have been more of a political refugee, and so on average more intelligent/better read, but the phenomenon I'm talking about is pretty broad, and pretty widely noted.

I ain't sayin' Communism was good or nothin', I'm just saying' that it lacked certain of capitalism's vices as well as its virtues.