Wednesday, June 10, 2009

American exceptionalism, Part I: In a recent AEI speech, Charles Murray described what makes America unique and how it might slip away unless elites fall in love again with what makes us different. Using the World Values Survey, I wanted to see if we really do stick out in certain areas. I want to cover the cultural characteristics one at a time, and my first choice is freedom and control over one's life. People were asked how much freedom of choice and control they have over their lives. Answers ranged from "none at all" (1) to "a great deal" (10). Here are the means for the countries where the question was asked:

Mean freedom of choice score

Mexico 8.4
Colombia 8.0
Trinidad 7.9
Argentina 7.9
New Zealand 7.9
Sweden 7.8
Andorra 7.7
Brazil 7.7
USA 7.6
Canada 7.6
South Africa 7.6
Australia 7.6
Switzerland 7.6
Romania 7.6
Jordan 7.6
Cyprus 7.5
Slovenia 7.5
Finland 7.5
Turkey 7.4
Indonesia 7.4
Great Britain 7.3
Taiwan 7.3
Malaysia 7.3
China 7.2
Chile 7.2
Zambia 7.2
Vietnam 7.1
Peru 7.1
Ghana 7.1
Iran 7.1

World mean 7.0

Russia 7.0
Moldova 6.9
Spain 6.9
Thailand 6.9
Germany 6.8
France 6.7
Netherlands 6.7
South Korea 6.7
Poland 6.6
Serbia 6.5
Rwanda 6.5
Georgia 6.4
Italy 6.3
Hong Kong 6.3
Ethiopia 6.2
Japan 6.1
Egypt 6.1
Mali 6.1
India 6.0
Ukraine 6.0
Bulgaria 5.8
Burkina Faso 5.7
Iraq 5.4
Morocco 5.3

Murray was comparing the U.S. with Europe, and it is the case that only Sweden and New Zealand have higher numbers. But there are several European countries with estimates as high or close to the American mean. English-language countries in general feel self-efficacious.

Look how citizens of Latin American countries feel like they have a lot of autonomy. Fred Reed, who lives in Mexico, has written that the country is significantly freer than the regulation-riddled United States.

These numbers indicate that America scores well on a sense of freedom, but is not exceptional.


  1. My Japanese acquaintances used to moan about how free Americans were compared to Japanese, so I began asking them point-blank just what freedoms Americans had that they did not.

    They only thing that they could come up with was owning a gun. But even that is not really true. Japanese can own guns and I knew several who did. They just can not own handguns.

    Japanese have several freedoms Americans do not. They can buy and shoot off the biggest honkin' fireworks they please. I can't do that in my home state, not legally anyway.

    Japanese can buy beer from a street-corner beer machine and drink it as they walk the sidewalk. Few places in America allow such machines or such behavior.

    I could go on.

    These are fairly minor examples, but I believe that Japanese are in fact considerably freer than Americans. They just don't feel that way though, and this survey only measures feelings.

  2. I lean to libertarianism but I also think a certain limiting of freedoms is necessary. Some aspects of an imposing government are appropriate. Hell I'd even adopt some aspects of Muslim society, such as how they punish criminals.

    Maybe a score of 7.6 represents an appropriate balance of freedom (social mobility) tempered by government imposition (bending probable cause for definite criminals or the FDA).

    Too much freedom and you're like Mexico where you can get steroids on the street corner. Not enough and you're like Iraq where women can't show their faces in public.

  3. Anonymous2:34 PM

    I have lived in Mexico and it is amazing how much freer things are down there. I don't think its worth the trade offs but it has to be experienced to really feel how fluid freedom is.

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