Thursday, June 11, 2009

American exceptionalism, Part II: A second characteristic of American society that makes it unique, according to a recent speech given by Charles Murray, is a lack of class envy. Supposedly, this trait of ours drives the class-conscious Europeans mad. The World Values Survey asked respondents if incomes should be made more equal (1) or if incomes differences need to be larger to create incentive (10) or to choose a number in between the extremes.

Mean scores

Ghana 7.8
Mali 7.5
Indonesia 7.4
Trinidad 7.2
Thailand 7.1
Burkina Faso 7.1
Georgia 6.9
Ukraine 6.9
Poland 6.8
Egypt 6.8
Jordan 6.8
Taiwan 6.7
Malaysia 6.7
Ethiopia 6.6
South Korea 6.5
Russia 6.4
Zambia 6.2
USA 6.1
Japan 6.1
Mexico 6.1
Sweden 6.1
Serbia 6.1
Andorra 6.1
Vietnam 6.0
Rwanda 6.0
Italy 5.9

World mean 5.9

Canada 5.8
China 5.8
Moldova 5.8
Australia 5.7
Netherlands 5.7
Spain 5.7
Brazil 5.7
Bulgaria 5.7
South Africa 5.5
Colombia 5.5
Great Britain 5.4
New Zealand 5.4
Argentina 5.3
Morocco 5.3
Cyprus 5.2
France 5.1
Finland 5.0
Turkey 5.0
India 4.8
Hong Kong 4.8
Chile 4.7
Slovenia 4.7
Romania 4.7
Germany 4.5
Iran 4.2
Switzerland 3.6

Notice how quite a few developing countries agree that income inequality is necessary, and it is particularly interesting how Russians believe this. It looks like Africa tends to agree, but developed Europe, the region Murray is comparing us with, does not. Mexico seems to accept large income differences, which is an indication that immigrants from that country might not have an intense desire for income redistribution here.

So, the picture is similar to the last post: the U.S. is different from Europe, but some developing countries seem to be more American now than America--at least in sentiment, if not reality.


  1. Scores seem clearly correlated with the success of socialism in the various countries. Russia, Ukraine, etc., obviously had the worst kind of socialists around, while Indonesia had a slightly different kind that was obviously just as bad. (I actually hadn't made the connection before ... are they any major differences between Sukarno and Stalin?)

    Germany has had many years of human-faced Social and Christian Democrats to repair its earlier form of socialism. India is probably a special case since they probably conceive of income differences as a proxy for the hated caste distinctions.

    Iran I can't explain. Sweden is a datapoint against this theory.

  2. Ron, I'm a bit skeptical of just plugging data into Excel or whatever and accepting the results here.

    The results could just as well be tainted by fear/desire of social approval. Given that many of these places are non-free societies and holding "incorrect" opinions can be really dangerous. Particularly if people know it.

    Looking at the ISSP, I can't see anything about the methodology, including the time-series of the data (which years were they collected) etc.

    Its like that study by the Univ. of Michigan Prof that "proved" that more unmarried women means later marriage for men, because that's true for people in Philly and DC and Memphis and New Orleans vs. ... Salt Lake City and Vegas and San Diego.

    Now, maybe it's just me, but my first thought was something else was being measured. Like prices of real estate and how many Blacks were in the population.

    I would not dismiss these results, but I would not put too much stock in them either. I don't see much similarity between Egypt and Taiwan (close in believing in income differences). Egypt is a nation of 83 million people, median age 24, 2.66 TFR, 71% literacy, GDP Per Capita of $5,400. Taiwan is a nation of 22 million, Median Age 36 years, TFR 1.14 (quite low), 96% Literacy, GDP Per Capita of 31,000.

    Now, maybe it's just me. But I'd expect vastly different views on Wealth distribution from an older, far more literate, smaller, wealthier (by about a factor of 6), nation than one substantially poorer, and one ruled by a hereditary dictator with the Muslim Brotherhood a huge force.

    For Taiwan and Egypt, so vastly different in every other aspect, to come out nearly the same in the Survey just smells to me. Seriously, doesn't that ring alarm bells that the data has problems? Given the vast differences in society (Rich, old, Chinese Confucian, literate, no kids vs. Poor, young, Arab Muslim, substantial illiteracy, lots of kids)?

    I think the survey results are probably fairly solid for Europe, but knowing the rest of the world, probably dicey (would YOU want to run through the slums of Cairo taking a survey)?

  3. Forgot to add, data from CIA World Factbook, Egypt and Taiwan.

  4. "Given that many of these places are non-free societies and holding "incorrect" opinions can be really dangerous. Particularly if people know it."

    I agree. So one can't accept these results without some caution.

    I think this fear manifests in two ways. First is the way Whiskey describes: that they actually lie on the surveys. Second, this is much more subtle. Social mores actually distort one's own personal consciousness. In this situation, the person is so indoctrinated by their surrounding culture that they're unable, even if only inside their own mind, to break away from society's way of thinking.

  5. Anonymous11:03 PM

    (I actually hadn't made the connection before ... are they any major differences between Sukarno and Stalin?)

    Well, one killed hundreds of thousands of times as many people as the other with populations in the same order of magnitude..Sukarno was overthrown...

    Yeah, there are a few.


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