Values vs. Worldviews

Values vs. Worldviews March 17, 2009

Here are some excerpts from another interesting post from Scott Sumner:

A New York Times article once reported that economists in academia tend to vote about 3 to 1 Democratic, whereas other academics vote about 7 to 1 Democratic. Of course the general public tends to split about 50/50 between Democratic and Republican voters. What should we make of this pattern?

For the purposes of this post, consider the term ‘worldview’ to represent one’s views about cause and effect, or what economists call positive questions. Values relate to what is viewed as being morally right and wrong, or normative issues. I don’t claim that there is any clear boundary between these two categories, but I hope they will prove useful anyway.

Now let’s assume that “ideologies” reflect values plus worldviews. Thus the liberal worldview has many different ideologies. Let’s also follow the standard practice of assuming that the term “left” applies to more socialistic versions of liberalism and the term “right” applies to more libertarian, or classical liberal, versions of liberalism.

Suppose that an economistic worldview makes one vote more to the right . . . That could explain why economists vote Republican more often than other academics. Indeed I think this is a pretty standard explanation of their voting pattern. Thinking like an economist makes one less receptive to socialist policies.

But economists also have a much more economistic worldview than the general public, so why don’t they also vote to the right of the general public? Here’s where values come in. Jonathan Haidt has an interesting essay on “What Makes People Vote Republican,” where he considers five different types of values; care/harm, fairness, hierarchy, pureness/sanctity, and loyalty. Haidt says that liberals tend to put more emphasis on the first two, whereas conservatives tend to be more balanced in their value system.

Interesting, he says that one group of “conservatives,” known as libertarians actually have a very liberal value system. I would add that in my view only pragmatic libertarians are liberals, I would put dogmatic libertarians (who believe taxation for redistribution is theft) into a different grouping. It seems to me that the libertarian anomaly can help us understand the voting pattern of all economists… [M]any so-called “conservative” economists are best regarded as right wing liberals—people with liberal values and economistic worldviews. Milton Friedman might be a good example, as although he was generally regarded as being very conservative, he also took very libertarian positions on drugs, prostitution, the draft, etc. But I think a much more revealing liberal position taken by Friedman was his support for a guaranteed annual income for all Americans, as this was an economic policy proposal from one of America’s most conservative economists, which turned out to be far too liberal for the general public.

Interestingly, most non-economists do not understand this distinction, and simply assume that economists who “defend the indefensible” must have a very different value system (as Larry Summers found out after he became president of Harvard.) The economistic worldview is so counterintuitive that most people don’t really even know it exists.

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