Saturday, January 22, 2011

Are people who live in welfare states more tolerant?

I am not sure why I ever thought that people who live in welfare states would tend to be more tolerant than people in countries with smaller governments. It might have something to do with all the talk about social solidarity and social cohesion by those advocating collectivist policies. Rather than thinking about egality and fraternity I should have been thinking about liberty - and the historical links between respect for the rights of others and civility.

World Values Surveys ask a relevant question about the people respondents would not like to have as neighbours. People were asked to choose from a long list including drug addicts, heavy drinkers and people with criminal records. Reluctance to live next to people belonging to some of these groups may have more to do with safety concerns than with intolerance. Three groups that seem to me to provide a fairly neutral test of levels of tolerance in different countries are people who have aids, immigrants or foreign workers and homosexuals.

As in other recent posts on differences in values between people living in countries with relatively big and relatively small governments (here and here) I have focused on14 high-income countries with broadly similar European heritage for which data is available from the most recent World Values Survey (WVS 2005 – 2008). These countries have been ranked by size of government, using government spending as a percentage of GDP as an indicator of size of government (OECD Economic Outlook data on general government outlays as a percentage of nominal GDP, averaged over the three years 2005–08).

In the table below the five highest percentages for each variable are shown against a red background and the five lowest percentages are shown against a blue background.

Apart from Swedes, it seems that people who live in countries with big governments are relatively intolerant about who they want as neighbours. Social solidarity apparently does not include people who are perceived to be different.

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