Monday, May 26, 2014

How have attitudes towards economic growth changed since the 1990s?

This question is of some interest in its own right, but my interest also stems from the relationships between the priority which people give to economic growth, growth outcomes and emancipative values that promote widespread opportunities. One particular issue that I want to explore is whether the growth of emancipative values must eventually come to an end because it involves, among other things, more emphasis on “people having more say in how things are done” (e.g. workplace democracy) rather than economic growth. My last post explains the context more fully.

For a couple of decades now, World Values Surveys have been asking people to choose from four options what they consider to be the most important aim for the country they live in over the next ten years.  The options are: a high level of economic growth; strong defence forces; people have more say about how things are done; and trying to make our cities and countryside more beautiful.

The focus of the following analysis is on the United States, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand. Sweden is of particular interest because it has high and rising emancipative values, the US is of interest because it is at the centre of the universe, Australia is where I live and NZ is nearby - just across the ditch. The surveys were conducted in 1995-98, 1999-04, 2005-09, 2010-14 (referred to respectively below as 1996, 2002, 2007 and 2012). I accessed the data using the World Values Studyonline data analysis facility – which is great for this kind of exercise.

The first chart shows how the priority given to economic growth has changed over time for all four surveys for which data are available and the second shows in more detail how priorities have changed since the mid 1990s.

The first chart shows that people in the United States tended to give relatively low priority to economic growth at the time of the first three surveys. The second chart suggests that the increase in priority given to economic growth in the latest survey has occurred at the expense of a decline in priority given to people having more say. The change in priorities presumably reflects a tendency for people in the US to feel poorer following the GFC.

The relatively high priority given to economic growth in Sweden in all four surveys is particularly interesting in the light of the high and rising emancipative values in that country. It seems likely that priority given to economic growth in Sweden was lower during the 1980s, before an economic crisis in the early 1990s. The WVS indicate that priority given by people in Sweden to having more say (aims of respondent data) was certainly much higher in the early 1980s than in the mid 1990s.

This analysis supports the general conclusion that I have been coming to from previous posts that my doubts about whether the rise of emancipative values in wealthy countries will be sustainable may not be well founded. There seems to be fairly strong grounds for optimism that voters in wealthy countries are capable of managing the tension between their non-economic social objectives (e.g. their desire to have more say) and their desire for the things that economic growth can buy.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Which countries have national ideologies that support widespread opportunities for individual flourishing?

If you have not been following this blog closely you might find my answer to this question to be surprising.

Perhaps I should begin by listing some propositions that are supported by earlier posts in this series:
  1. As economic development enables people to satisfy their material needs to a greater extent they tend to adopt emancipative values which enable more widespread opportunities for individual flourishing. See my review of Freedom Rising by Christian Welzel.
  2. Further strengthening of emancipative values will require prevailing social norms and ideologies to support economic development. The chances of economic development are improved when prevailing social norms and ideologies support economic freedom. See: ‘Can the industrial revolution be explained by the"cool-water condition"?’ and ‘Are culture and economic freedom substitutes or complements in facilitating economic development?’.
  3. There is evidence that, other things equal, individualistic societies tend to have smaller governments and that countries with high emancipative values tend to be individualistic. See my discussion of research by Gizem Arikan.
  4. There has not been a general tendency for economic freedom to either rise or fall over the last few decades in wealthy countries with rising emancipative values. Economic freedom has fallen in some such countries (e.g. US and Japan) and risen in others (e.g. Sweden and Norway). See: What is the relationship between emancipative values and economic freedom?
  5. There is evidence that economic freedom tends to rise in countries with a strong economic growth ideology i.e. where people consider economic growth should have high priority as a national aim and have attitudes favourable to scientific advances. See my last post.

So, one way to answer the question of which countries have national ideologies that support widespread opportunities for individual flourishing is to use the results of the regression analysis in my last post to identify the high income countries which have growth ideologies which are predicted to result in increased economic freedom. The answer is provided in the following chart, in which countries with relatively high average incomes (above $25,000 in US 2005 dollars) are shown with a red marker.

Click the chart to get a better view.

One problem with the answer provided in the chart is that it is based on surveys conducted during the 00s. In my next post I will consider whether more recent WVS survey data relating to growth ideology shows a different picture.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Can we identify the characteristics of national ideologies that promote economic freedom?

I have had to revise my views about the characteristics of national ideologies that promote economic freedom after undertaking some  research using World Values Surveys (WVS). I used data from surveys conducted around 2000 and during the first decade of this Century.

The set of questions I thought would be most relevant relate to such things as attitudes to competition, potential for hard work to lead to success, wealth accumulation, income inequality, government ownership and increased government responsibility. So, I spent a few hours standardizing data in order to average it and derive an index of economic policy attitudes. 

The next set of questions that I thought would be relevant relate to confidence in major companies and confidence in organisations that tend to interfere with markets (the government, political parties, parliament and civil service). I thought that economic freedom was more likely to increase in countries where there was greater confidence in big business than in government agencies.

Another question that I thought might be relevant asks people to choose from four options what they consider to be the most important aim for the country over the next ten years.  The options are: a high level of economic growth; strong defence forces; people have more say about how things are done; and trying to make our cities and countryside more beautiful. I thought that people who favoured a high level of economic growth might possibly tend to favour increased economic freedom. I wasn’t over-confident about that, however, because people who claim to be in favour of high economic growth often seem to me to be inclined to espouse hair-brained ideas for government interventions to advance that objective.

Finally, I thought a question relating to opinion about scientific advances might be relevant. I wasn’t sure whether people who are confident about scientific advances might be more prone to think rationally about economic policy, or whether they might be prone to scientism and have an irrational attachment to government planning. Anyhow, I also included a variable based on the percentage in each country who think that scientific advances are likely to help mankind.

The regression model sought to explain change in economic freedom over the period 2001 to 2011 in terms of initial economic freedom, as well as the four variables discussed above. My rationale for including the initial level of economic freedom is that the higher the initial level of economic freedom, the more favourable ideology must be in order to produce a further increase in economic freedom. The estimated coefficient on that variable was negative, as expected.

However, to my surprise, the estimated coefficients on the economic policy and confidence in business variables had the ‘wrong’ sign and were not significantly different from zero. Leaving those variables out of the analysis made very little difference to the estimated coefficients on other variables. Regression estimates for the revised model are as follows:
Intercept                                 1.250   (0.734)
Economic Freedom 2001        0.740  (0.081)
Economic growth priority       1.058   (0.377)
Science helps                          0.449   (0.373)
Adj. R2                                     0.60

Changes in economic freedom predicted by the model are compared with actual changes in economic freedom in Chart 1.

The outliers in the chart are of some interest because they show the importance of factors other than the prevailing growth ideology of the population – an obvious factor is political leadership – in causing changes in economic freedom. The results support the view that the anti-economic freedom policies followed in Venezuela and Argentina, for example, do not have much support from the populations of those countries.

The results of the regression analysis suggest that a country like the US or Australia with a relatively high level of economic freedom (i.e. a rating of about 8)  would need to have prevailing attitudes toward economic growth that are around average (relative to the countries included in the analysis) in order to avoid a decline in economic freedom. That may actually be less likely to happen than you might think because people in countries like the US and Australia tend to give lower priority to economic growth than do people in countries with lower average income levels. I will discuss the implications in my next post.

Monday, May 5, 2014

What is the relationship between emancipative values and economic freedom?

Followers of this blog will know that I have recently written several posts on topics related to this question. However, I will do my best to ensure you can understand what this post is about without having to read earlier posts in the series. I will try to pull the threads together in a subsequent post.

Emancipative values, as defined by Christian Welzel in his book Freedom Rising, are about such things as individual autonomy, choice in relationships, gender equality, freedom of speech and democracy. Economic freedom is about such things as the right to use your own resources for whatever purposes you choose including mutually beneficial activities with others.

There is no, in principle, reason why emancipative values should conflict with economic freedom. The niggling issue at the back of my mind is that emancipative values are being expressed increasingly in affirmative action to create ‘entitlements’ that restrict economic freedom.

An obvious place to start in considering the relationship between emancipative values and economic freedom is with an international comparison of the type presented for 58 countries in Chart 1. The chart is based on data on emancipative values from WVS surveys conducted mainly in the first decade of this century and Fraser Institute economic freedom data for 2011.

The most striking observation from the chart is that while emancipative values are weak in some countries with high economic freedom, no countries with low economic freedom have strong emancipative values. That is consistent with the view presented in earlier posts that economic freedom improves the odds in favour of economic development and economic development tends to lead toward the strengthening of emancipative values.

According to that view, we might expect a strengthening of emancipative values in Singapore in the years ahead. The chart also suggests that there is something odd about the combination of economic freedom and emancipative values in Venezuela – hopefully adjustment will occur by restoring economic freedom rather than through a weakening of emancipative values.

It is also evident from the chart that the US is no longer exceptional in terms of either emancipative values or economic freedom. Not only does the US have emancipative values that are weaker than in Sweden and Norway, it now also has levels of economic freedom lower than in Switzerland and New Zealand. Australia is not much better than the US in either respect.

Chart 2 shows how economic freedom has changed with changes in emancipative values over the last few decades in 36 countries for which data is available.

Click on the chart for a better view.

If a trend line was drawn it would appear to show a negative relationship between changes in emancipative values and economic freedom. That apparent relationship disappears if we just focus on countries with relatively high incomes (above $25,000 in US 2005 dollars) shown in red. There is no obvious relationship between change in emancipative values and change in economic freedom in the high income countries. While the US and Japan experienced a modest strengthening in emancipative values accompanied by a decline in economic freedom, Sweden and Norway experienced both a strengthening in emancipative values and an improvement in economic freedom.

The experience of Sweden and Norway goes some way toward persuading me that if the expression of emancipative values conflicts with economic freedom in high income countries, then the economic consequences will unleash social forces to rectify the problem. However, it would be nice to have a better understanding of how the attitudes and ideologies that lead to change in economic freedom are related to emancipative values.