Economics

Are Demographics Destiny?

Self-interest, sex, snakes, and the making of our political preferences

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The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind: How Self-Interest Shapes Our Opinions and Why We Won't Admit It, by Jason Weeden and Robert Kurzban, Princeton University Press, 387 pages, $29.95

Rich people hate taxes, right? Or at least that's what a rudimentary understanding of self-interest would suggest. But the story immediately gets more complicated when Warren Buffett and Bill Gates start arguing that their tax rates should be higher, even as the pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce cries out in opposition. And according to data from the U.S. General Social Survey, the owners of manufacturing plants and retail stores are more likely than lawyers and stockbrokers to oppose a tax increase. What's going on here?

One standard explanation is that the majority of lawyers and financial experts tend to be concentrated in major cities, among the more cultured, progressive elite, and thus tend to vote for Democrats. Meanwhile, most factory owners and retail-store CEOs are scattered across the conservative heartland and thus are more likely to vote Republican. There is some evidence for this, particularly in the donation patterns for the legal and finance industries compared to the manufacturing and retail industries.

Yet such an explanation is profoundly unsatisfying. It's amusing to believe we live in a country where there exists an "eastern elite" and a "left coast" with Jesusland in between. But the standard red state/blue state tropes for why people develop specific political preferences are fraught with caveats, from "weird" liberal Austin, Texas, to the Republican mayors of New York City. Plus, while plenty of social science evidence suggests that political parties can shape their members' views, there still is the question of why a person self-selects into a political ideology in the first place.

The Pennsylvania Laboratory for Experimental Evolutionary Psychology psychologists Jason Weeden and Robert Kurzban believe they have the answer: a more robust understanding of what constitutes a person's self-interest.

In their new pop-political-psychology book, The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind, the two researchers define self-interested behavior as "advancing any of a range of people's typical goals, whether directly involving material gain or something more subtle that advances someone's progress over the longer-term." To the degree that individuals identify with a particular group, whether it is based on gender, race, or socioeconomic status, they will perceive what is good for the group as in their own "inclusive interests" as well. Thus, they argue, people will favor political policies that are "in the interest of themselves, their families, their friends, and their social networks." Find what are in the interests of a person or their group, and you'll find their political preferences.

How does this explain the difference between factory owners and stockbrokers? Weeden and Kurzban note that the owners of physical businesses rely on depreciating assets that they have to replace over time. They therefore have an interest in limiting the extraction of assets from their operations. Individuals who make a living by amassing information to improve their specialization, by contrast, can expect to command higher salaries over time, and they don't have as much of an interest in ensuring tax rates are kept low. For Weeden and Kurzban, the reason lawyers are statistically less likely to be concerned about tax increases than manufacturing plant owners is that, all else being equal, the lawyers have a greater confidence that they will probably just make more money next year anyway.

Of course, in the real world, all else is never equal. Recognizing this, Weeden and Kurzban perform a statistical version of fracking, shooting highly pressurized regression analysis into General Social Survey data to cross-compare dozens of demographic factors to find good predictors of political preferences.

The General Social Survey includes characteristics like gender, race, education level, faith affiliation, and income, as well as behavioral patterns like how often one attends a religious service, consumes alcohol and/or recreational drugs, or has sex. Using a range of statistical tools, the researchers looked for correlations between these demographics and stated political preferences.

The result is over 150 pages of appendices that document a wide range of groups who trade off among their competing interests in different ways. The book naturally focuses on the policy areas where correlations are strongest, including abortion, gay rights, taxation, redistribution, and affirmative action. Areas where the correlations are weaker, specifically foreign policy and the environment, get relegated to a few paragraphs of discussion at the end of the book.

On the whole, the data are fascinating and presented in an easy-to-consume format, even for people whose idea of a fun Friday night generally doesn't include pivot tables or linear regressions.

For instance: If you're interested in finding communitarians, look for highly educated whites who frequently attend church services and have lower socioeconomic statuses. If you want to find libertarian women, look for white, heterosexual atheists or Christians with infrequent church attendance, high education levels, and incomes above the median.

If you want to find lawyers who are opposed to tax hikes, look for ones who got lower SAT scores and attended bottom-tier schools; they will tend to have more pessimistic expectations about their future earnings capacity. The higher an individual's human capital, the less likely they are to be concerned about future tax hikes. That goes for accountants and hot dog cart owners alike.

Weeden and Kurzban essentially argue that if we know an individual's demographic traits, we will know her interests, and we can predict her political preferences with a high degree of confidence on most (not all, they stress) matters of importance in the American zeitgeist. Just look for what is good for people with those demographic traits. If, say, we know that an individual has had five or more sexual partners, is sexually active outside of a marriage, does not have kids, and goes to bars or drinks once a week, that person has an interest in the accessibility of contraceptives. And if an individual has sex only in the context of a committed relationship, does not cohabit outside of marriage, has children, and attends a religious service at least once a month, that person has an interest in reducing the accessibility of contraceptives, to raise the cost to partners or potential partners of living a competing lifestyle.

Using this information, Weeden and Kurzban find strong relationships between these demographic traits and views on abortion, marijuana legalization, and whether pornography should be legal. The results are impressive, as the demographic data on lifestyle preferences do a pretty good job of predicting what an individual's political preferences might be. However, predicting preferences is different than explaining why the preferences were developed in the first place.

Weeden and Kurzban's book lands in the midst of a contentious debate in the academic community about how to understand the political mind. The leading story in social psychology today says that political and lifestyle preferences originate in our values. Psychologists such as Steven Pinker and Michael Gazzaniga have popularized the academic understanding that our brains come wired at birth to engage the world around us as social animals. We are born with evolved instincts to avoid potentially lethal creatures (e.g., an instinctive fear of snakes) or foods (e.g., a built-in disgust mechanism when facing rotting flesh or off-colored fruits).

We have also evolved moral instincts for engaging other people, gut feelings about human suffering, personal freedom, fairness, loyalty, purity, and the value of social norms. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues these universal moral intuitions in the brain are then molded and shaped by the culture we grow up in and the environments we spend time in. Our life experiences and group identities inform our worldviews (or moral intuitions), and the variance in culture and environment leads to vast differences in ideas about how important individual liberty is relative to purity, how fairness should be defined, and other matters.

As our values inform our preferences, we seek to advance not just those political ideologies but the value system that underlies them. Not abstract "higher-level" values, but structural instincts about what is right and wrong that have been and are continuously shaped by our life experiences and group identities.

In practice, this means that competing ideas about what constitutes a fair tax code are based not simply on individuals' self-interest but on the relative weight they give to different values. If someone values avoiding human suffering at a relatively higher level than preserving individual liberty, he is more likely to favor higher tax regimes that can pay for more social services. If someone defines fairness in terms of the value of equality, she is more likely to be concerned about a growing income gap than an individual who thinks about fairness in terms of people getting what they deserve. If someone values purity more than individual liberty, he will develop lifestyle preferences that lead to an interest in reducing contraceptives and subsequently opposing legalized abortion.

Weeden and Kurzban dutifully acknowledge that values can predict and explain our politics. But ultimately they emphasize their position as standing in contrast to Haidt, Pinker, and others who've developed theories of what causes people to wind up with their political preferences.

Weeden and Kurzban's book is well worth a read. But in embracing a tautological definition of self-interest, Weeden and Kurzban have simultaneously used the most accurate definition of human behavior and the least helpful definition for explaining ideologies.

Yes, it is reasonable to argue that all behavior is self-interested-given the limited knowledge a person has when making any particular decision, and assuming that "maximizing one's preferences" can include advancing the interests of whatever groups the individual identifies with. But that still leaves open the question of what defines the "interests" in the first place.

The more robust explanation for people's political preferences is found in their underlying values, which guide their self-interests and are shaped by life experience and group identities. Suss out the primary values of a person or group and you'll discover what defines their interests and their political preferences.

So how do we explain Warren Buffett's desire to write a bigger check to the IRS? Rather than rooting around in the demographic characteristics of lawyers versus factory owners, consider whether a person views harm reduction or promotion of individual liberty the more important value. Look for whether the person emphasizes or de-emphasizes equality. Those who value individual liberty will be the ones looking at their 1040s with disgust, while the billionaires who care about equality will be more cheerful when the tax man comes knocking.

Anthony Randazzo (anthony.randazzo@reason.org) is director of economic research at Reason Foundation.

NEXT: Rand Paul vs. Jeb Bush and Pot Smoking: Hypocrisy is the Compliment Vice Pays to Politics

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  1. The Pennsylvania Laboratory for Experimental Evolutionary Psychology psychologists Jason Weeden and Robert Kurzban believe they have the answer: a more robust understanding of what constitutes a person’s self-interest.

    Really? You think maybe people, especially in urban areas, have been unwittingly voting against their interests? Go back to doing Firefly, Weeden.

    1. Yeah, I think they’re trying too hard to find what’s right in front of their noses.

      Really, when the government has become so powerful that they can destroy your wealth and your company with arbitrary regulation at any time, why would you ally yourself with the people who want to deregulate?

      The people who want to deregulate want to deregulate regardless of whether you support them, and if you supported them, you’d make yourself an enemy of the people who want to “regulate” you to death. Meanwhile, you can take yourself off the target list of the people who want to regulate you to death if you side with them?

      Again, paying off the Democrat politicians and projecting yourself as a hero of the people who want to raise taxes on the wealthy seems like a no-brainer. And relative to the danger of being broken up by antitrust, etc., having to pay higher taxes (if throwing your two cents in even really contributes to that outcome) seems pretty tame by comparison.

      I mean, neither Gates nor Buffet draw much of a salary, and if you want to tax dividends, they control the payout of those by the companies they own anyway. You want to hike the capital gains tax–both Gates and Buffet are long term investors famous for holding their stock for decades. They’re not worried about the capital gains tax.

      P.S. Buffet’s father was a four term Democrat in Congress. I bet he learned how the game was played at the dinner table.

      1. Buffet’s father was a four term Democrat in Congress. I bet he learned how the game was played at the dinner table.

        Actually, Howard Buffett was a Republican and a friend of Murray Rothbard. His politics were old right / libertarian – gold standard, non-interventionism. My guess is that Warren took as advice the thing Howard noted with horror and disgust.

    2. “Go back to doing Firefly, Weeden.”

      You realize that’s not the same guy, right?

  2. Those who value individual liberty will be the ones looking at their 1040s with disgust, while the billionaires who care about equality will be more cheerful when the tax man comes knocking.

    And yet not a single one has written an voluntary check to the Treasury. I agree with the premise that those who, relatively speaking, have not had to work for their money are more worried about equality and are more willing to favor higher taxes. But don’t underestimate the element of being generous with other people’s money. They get all of the gain and frequently none of the pain, because the truly rich can always restructure their income in the most favorable terms.

    Give me a consumption tax, and no one can hide anymore.

    1. +1 for consumption tax!

      And if they want to couch that in environmentalist terms to get enough Democrats to support it, then I’m happy to go along with that.

      1. No, goddammit! No ‘targeted’ taxes. It applies to everyone or no one.

        Democrats should support it because it can be designed to lower the tax burden on low income people and will hit the trust fund babies the hardest. They will oppose it because it significantly hampers their ability to buy votes and employ class warfare. Some Republicans will oppose it for the first reason as well.

        1. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

          We don’t have to get to perfection in one giant step.

          Rome wasn’t ruined in a day.

          1. That isn’t letting perfect be the enemy of good. That is introducing the apple into the Garden of Eden. Once you start making exceptions for your preferred industry/goal/project, it never stops. I’m even a little uneasy about the exemption for education expenses in the Fair Tax.

            1. The Fair Tax did not apply to investments, and considered education as an investment.

    2. Consumption taxes require massive and intrusive record keeping. There’s no other way to keep stores and manufacturers honest as to how much tax they owe.

      The only tax which doesn’t do that is property tax. However the valuation is set, whether area, appraised value, or anything, it can be contested anonymously. The tax can be paid anonymously; the government doesn’t care who pays it or even who owns it as long as their tax is paid.

      I’ve toyed with the idea of using a self-appraised value for the tax basis, enforced by not allowing any court-ordered damages exceeding that value, but that’s not necessary.

      1. Let’s see, we had revenue of $100 this year. 23% of that is. Goddamn, I just can’t figure it out.

        1. Who says so? You say $100, the government says otherwise. How do you prove you are correct?

          You open your books to government inspectors. They claim fraud. How do you prove otherwise?

          Whereas with land, the area is hardly in doubt, and if the appraisals differ, at worst you get subjective claims by different appraisers who have to come on your land and look around.

          Which one requires more intrusion and more bureaucracy?

      2. “…the government doesn’t care who pays it or even who owns it as long as their tax is paid.”

        If the tax isn’t paid and the owner is anonymous, how does the government know whom to dun?

        1. They confiscate the land for non-payment of taxes. There’d have to be plenty of warnings posted on the land, plenty of time, but the land’s not going anywhere.

      3. Rubbish. Most people assume a VAT when they hear consumption tax, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It can provide additional checks to confirm the proper tax is paid, but it also increase the amount of record keeping. A retail consumption tax charged at the time of sale to the customer does not require that and can be implemented quite easily. Even better, it’s already tracked in the vast majority of states, so it’s simply calculated at the same time as the state taxes.

        Now let’s look at the alternative income tax. We have to capture every pay transaction. We have to determine what the proper tax is based on the types of income. Then we have to apply these lovely graduated rates which depend on the history of your income. A consumption tax has none of that complexity since every transaction is taxed the same and the more you consume, the more you pay.

        Property tax? So as long as I don’t own a house I pay no tax? Cute trick and just as subject to abuse as any other. It also narrows the base and as long as everyone still gets a right to vote for free shit, then I want as broad a base as possible. Or are you suggesting we go back to poll taxes?

        1. Rubbish my ass. VAT, sales tax, doesn’t matter. The state still has to poke into your books to confirm your figures, far beyond any kind of property tax. Every seller has to register with the government. Anyone who sells too much on eBay or at flea markets will come under scrutiny for not having registered, and how do they prove they didn’t sell enough to warrant registration and tax collection?

          Doesn’t matter whether the tax is hidden like VAT or added to the price like sales tax. It still opens up way too much opportunity for fraud which the government can only investigate with a massive intrusive bureaucracy.

          Who said anything about any income tax? That’s your strawman.

          Do you rent? Then the landlord passes on the tax just as ny other cost.

          1. Subject to the government determining the value of the property. That doesn’t require the government poking its nose into your life? They can’t enter your house and assess value? Fourth amendment ring a bell? Less intrusive my ass.

            A plan like the Fair Tax would exempt most activity on eBay or a flea market because much of that is second hand sales and only first time retail sales are taxed. But let’s assume for the moment that we will tax all consumer sales. If you ‘sell too much’ on eBay or at a flea market you should come under scrutiny because you should be collecting the sales tax, and it’s hardly a difficult exercise to take sales price and multiply by a scalar. As I noted it happens in a vast majority of states today.

            Please. There are far more properties in this country than there are business and services. And yet you think you can value them all without fraud and abuse? You think you can do that without a massive bureaucracy? Try again.

            1. If you can’t even comprehend the fundamental difference in possible fraud for the value of a land parcel on the one hand and a business cooking the books on the other, you have no business opining on taxes and government intrusion.

              The number of parcels has nothing to do with the fraud possible. Business fraud needs to be investigated every time taxes are paid. Property seldom changes value often or by much. The investigation needed is vastly different: a trained accountant vs someone driving by and checking whether a second story has been added, or looking at real estate ads. I bet there’s a 100:1 ratio in difficulty.

              And as for those exemptions — pffft! That’s part of the intrusiveness, verifying the level of business activity which requires paying consumption tax. Maybe you are naive enough to think that flea market and eBay regulars are never investigated, or that no inspectors ever wander around flea markets. But the government isn’t. They usually regulate how many yard sales are allowed every year, primarily to keep professional resellers under view.

              1. Seriously? You think all property can be appraised simply by just taking a quick drive by? Home Depot and Lowes have combined revenues of ~$140B. That doesn’t account for all of the labor added to the products they sell which will be multiples of that. That’s a significant change in property value every year–much of which is not visible to a simple drive by. And there certainly would be no incentive for property owners to spend more on internally visible improvements than external. But I forget, having someone actually walk through your house every 2-5 years is less intrusive than looking at a business’s records.

                The exemptions are intrusive? Honestly? Me taxing you less is intrusive. That’s… unique.

                I don’t think anything about what eBay and flea market regulars do. If you are making something at home and buying materials you want to register as a business because that means you can buy that material without paying tax. If you don’t, then you will have to pay the consumption tax yourself. And since you’ve registered it’s a trivial exercise to look at materials purchased versus goods sold to confirm compliance.

                1. (cont.)

                  By exempting second hand sales you don’t even need to worry about flea markets and eBay, because those sales would qualify for exemptions (see above for new products). But let’s say we don’t exempt them. If we decide to have a broad sales tax that applies to second hand items, then flea markets and eBay sales should be taxed. It’s actually simpler if we don’t have exemptions because then ALL sales are taxed, and we don’t have the added bookkeeping. Given the even broader base, rates would be even lower. However, it has the disadvantage that items can be taxed multiple times, which is what the new sales rule was meant to address.

                  1. Jeez, you keep asserting that exemptions solve everything. They solve nothing. They just open up another avenue for fraud and another need for intrusive bureaucrats.

                    The difference between US sales tax and EU VAT is minimal compared to any real estate property tax. I repeat, if you can’t recognize the difference in opportunity for fraud and the bureaucracy required to detect it, you are living in some kind of fantasy world and have no business debating the merits of various taxes.

                2. I don’t know what property you think is covered by “property tax”. I mean real estate and its improvements. That’s the general perception of “property tax”, not tax on a business’s value or its non-real estate assets.

                  As for the exemptions to consumptions taxes, yes of course they are intrusive, because that’s one of the biggest sources of fraud, claiming to be exempt when not. How do you think people prove their exemption, by signing a piece of paper which the government takes at face value?

                  There is nothing trivial about looking at materials purchased vs goods sold — it means receipts, books, bank records, all sorts of crap. How is that less intrusive than wandering around a home with a tape measure to get square footage, or looking at realty postings?

                  1. Trying to base national revenue on property tax not only makes property-owners the permanent slaves and tenants of the government, it pretty much guarantees a huge market for wealth-transfer politics.

                    The poor don’t own much property. Rural farmers, coporatins and and urban landlords own a lot of property.

                    So who do you think the politicians are going to pander to? The masses of non-property owneers, that’s who.

                    *Everybody* consumes. And the fact that consumption taxes are regressive puts political pressure to keep consumption taxes low and exempt basic necessities, such as food (and consumer distribution of fuel, possibly).

                    All taxation requires *some* intrusion into personal and corporate books. A consumption tax can hardly be worse than the current system, and arguably much less if most of the tax is collected at point of transaction.

                    Sure there will be lots of cash and under-the-counter transactions that the government puts effort into ferreting out. That’s not any worse than the status quo.

                    1. Two-thirds of Americans own their homes. That’s hardly an underclass or minority.

                      If owing taxes makes one a slave to the government, it sure isn’t limited to property taxes. What do you think happens to business owners who don’t pay taxes? Coercive government makes everyone a slave and tenant in your terms.

                      If regressive taxes pressure politicians, that’s news to just about everybody except you.

                      If you think the mark of acceptable intrusion is the current system, you’ve got a long way to go.

                      Government is coercive intrusion. Are you seriously suggesting all intrusion is equivalent? Property tax (on real estate) is far less intrusive than anything related to financial records.

                      The US GDP is $18T, which is equivalent o consumption for all practical purposes. The combined federal, state, and local governments spend $7T each year, 40% of GDP, which is your base consumption tax rate. A population of 330M is $20K per person. There are 120M families, around $60K per year. Landlords will make sure their tenants notice. People will do almost anything to reduce their taxes, especially cooking financial books. Do you really think the bureaucracy to uncover that will be only as onerous as property inspectors?

      4. The fact that VATs and sales taxes are routinely employed all around the world argues against you. Consumption taxes are no more subject to “cooking the books” than income taxes.

        Property taxes, on the other hand, make individuals the permanent tenants and debtors of the state. There are no more immoral taxes than property taxes.

        1. The EU countries have worse VAT compliance rates than the US. Do you really think a 40% VAT instead of 15-25% would induce greater compliance?

          All taxes are evil. Property tax fraud is easier to detect than any tax related to financial records, meaning less fraud and less intrusive bureaucracy to detect it.

          The government remedy for non-compliance is the same in all cases — property confiscation and jail. What makes you think property tax is more so? If property tax makes one the government’s tenant, consumption tax makes the government one’s supplier and income tax makes one the government’s employee. What the heck is the difference?

    3. “They get all of the gain and frequently none of the pain, because the truly rich can always restructure their income in the most favorable terms.”

      Buffett famously gets paid $100,000/year in “income”.
      Of course, for that income level, you fly economy, right? Unless you own a charter airline and fly free where ever and when ever your please, PSA be damned.
      When Buffett declares his entire compensation as “income”, gets groped with us proles, and donates his philanthropic amounts to the government instead of a charity where it might do some good, I’ll start listening to the miserable hypocrite.

    4. During the 1950’s the consumption tax on Grey Poupon was 93%.

  3. If you want to find libertarian women, look for white, heterosexual atheists or Christians with infrequent church attendance, high education levels, and incomes above the median.

    5 out of 6 ain’t bad. And I thought I was an original. ;-(

    1. That description hit disturbingly close to the mark…

    2. There are only 5 marks — “atheists or Christians with infrequent church attendance” is a single category.

      Unless you are counting female as a category, but then you could throw in homo sapiens also.

    3. I got to know my ex-wife at a libertarian discussion group I lead.

    4. Should there be a comma after “heterosexual” or do libertarian women who infrequently attend church tend to be bi or lesbian?

      1. This is their point.

        Y’all are thinking of it as redundancy, when its a nexus. They are trying to analyze the nexus, not say ‘duh so obvious’.

  4. The higher an individual’s human capital, the less likely they are to be concerned about future tax hikes.

    Because, using Buffett and Gates as examples again, they gain more by focusing on creating wealth than they do avoiding taxes.

    1. I guess that explains the trusts and foundations where so much of their wealth now resides.

      1. Buffet’s public announcements that all his money is going to his charitable foundations when he dies are calculated to deflect criticism of his wealth. He announced publicly that he isn’t leaving his money to his children!

        Of course, Buffet also announced that his charitable foundations will be run by Bill Gates. …which means, again, that all the news outlets owned outright or by way of joint ventures with Buffet or Gates will criticize either of them in public. And it contains an implied threat–that Gates/Buffet can unleash extreme criticism against any politician that fucks with them.

        You’re a politician that wants to say something about Gates? Well Gates now has stakes in NBC News, MSNBC, ABC News, all ABC radio affiliates, the Washington Post, and a host of local ABC television stations all over the country. …and that’s just getting started.

        Yeah, any politicians wants to screw with Gates? There’s the question of who’s going to report on it, and then there’s the question of whether Gates is going to use his media properties to destroy that politician. He’s like Berlesconi in Italy–except Gates is too smart to run for office.

        In the meantime, Gates’s charm offensive is projecting him as a philanthropist who wants his taxes raised–which doesn’t have any effect on the debate except to keep him out of the sights of Democrat rabble.

        George Soros gets a similar benefit–although I think his concerns are genuine.

        1. “…which means, again, that all the news outlets owned outright or by way of joint ventures with Buffet or Gates will [NOT] criticize either of them in public.”

          Fixed!

        2. Gates supports a consumption tax.

          1. For environmental reasons?

      2. Of course I never said they didn’t tax plan. I said they focused on wealth creation instead.

        1. Yes, they pay others to tax plan. Remind me how specialization works again…

        2. So, people who can create wealth have a higher tolerance for taxes than people on fixed incomes, like wage earners. So, yeah, what they said.

    2. I’m sure that Buffet’s and Gates’s enterprises employ herds of tax lawyers and accountants just to create wealth, not to avoid taxes.

    3. Wrong Butt slut. Crony Capitalist’s gain more by protecting their wealth, by paying off politicians, than by creating wealth, and passing down that wealth to employee’s, and consumers.

      Christ !! You cannot even get your Paul Krugggrsad, lefty, libertarian talking points straight.

  5. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have both, at various times, had their fortunes threatened by Democrats at various points in their careers–Gates by antitrust and Buffet by labor unions. They both surmised (and it should be noted that Buffet is Gates’ mentor) that their financial best interests were best defended by projecting their public images as Democrats themselves and by making big investments in news media.

    Bill Gates made big investments in joint ventures with NBC, and elsewhere, and Warren Buffet had huge investments in the Washington Post and Cap Cities ABC, now under the umbrella of Disney, I understand.

    It really can be in the long term best interests of the victims of protection rackets to go ahead and pay the mob their protection money–and when Gates and Buffet talk in public about how their taxes should be higher, it’s like they’re paying off the mob their protection money. When Bill Gates wasn’t making any political donations to anybody, antitrust came breathing down his neck.

    Why wouldn’t politicians come after wealthy entrepreneurs who aren’t paying anyone any protection money? They buy news outlets, too, just in case some rogue politician doesn’t know what’s in his best interests either.

    1. John D. Rockefeller and public relations pioneer Ivy Lee invented this strategy to damp hatred and threats of legislative reprisals against the Rockefeller fortune and enterprises. It works well to this day.

      The Rockefeller Foundation is the ur-tax dodge for the richest and it was founded in 1913, just in time to avoid the new income tax.

  6. I wonder how the study accounted for the role of ignorance and group-think as potential political influencers?

    Just because a lawyer went to law school, doesn’t mean he has thought about the moral and economic consequences of taxation. And just because Bill Gates is a wicked smaat computer nerd, doesn’t mean he in not susceptible to herd mentality when it comes to selecting a political affiliation.

    I seriously doubt that these people are doing all of this political calculus before aligning with a political camp. I think most people are either doing what’s popular, or doing what feels good, regardless of whether or not it’s rational.

  7. Recognizing this, Weeden and Kurzban perform a statistical version of fracking, shooting highly pressurized regression analysis into General Social Survey data to cross-compare dozens of demographic factors to find good predictors of political preferences.

    Neat review, but that sentence gave me cancer.

  8. “If you want to find libertarian women, look for white, heterosexual atheists or Christians with infrequent church attendance, high education levels, and incomes above the median.”

    Wouldn’t this describe a lot of women who aren’t libertarian?

    1. and wtf is a communitarian?

      1. highbrow populist

  9. If you want to find lawyers who are opposed to tax hikes, look for ones who got lower SAT scores and attended bottom-tier schools; they will tend to have more pessimistic expectations about their future earnings capacity.

    No need to look. I’m sure there’s one shitting all over a thread right now.

  10. Okay. I’m going to break down the situation in a simple fashion. People do not like getting dry fucked in the ass without lube. The politicians are lube salesmen/women. and the average progressive/social conservative voters are the ones doing the ass fucking.

    In major population centers you have more lube salespeople, and in less populated centers you have fewer lube salespeople, selling larger amounts of lube.

    So. Unless you live in a major city, or are connected to a large scale lube distributor in a rural area. You are getting fucked in the ass dry, without any lube.

    1. People do not like getting dry fucked in the ass without lube.

      I’m sorry, Sir. I refuse to write that on your cake.

      1. Then I shall use the full force of the law to coerce you to write that upon my tombstone.

        After I am dead.

        Fucker. =)

        1. You do realize this is the Post Office? The Bakery is next door.

              1. Huh, didn’t know they had made more movies. I’m reading Raising Steam right now.

                1. I was not a fan of the books until I watched the movies. I will have to check out Raising Steam. =)

                  1. His early work is much better. Raising Steam is so far pretty meh. Moving Pictures, Mort, and Small Gods are my favorites. A neighbor got me Where’s My Cow? to read to my son when he’s a little older.

  11. OT Question. Do dead people have agency ?

    Considering PB’s stance on confiscating wealth produced by dead people.

  12. Political affiliation correlates strongly with the population density of the municipality where one lives. The red state blue state divide happens because some states have more counties that are densely populations. This makes sense in terms of self interest, because the rewards for believing in taking other people’s money are greater when there are more people near by to take from.

    Austin, Texas is blue, because it is urban. New York City’s two Republican mayors don’t change that fact that it is a very left-wing city. Guliani won in the wake of the Crown Heights riots when New Yorkers wanted security. Bloomberg was a Dem before he joined the Republicans and then ran again as an independent.

    Lawyers and MBA had to go through much schooling to get into their careers. In college, they get indoctrinated to be left-wing by high paid academics who live off government grants. Small business owners can side step this indoctrination.

    Self-interest is still the best explanation for political beliefs, but indoctrination by educators creates some peons who work for the self-interest of the teachers and the patrons of the teachers instead of their own self-interest.

  13. So how do we explain Warren Buffett’s desire to write a bigger check to the IRS? Rather than rooting around in the demographic characteristics of lawyers versus factory owners, consider whether a person views harm reduction or promotion of individual liberty the more important value. Look for whether the person emphasizes or de-emphasizes equality. Those who value individual liberty will be the ones looking at their 1040s with disgust, while the billionaires who care about equality will be more cheerful when the tax man comes knocking.

    Or in Buffet’s case look at his actions, which take advantage of every available tax avoidance opportunity, instead of his rhetoric about fairness.

  14. Lets roll wih it man and roll with it good.

    http://www.BestAnon.cf

  15. “The Pennsylvania Laboratory for Experimental Evolutionary Psychology”

    I truly wish I wrote science fiction, this title is worthy of an inauspicious pseudonym… Pheromone Frostbite

    ” Individuals who make a living by amassing information to improve their specialization, by contrast, can expect to command higher salaries over time,”

    Then I could definitively- fall into this category.

    As far as generalizations go, the piece is plausible and probably more accurate than not. Self-interest is the driving force of our existence (or always has been) except, in these days of enlightenment, we must mitigate our subconscious from our conscious choices. Probably why it wants to stay hidden, too much introspection gives one a headache.

    1. What, “The PLEEP” isn’t good enough for your taste?

  16. while the billionaires who pretend to care about equality and want to send the right social signals while simultaneously not lifting a finger themselves to help the poor will be more cheerful when the tax man comes knocking.

    FTFY.

    They really just want to use the government to provide the charity that they’re too lazy to provide themselves.

  17. Buffett sells financial products designed to avoid his proposed taxes.

  18. It hardly takes a rocket scientist to figure out why Warren Buffet and Bill Gates don’t mind higher taxes: they are so f*cking rich that you could take 99% of their money and they’d still be wealthy. All they care about at this late point in their lives is rectifying their posthumous reputation. (Of course, if they get a chance to clandestinely promote policies that are in their own economic interest, I have no doubt that they still do that too.)

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