Thursday, July 31, 2008
Reputable surveys consistently show that liberals are more interested in money, think about it more often and value it more highly than conservatives
Those on the political left are absolutely convinced that they are less materialistic and more altruistic than conservatives. Talk show host Alan Colmes has argued that "Jesus was a liberal" because he was much more generous with his limited resources than a conservative would be. As Ben Wattenberg has put it, "The word 'conservative' conjures up images of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, while 'liberal' brings to mind kindly Santa Claus."
The media has perpetuated this idea for years. During the 1980s, the American economy grew briskly under Ronald Reagan. A few years later, NBC's Katie Couric assured her viewers that in the Reagan era, "greed and materialism was the norm." Couric's was just one voice in a media chorus that saw Reagan's theory of "trickle-down economics" as a cynical expression of conservative selfishness and greed. But during the high-flying Internet bubble years of the Clinton administration, when the stock market was booming and instant millionaires and sky-high IPOs were the norm, there was no moralistic breast-beating in the media about how the Democrats had ushered in an era of untrammeled greed.
More recently, Good Morning America co-host Charlie Gibson pushed this line when he dismissed the term "compassionate conservative" as a sham. After all, Gibson said, the phrase features the "juxtaposition of two seemingly contradictory terms."
The fact that conservatives are more interested in money than in higher pursuits is believed to explain a lot of things, including the lack of conservative professors on college campuses. The sparse number of conservative professors supposedly springs from conservative greed; They are simply not willing to take an academic job that pays less than the private sector. Duke University political science professor Samantha Luks says that teaching requires "the type of personality that would be willing to take a pay cut to do a certain type of work he or she deems important," and according to her, that individual is "more likely to vote Democratic." A college newspaper editorialized that liberals populate the faculty lounge because academic jobs "are more likely to appeal to people who are anti-materialistic and idealistic -- in other words, liberals."
But this mythology about greedy conservatives and altruistic liberals has no basis in fact. Indeed, the reality is quite the reverse. Time after time, reputable surveys show that liberals are more interested in money, think about it more often and value it more highly than conservatives. They also feel less constrained about how they acquire it. Many liberals apparently believe that espousing liberal ideals is a "get out of jail free" card that inoculates them from the evils of the money culture.
Convinced that they are not overly interested in money or possessions, liberals are free to acquire them. It creates a bizarre set of attitudes whereby liberals are more likely to denounce money, but also more eager to pursue it. Consider these numbers from the World Values Survey and the General Social Survey: When asked if "high income" is very important in a job, 36% of those who call themselves "very liberal" said yes, compared with just 24% who said they were very conservative. When asked whether they "aspire to be rich," liberals actually said yes 61% of the time, compared to 51% of conservatives.
When asked whether "after good health, money is the most important thing," liberals agreed with that statement more than conservatives did, putting money ahead of family and friends (and apparently saving the planet).
Is money more important than life itself ? A sizable number of liberals believe it is. When asked, "Is it morally defensible to commit suicide if you are financially bankrupt," those who describe themselves as very liberal were three times as likely to say yes compared to those who were very conservative (23% to 7%).
Does anything go when it comes to making money? When asked about the statement, "There are no right or wrong ways to make money," liberals were more likely to agree than conservatives. The plain fact is that liberals value money more than conservatives in many respects. Liberals are more likely to haggle with a business owner to get a better price: 43% of liberals in one survey said they had done so, compared with only 32% of conservatives. Indeed, the farther left you go on the spectrum of those who disavow having an interest in money, the more willing they are to argue for a lower price. A whopping 67% of those who called themselves "extremely liberal" had tried to cut the price of an item for sale in a store. Those who are strong Democrats are also more likely (60% to 47%) to say they do not return money after getting too much change from a cashier.
Many on the left spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about their financial lot in life. Conservatives were three times more likely to say that they were "satisfied" with their financial lot than liberals. Nor is this a case of poor, idealistic liberals being compared to rich and comfortable conservatives. Even when liberals and conservatives earn the same income, the results remain the same: Liberals are much more likely to be chronically dissatisfied with their financial situation.
Yet at the same time, the World Values Survey reveals that those on the left believe there needs to be "less emphasis on money" in our society. By more than 10 percentage points, they agree with that sentiment when compared with political conservatives. This myopic view of money and wealth is caused in large part by the skewed view many liberals have of how it is actually created. For many Americans, the American Dream is really about the Protestant work ethic: work hard, be frugal, get a good education, keep your nose clean and you will be all right.
But that notion is rejected by a large number of liberals today. They see very little connection between diligence, effort and wealth. - © 2008 by Peter Schweizer. From the book Makers and Takers by Peter Schweizer, published by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
Liberals think they're so smart (but they're totally not)