Why Republicans Are Happier, Part II

I wrote earlier about Pew research findings that Republicans are happier than Democrats, and, generally, conservatives are happier than liberals. Here was my explanation:

I think it’s likely that happy people are more likely to be Republicans, while unhappy people are more likely to be Democrats, for unhappiness gives one an incentive to seek change, and happiness an incentive to resist it. But the causal link goes in the other direction as well, for Republicans stress freedom and individual responsibility, which lead people to feel in control and take action that changes their lives for the better, while Democrats assign blame to institutions, which makes people feel powerless and discourages them from undertaking ameliorative courses of action.

Now we get a new explanation:

Conservatives rationalize social and economic inequalities.

Regardless of marital status, income or church attendance, right-wing individuals reported greater life satisfaction and well-being than left-wingers, the new study found. Conservatives also scored highest on measures of rationalization, which gauge a person’s tendency to justify, or explain away, inequalities.

Oh, really? And how did they measure ‘rationalization’?

The rationalization measure included statements such as: “It is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others,” and “This country would be better off if we worried less about how equal people are.”

In other words, conservatives placed less value on equality than liberals. That’s not surprising, but it has nothing to do with rationalization.

And how do conservatives “rationalize” inequality?

To justify economic inequalities, a person could support the idea of meritocracy, in which people supposedly move up their economic status in society based on hard work and good performance. In that way, one’s social class attainment, whether upper, middle or lower, would be perceived as totally fair and justified.

Hard work? Good performance? Why is this “rationalization” rather than the adoption of an Aristotelian theory of distributive justice? Moreover, the researchers confuse descriptive and normative issues. Do conservatives think that hard work and good performance are rewarded (which doesn’t seem controversial to me) or that they should be rewarded (which, again, doesn’t seem controversial to me)? Which are the researchers denying by calling this rationalization?

Ann Althouse makes an additional point:

They [liberals] especially lack the rationalization powers that would allow them to frame conservatives as anything but ***holes. These liberals must starkly confront the brutal reality that conservatives are too heartless, stupid, greedy, or cowardly to perceive. At least that’s the way the liberals like to frame it.

Why couldn’t we reframe the issue as follows? Modern societies are immensely complex. Inequalities arise for many reasons—most of which are justifiable, and a few of which aren’t. Conservatives are capable of understanding complexity, so they recognize that inequality per se is not a good indicator of injustice. Liberals, who cannot understand complexity and, like children, insist on collapsing complex matters into simple categories, misunderstand this and see inequality itself as injustice. Conservatives don’t rationalize inequality; they understand it.

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