Thursday, March 19, 2009

Liberals and tax cheating

++Addition++The Inductivist did a similar analysis with similar findings a month ago based on voting patterns in the 1996 Presidential election.

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With the embarrassing number of hopeful Obama appointments running into tax cheating problems (the latest being Ron Kirk), it's natural to wonder if evasion by high profile leftists is illustrative of a real world trend, or just a string of unfortunate anecdotes.

The GSS provides some relief for that wonder. It provides the results for 2,418 people queried on whether or not cheating on taxes is wrong, by political orientation. The first graphic from the GSS shows the distribution of responses. The second graph shows the mean tax compliance score, computed by designating "not wrong" as 1, "a bit wrong" as 2, "wrong" as 3, and "seriously wrong" as 4, and then averaging the responses for each of the seven categories of political orientation (click for higher resolution).









PoliticsCompliance
Strong Lib2.70
Liberal3.05
Weak Lib3.00
Moderate3.07
Weak Con3.14
Conservative3.35
Strong Con3.27

The standard deviation for the dataset is .76, so the difference between self-described conservatives and extreme liberals is nearly one full SD. Amalgamating the responses into three categories yields one-third a SD between liberals and conservatives:

PoliticsCompliance
Liberal3.00
Moderate3.07
Conservative3.25

Liberals do not consider cheating on taxes to be as morally problematic as conservatives do. This presents an obvious moral quandary of its own, as, putatively less surprisingly, liberals are more likely than conservatives are to favor greater amounts of taxation and wealth redistribution.

The purest question the GSS asks with regard to a respondent's philosophical position on taxation is, "If the government had a choice between reducing taxes or spending more on social programs like health care, social security, and unemployment benefits, which do you think it should do?" The GSS provides results for 970 respondents to this question by political orientation:









PoliticsSpend more
Strong Lib86.5%
Liberal81.1%
Weak Lib62.8%
Moderate66.7%
Weak Con49.1%
Conservative41.6%
Strong Con41.4%

There is a full standard deviation difference between extreme liberals and extreme conservatives on this most standard of political issues*. Combining the shades of liberalism and conservatism into a single category, more than half a SD still separates those on the left from those on the right:

PoliticsSpend more
Liberal72.1%
Moderate66.7%
Conservative44.8%

Attitude is not behavior, and I am unaware of any studies on the political persuasions of convicted tax cheats**, but as a self-described empirical paleoconservative, it is difficult not to find parodiable humor mixed with irritation in discovering that those most likely to favor increased taxation and redistributive economics are also the most likely to approve of illegally acting to avoid having to suffer on the contributive side of the equation.

GSS variables used: POLVIEWS, TAXCHEAT, TAXSPEND

* Parenthetically, this shows the presumption that the liberal-conservative spectrum as represented in the GSS is a gauge of positions on social issues rather than economic ones is a stretch at best. Optimally, the GSS will ask a couple of questions on political orientation in the future in place of the one now asked. Cliched though it may be, separately inquiring about both a respondent's social and economic liberalism or conservatism would accomplish this.

Notice, too, that the graph's parameters are set from 40% to 90%--even among self-described conservatives, nearly half of people favor more spending by government over the reduction of tax rates. Too many people have faith in Leviathan.

** However, in Freedonomics, John Lott shows that Republican criminals are as elusive as leprechauns (p184):
[Based on a Public Opinion Strategies survey] I found that felons were 36% more likely than non-felons to have voted for Kerry over Bush and 37% more likely to be registered Democratic [after controlling for socio-cultural factors like race, gender, educational attainment, etc]. ...

While not all felons may be as Democratic as those in Washington State, the survey indicates that the previous estimates understated how frequently felons vote Democratic. Remarkably, it looks as if virtually all felons are Democrats. Felons are not just like everyone else. And the fact that felons are even more likely to vote
Democratic than previously believed surely guarantees that some Democratic operatives will continue their efforts to get them to the polls.

18 comments:

Blode0322 said...

Ron G. has noted the same trend. (Do you guys have some arrangement where now you have to by him a beer?)

On the whole, I think this implies a great difference in the way property rights are viewed. I'll think it over some more.

Outland said...

"empirical paleoconservative"

I struggle to find the right term as well for myself. I'm not really conservative, religious, liberal or anarcho-libertarian. At Taki's, they call themselves 'the alternative right' or 'independent conservatives'. How about neo-empiricists?

Paleos are often too religious for my taste. I like Buchanan generally, but he's weak on issues related to religion, like ID, gays and euthanasia.

Alice Finkel said...

Leftists depend on others to keep the gears in the machine moving in mesh. Rules are for everyone else.

President Obama is a fine example, as are his picks for political appointments. Taxes for thee, but not for me. Laws for thee, but not for me. Free speech for thee, but not for me. Military service for thee, but not for me. Coming soon: wealth for me, but not for thee.

Alice Finkel said...

Whoops, we goofed. We said "free speech for thee but not for me" but of course we really meant "free speech for me but not for thee."

Actually, we didn't goof! You simply heard us wrong. Anyone who says otherwise is going to get pounded in the media. We'll even get Jon Steward to grind your nose in the schist if you don't watch out!

Audacious Epigone said...

Blode,

Oops. I remember that post now, but I didn't think of it when coming up with this one. The TAXCHEAT variable was one I just happened to stumble over when looking for something else.

Anyway, this offers a more thorough look by political ideology, and the patterns are more distinct, especially without a confounding third party anti-taxing candidate.

And I'd buy him a beer anytime. Dinner too!

Outland,

That's the best label I've been able to come up with, so I've settled on it for now.

Neo-empiricists is interesting, but that might be a better descriptor for someone like Razib. The neo/paleo prefixes can be confusing, too. Charles Murray was among the first wave of neoconservatives, yet his latest essay/speech is paleoconservative gold (at least my perception of it, which respects Western religious traditions even though it's not primarily informed by them).

AF,

That sort of confusion is what you get when you dispatch your courtesan to do your work for you! I know you're probably occupied elsewhere, so it is forgiven.

Outland said...

I've just read Charles Murray's piece. Good as always.

I never understood why Murray believes there's a "Europe" and what's so bad about "social Europe" anyway. Is it really that bad to guarantee health care and education -- apparently it is.

Anyway, there just isn't one Europe. Hungary, Italy, Britain and the Netherlands are very different from each other. What Murray argues for is essentially a modern 'noblesse oblige'.

That would be nice, if it would happen. But there are tons of nice things that would be nice to happen but never will.

BGC said...

Thanks for the pointer to Charles Murray's latest - an absolute gem.

Murray is so much better than anyone in the UK he might as well be living in another galaxy.

He makes some remarkable, original and true points about European life being drained of meaning by the state, and how consequently the elite's aim is to 'while away life as pleasantly as possible'.

That really hit the spot as an observation, and I think the reason he gives is correct too: family, education and work emptied of meaning and responsibility by state encroachment; no religion or any other transcendent values; no purpose or principle.

And his solution is the only one that could work - a great awakening. But I see neither shadow nor sign of any such thing on this side of the pond...

Audacious Epigone said...

BGC,

Yes, he beat you to your own ideas. Well, I guess it doesn't matter who puts it forward, so long as it gets play, but let the record show that I more-or-less heard Murray's latest from Dr. Bruce Charlton first.

Blode0322 said...

Charles Murray is one of those "first generation neoconservatives" who were more concerned with poverty than WMDs - and who didn't get their start as Trotskyites. In that fine essay he does indeed talk like a Russel Kirk civic conservative. (Not sure about paleocon, since that has so many implications for foreign policy and I don't know Murray's.)

In truth, being like Europe 1950-2000 wouldn't be so bad; it's being like Europe 2010-2060 I'd like, since it involves being eaten alive by Islam.

As to conceptions of property rights as implied by tax cheating data - it reminds me of something Mencius Moldbug wrote about modern dalits viewing themselves as insurgent warriors fighting an unjust system. Give a bandit class (or caste) a little Marxian rhetoric and they will take to it like a duck to water.

Then they can be seen as natural allies by the intellectuals who take to Marxism for the usual gnostic / post-Christian reasons that boil down to Everything that reminds me of the parts of myself I feel guilty about should be torn down. The money-guilt of "sermon on the mount" Christianity survives in the secular left, apparently. The ethics of "thou shalt not steal" Judeo-Christianity are more fragile.

BGC said...

AE: "I more-or-less heard Murray's latest from Dr. Bruce Charlton first."

Alas no - I may have said some of the same words; but if so I didn't understand what I was saying until I saw the argument presented by Charles Murray.

Audacious Epigone said...

Blode,

I take it you mean that being the Europe of 2010-2060 is not something you'd enjoy.

From my following of Murray, professionaly he has pretty much steered clear of foreign policy. For someone from AEI, that's likely been a blessing, in my opinion.

BGC,

You're sincere in your modesty, but it's still false, unintentional though such falsity may be.

Blode0322 said...

Yes. Thanks for catching my typo Mr. Epigone.

Anonymous said...

The "research" presented here neglects the fact that liberals are in general more, well, liberal about the legality of various behaviors that are considered questionable by conservatives. So yes, they don't think tax cheat is a serious crime, nor is use of marijuana, gay marriage, etc. In other words, this report does not prove that conservatives were more morally sound than liberals, but simply is another piece of partisan pseudoscience nonsense. (Full disclosure: I'm an independent.)

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon,

Do you go by the pseudonym Novice by chance?

The GSS questions are not querying respondents on behavior. The TAXSPEND and TAXCHEAT variables are both ethical (or preferential, if you prefer) in nature.

What do you find inaccurate in the post? By their own admission, self-described liberals are less concerned about tax cheating than self-described conservatives are. Generally, on economic issues, the former are less permissive than the latter are (again, self-described when the liberal-moderate-conservative spectrum is used--I don't find it optimal, but here we are), so I find it noteworthy.

The excerpt from Lott's book is only suggestive at best, but it seemed germane to the subject so I included it.

DaveinHackensack said...

Good post. I speculated on this topic in a recent post ("Are Liberals Less Inclined to Pay Their Taxes?"), but it's interesting to see the breakdown of the GSS data on this.

b said...

As Ted Haggard, Larry Craig and others demonstrates so amply, having a strong moral opinion about something doesn't tell everything about whether you actually practice it.

This is not the right data to make the point you wish to imply.

Audacious Epigone said...

Dave,

Thanks. The GSS doesn't give us the analysis you ask/hope for in your post (and which could conceivably done by a motivated academic), but it does provide some insight into the psychology behind various levels of emphasis on taxation compliance and wealth redistribution.

B,

Doesn't tell you anything? Do you have evidence to back that assertion up, because it sounds like crap to me, somewhat akin to saying that stereotypes do not tell people anything about the groups being stereotyped. In neither case are we looking at binary absolutes. People who believe something to be morally wrong are probably less likely to do it than people who do not think there is anything morally wrong with it. Of course that isn't always going to be the case, but again, I'd like to see evidence that moral/ethical beliefs have no correlation with behavior at all.

Chris said...

The study is merely indicative of the direction further study should follow, it doesn't prove a relation between tax cheating and political bias. Another possible explanation is that reactionary conservatives feel emboldened by their self-righteousness and feel justified withholding taxes from a government they perceive as being immoral. Other research has shown a connection between self-righteousness and the ability to bend, or feel unconstrained by conventional morals (as b names a few well-known recent examples) - regardless of political leaning. Neither hypothesis is testable with your data.

Because felons more often vote for Democrats, it does not follow that Democrat policies are felonious; felons may be voting rationally in their own interest to support a party that champions social programs that can help them avoid returning to a life of crime and to prison. More study is needed.