Wednesday, 13 May 2009

On Freedom and Quality of Life

Famously, something that often frustrates people in political discussions is the fact that political discussion tends to end up being much more like supporting one's favourite hockey team than a dispassionate inquiry into the best way for a government to operate, i.e., people care less about what their favoured party does than they care that it be successful and continue to hold power.

But less partisan political aficionados are often guilty of the sin of a priori politics. By this I mean the inclination to defend a political system or methodology without regard for its actual success or effectiveness in practice. In defending a political ideology I think we should be clear as to whether we're defending it because we view it as the best means to some other ends, in which case we need an account of what those ends are, or whether the fundamental principles are so important that we'd defend them regardless of their effectiveness in practice. So, for example, if I'm devoted to socialist libertarianism, what would it take to convince me that the system didn't work in practice? If we were to implement it and it resulted in a 80% drop in economic productivity and a 10 year decrease in lifespan would I continue to defend it because I think its basic principles are essential for a fair system, or would I acknowledge that part of the reason I embraced the system is because I thought it would result in greater equity with a relatively small drop in productivity and quality of life?

So, I think it's important to have a clear understanding of the political principles one holds but also the effect one thinks that such principles should allow us to achieve. What would have to be the case for us to give us those beliefs, that ideology? The point of all this is that I like looking for data that can be used to help evaluate such systems, while being painfully aware of the fact that political theory is particularly susceptible to the indeterminacy of theories problem.

So, all that said, I was interested recently when someone posted a link to a paper, "Freedom in the 50 States", that attempted to quantify the level of freedom in each of the U.S. states. If we could really measure such a thing we could consider some other factors and see how or whether they benefit by increased or decreased government control so for starters I looked at correlations for some of these scores, while remaining agnostic about the quality of the metrics being used. (I also acknowledge that the level of variance between states for many of these variables is likely far smaller than it would be between countries, so if we're really interested in drawing conclusions it would be more useful to consider that.) In any event, here's what I came up with.

There is a small --> medium negative correlation between increased freedom and average income levels.
I believe that crime rate is a factor in state livability so some of the correlation there is explained by that.
Not unexpectedly, there is a fairly large negative correlation between poverty levels and health level scoring.
There is no correlation between livability and the various freedom scores, nor between the violent crime rate and the freedom scores.
Other thoughts or observations?

Person Fdm. ScoreSource
Econ. Fdm. ScoreSource
Overall Fdm. ScoreSource
Amer. health RankSource
Percent < Pov. Level (07)Source
Income/capita (07)Source
Violent Crime RateSource
State LivabilitySource
Middle School test ScoreSource

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