What's the Correlation Between War Enthusiasm and Income?
By Art Carden
A popular saying during the Civil War was that it is a “rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight.” On July 4, Neil DeGrasse Tyson tweeted:
July 4th, USA: The Star Spangled Banner, Fireworks, the 1812 Overture, Air Shows — all commemorations of War.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) July 4, 2013
One reply said “It’s profitable for wealthy who send poor to fight for their causes.”
I wondered on Twitter if this is true. Is war more popular among the very rich or the very poor? My prior was that war is more popular among low-income than high-income Americans. Casual observation suggests that relatively low-income rural and southern areas are more belligerent than relatively high-income parts of the country.
Samuel Wilson, God bless him, offered to do some heavy econometric lifting with the General Social Survey and posted his results yesterday. While he couldn’t find a great measure of war enthusiasm, he was able to use a question that asked whether the US should “take an active part in world affairs” as a proxy.
Regression evidence runs against both our priors: the higher one’s income, the more likely one is to answer that the US should “take an active part in world affairs.” Wilson:
First off, note that Carden’s tweet is crushed. Just annihilated. The sign on real income is positive and the beta estimate is pretty darn strong (relative to the other terms, of course). Mo’ money, mo’ intervention! A surprise upset! Now, I do have to admit that my priors were the same as the WMOE’s: I expected higher income folks to be more wary of foreign intervention, but okay, I can accept that reversal.
I wouldn’t be that dramatic, but as I told him via email, that giant sound everyone heard when I read his post was the sound of my priors updating. The result has moved me closer to agnosticism on this issue, but I still have a (now much, much weaker) prior that if the question were limited to war per se, lower-income respondents would be more enthusiastic. The US can “take an active part in world affairs” by being part of the UN, by giving foreign aid, and by doing a lot of other non-war stuff. Nonetheless, I would have taken the “slight negative correlation” side of a bet on the regression Sam ran, and I would’ve lost.