Haidt and the Moral Foundations of the Welfare State
By Bryan Caplan
Great questions from Sebastian Nickel:
recently asked whether accusations of excessive “selfishness” are to be
understood as accusations of insufficient “altruism”, or rather as
accusations of insufficient “groupishness”.
A related question:
When Jon Haidt asks questionnaire respondents questions meant to gauge
how much they care about “the poor”, where “the poor” specifically
refers to “the *local* poor” (in the respondent’s country),
should he really chalk those answers up just to the “Harm/Care”
foundation, or should he also attribute them to the “Loyalty”
foundation? (Especially if other questions were to reveal that the
respondent in question is happy to sacrifice interests and rights of
foreign poor people when they see this as benefiting local poor people?)
I’ve previously challenged Haidt’s view that liberal ethics hinge on Harm/Care and Fairness (here and here, along with Haidt’s reply). But Sebastian now makes me think that Haidt’s analysis is more wrong than I realized. Consider Haidt’s words:
yes, liberals can do ingroup, but mostly just contra
conservatives and racists. And they don’t do it terribly well. The
Democratic Whip has a much harder job than the republican Whip. Social
conservatives take to it so readily. Liberals and libertarians can do
it, but not as readily or as reliably. Liberals in particular are
universalists; they are morally opposed to tribalism, although they can
kinda do liberal tribalism. So yes, liberals would consider voting for
a republican as a kind of treason.
With Sebastian’s questions firmly in mind, Haidt’s claims seem fanciful. What percentage of self-styled liberals are genuine “universalists”?! 5%? 2%? You could say that liberals have relatively inclusive definitions of citizenship, but when they say “the poor,” they still almost always mean “our country‘s poor.” This is plainly true for average liberals. But despite honorable outliers, even elite liberals like Paul Krugman and Michael Lind heavily prioritize relatively poor natives over absolutely poor foreigners.
The best response to Sebastian, I suspect, is that there is a big difference between people’s surface and deep justifications for the welfare state. The surface justification is the rationale people blurt out when they’re first asked; the deep justification is the rationale they embrace if pressed. For conservatives, the surface and deep justifications for the welfare state align: Loyalty to fellow citizens.* For liberals, in contrast, justifications diverge. They start with Care: “We have to take care of people.” When pressed, however, they retreat to Loyalty: “We have to take care of our people.” Caring for our people imposes immense suffering on foreigners? Oh well, every country does it.
If you know of facts relevant to Sebastian’s inquiries, please share them in the comments.