Yep. Economics majors are more anti-social than non-econ majors. And taking econ classes also makes people more anti-social than they were before. It turns out, there’s quite a bit of research on this, nicely summarized here.  Econ majors are less likely to share, less generous to the needy, and more likely to cheat, lie, and steal.

In one study, for example, economists Yoram Bauman and Elaina Rose noted the consistent finding that econ majors were less generous and asked whether the effect was do to selection (people who are anti-social choose to take econ classes) or indoctrination (taking econ classes makes one more anti-social). They found that both play a role.

Students at their institution — University of Washington — were asked at registration each semester if they’d like to donate to WashPIRG (a left-leaning public interest group) and ATN (a non-partisan group that lobbies to reduce tuition rates).  Bauman and Elaina crunched the data along with students’ chosen majors and classes. They found that econ majors were less likely to donate to either cause (the selection hypothesis) and that non-econ majors who had taken econ classes were less likely to donate than non-majors who hadn’t (the indoctrination hypothesis).

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What should we make of these findings?

Sociologist Amitai Etzioni takes a stab at an answer. He argues that neoclassical economics isn’t a problem in itself. Instead, the problem may be that there are no “balancing” classes, ones that present a different kind of economics. In other part of the academy, he argues — specifying social philosophy, political science, and sociology– there is “a great variety of approaches are advanced, thereby leaving students with a consolidated debasing exposure and a cacophony of conflicting pro-social views.”

Being exposed to a variety of views, including ones that question the premises of neoclassical economics, may be one way to make economists more honest and kind. And doing so isn’t just about sticking one to econ, it’s an issue of grave seriousness, as the criminal and immoral behavior of our financial leaders is exactly what triggered a Great Recession once… and could again.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

What do we mean when we say “we”? Or more to the point, what does the president mean when he uses that word?

The Atlantic has an interactive graphic (here) showing the relative frequencies of words in State of the Union addresses. (“Addresses” because I’m choosing my words carefully. These were not “speeches” until Wilson. Before that, it was written text only.) Here “we” is.

The rise of “we” seems to parallel the rise of big government, starting with Wilson and our entry into a world war, followed by a brief (10-year) decline. Then FDR changes everything.  “We,” i.e., the people as represented by the government, are doing a lot more.

Sorting the data by frequency shows that even in the big-We era, big-government Democrats use it more than do Republicans.  (JFK used We less frequently than did the GOP presidents immediately before and after him. But then, it was JFK who said not to ask what the government could do for us.)

Other words are less puzzling. Freedom is a core American value, but of late (the last five or six presidents), it’s the Republicans who really let it ring.

As with We, Freedom gets a big boost with FDR, but Freedom for Reagan and the Bushes is not exactly FDR’s four freedoms – Freedom of speech, Freedom of religion, Freedom from want, Freedom from fear – especially the last two. Nor is it the kind of freedom LBJ might have spoken of in the civil rights era, a freedom that depended greatly on the actions of the federal government.  Instead, for conservatives since Reagan, freedom means the freedom to do what you want, especially to make as much money as you can, unbothered by government rules, and to pay less in taxes.

Freedom in this sense is what Robert Bellah calls “utilitarian individualism.”  As the word count shows, freedom was not such a central concern in the first 150 years of the Republic. Perhaps it became a concern for conservatives in recent years because they see it threatened by big government.  In any case, for much of our history, that tradition of individualism was, according to Bellah, tempered by another tradition – “civic republicanism,” the assumption that a citizen has an interest not just in individual pursuits but in public issues of the common good as well.

That sense of a public seems to have declined. Even the “collectivist” Democrats of recent years use the term only about one-tenth as much as did the Founding Fathers. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison – their SOTUs had more than ten publics for every freedom.

I checked one other word because of its relevance to the argument that the U.S. is “a Christian nation,” founded on religious principles by religious people, and that God has always been an essential part of our nation.

The Almighty, at least in State of the Union addresses, is something of a Johnny-come-lately. Like We, He gets a big boost with the advent of big government. FDR out-Godded everybody before or since, except of course, the Bushes and Reagan.

Thank you and God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.


Update: I just noticed that the two “Gods” in that sentence work out to a rate of 200-300 per million. If tag lines like that are included as part of the text, that accounts for the higher rate since FDR. It’s not about big government, it’s about radio. Prior to radio, the audience for the SOTU was Congress. Starting with FDR, the audience was the American people. Unfortunately, I don’t know whether these closing lines, which have now become standard, are included in the database. If they are included, the differences among presidents in the radio-TV era, may be more a matter of the denominator of the rate (length of speeches) than of the numerator (God). FDR averaged about 3500 per SOTU. Reagan and the Bushes are in the 4000-6000 range. Clinton and Obama average about 7000. So it’s possible that the difference that looks large on the graph is merely the difference between a single God-bless closing and a double.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

The Washington Post has provided some data on medical costs across a selection of countries (Argentina, Canada, Chile, and India in grey; France, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain in blue; and the U.S. in red). The data reveal that American health care is very expensive compared to other countries.


No wonder the US spends twice as much as France on health care.  In 2009, the U.S. average was $8000 per person; in France, $4000.  (Canada came in at $4800).  Why do we spend so much?  Ezra Klein quotes the title of a 2003 paper by four health-care economists:  “it’s the prices, stupid.”

And why are US prices higher?  Prices in the other OECD countries are lower partly because of what U.S. conservatives would call socialism – the active participation of the government.  In the U.K. and Canada, the government sets prices.  In other countries, the government uses its Wal-Mart-like power as a huge buyer to negotiate lower prices from providers.  (If it’s a good thing for Wal-Mart to bring lower prices for people who need to buy clothes, why is it a bad thing for the government to bring lower prices to people who need to buy, say, an appendectomy? I could never figure that out.)

There may also be cultural differences between the U.S. and other wealthy countries, differences about whether greed, for lack of a better word, is good.  How much greed is good, and in what realms is it good?  Klein quotes a man who served in the Thatcher government:

Health is a business in the United States in quite a different way than it is elsewhere.  It’s very much something people make money out of. There isn’t too much embarrassment about that compared to Europe and elsewhere.

So we Americans roll along, paying several times what others pay for medical procedures, doctor visits, and drugs.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

For whatever reason, there has been a real slump in the number of people typing “obama gun” (will he take our guns away?), “obama muslim” (the idea used to run at about 20%), “obama socialist” (the republic “hangs in the balance“), and “obama citizen” (thank you, Snopes) into the Google search box since the 2008 election.

Here’s the Google trend (and the search link):

We don’t know how much these fears, versus other concerns, will affect votes against him this year, although there have been some good efforts to track the effects of anti-Black racism on his vote tally.

Naturally, not everyone who Googles these things believes the underlying stories or myths. But it seems likely they either believe them, are considering them, heard someone repeat them, or are arguing with someone who believes them, etc. So I’m guessing – just guessing – that these trends track those beliefs.

But maybe four years of Obama as an actual president has softened up the hard-line hatred in some quarters. What do you think?

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

This post is an updated version of one originally published in 2010.

Skipping through a set of images of North Korea by photographers David Guttenfelder and Vincent Yu, I was reminded that the city is almost entirely devoid of advertising.  There is political propaganda everywhere, of course, but there is an overwhelming absence of the marketing for products characteristic of capitalist societies.  All of the print and electronic media is under state control, and the state administers and controls the economy as well.  Accordingly… there is almost no advertising.  The images in the slide show give us a peak into this world without ads:

Images from a 2010 LIFE slide show after the jump:


Americans are familiar with seeing the phrase “In God We Trust” on our paper money.  The motto is, indeed, the official United States motto.  It wasn’t always that way, however.  While efforts to have the phrase inscribed on U.S. currency began during the Civil War, it wasn’t until 1957 that it appeared on our paper money, thanks to a law signed by President Eisenhower.



The motto wasn’t simply added in order to please God-fearing Americans, but instead had a political motivation.  The mid- to late-1950s marked an escalation in the Cold War between the U.S., the Soviet Union, and their respective allies.  In an effort to claim moral superiority and demonize the communist Soviet Union, the U.S. drew on the association of communism with atheism.  Placing “In God We Trust” on the U.S. dollar was a way to establish the United States as a Christian nation and differentiate them from their enemy (source).

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

In case you wondered about what we in the U.S. pay for health care compared with those unfree unfortunates who suffer under various forms of socialized medicine, here are some graphs from 2009 showing the advantages of what is sometimes called “the best health care system in the world.”

The graphs are from the International Federation of Health Plans. I’ve selected only four — to show the relative costs* of

  • an office visit
  • a day in the hospital
  • a common procedure (childbirth without complications)
  • a widely used drug (Lipitor)

You can download all the charts here, but be warned: it gets boring. We’re number one in every chart, at least in this one category of how much we shell out.

Since we have the best health care in the world, this must mean that you get what you pay for. Our Lipitor must be four to ten times as good as the Lipitor that Canadians take.

Hat tip: Ezra Klein.


*These amounts are what providers are paid by governments or other insurers, not what the patient pays, which in many Eurpean countries is essentially nothing. See the footnotes for the tables in the original document. Or look at the comments on this at Boing Boing, a discussion which is remarkably civil (do they monitor comments?).

For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2011.


In this 26-minute talk, philosopher Gerald Allan Cohen offers a wonderfully eloquent critique of capitalism. His critique revolves around common defenses. He suggests that even the existence of people who have earned their riches legitimately and through their own wit and work do not justify a system of private property. He contests the idea that we are all better off under capitalism compared to other economic systems, suggesting that capitalism retards the human potential of workers nefariously and by design. And he disagrees with the claim that economic inequality is inevitable. Economic inequality, he contends, will someday be seen as an injustice. Capitalism was an important stage, he concludes, and one that we need to outgrow.

I recommend that everyone take a listen, though I’ll admit it starts off kind of goofy:

Part I:

Part II:

Thanks to Chris Bertam at Crooked Timber for putting these videos up.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.