Comparative Xenophobia, Part III: The Quickening

By Steve Saideman

Over the past couple of days, Max Fisher has posted a few maps and some commentary about global comparisons of ethnic tolerance and diversity.  This led to as series of posts as I had more than a few thoughts about this stuff, which Fisher was kind enough to summarize back at his Washington Post blog.

I promised in my initial post to get to the relationship between economic freedom and tolerance that was a key issue raised in the first piece on tolerance. I got distracted by the second post, but now I can try to remember what I was thinking two days ago.

Fisher reports that the study he is analyzing finds that economic freedom has no correlation with racial tolerance, but does with tolerance of homosexuals. So, we have two separate findings — do they have a common logic? It depends on what one considers to be the sources of racism versus the sources of homophobia. Do all forms of discrimination and animus have the same logic? Maybe, maybe not.

Some caveats:

  • I am not an expert on homophobia, so I am going to have to speculate a bit. Yes, I should do a heap of reading, but my blog is not my day job.
  • The data on tolerance may be flaky, as my and Fisher’s various posts suggest.
  • The data on economic freedom is from institutes that are ideologically committed to less government. It does not mean that their data is necessarily wrong, but it is something to keep in mind.

The Fisher posts do not include a map of the Economic Freedom stuff, so here it is:

Via The Fraser Institute
Via The Fraser Institute

So a few comments on this data. Note that the US and the Scandinavian countries are in the same category. This tends to run against what libertarians generally think — as the social democracies of Europe tend to have much more government intervention in the economy. All I can say is that a map having Sweden and the US in the same category tells me that the economic freedom that is meant here is not that which tends to jibe with popular views of that concept.

Instead, with a few exceptions, this map looks a lot like first world vs. non-first world (Italy, Greece, Turkey, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan are on the wrong sides of this divide, more or less), which means that there is a whole going on in the data other than just economic freedom — that is, the correlations may be spurious. I am sure the article controls for some stuff (I cannot seem to get through via Carleton’s library this morning), but it may be the case that what this data really captures is developed democracies and everyone else. If this is the case, it could be that the other stuff associated with developed democracies matters more than the economic freedom in shaping tolerance towards homosexuals but not towards different races: greater secularism, greater women’s rights (more on that below), being rich, and so on. Again, I cannot say whether the authors of the study handle the other things in play well or not.

So, what do I think? First, my view of ethnic conflict, including racial conflict, tends to focus on the factors that ameliorate or exacerbate competition for political power, which then may affect how the distribution of economic growth, jobs, happiness, etc. In my own work with David Steinberg of U of Oregon, I have found that economic freedom (using a different data source) is associated with less ethnic conflict. Why? Because if the government is more deeply involved in the economy, groups will have greater incentives to gain control of the government — the stakes are larger. This competition and fear of what the government might do if group y over may cause group x to pre-empt. To be clear, this is just about ethnic violence, not intolerance. So, the study Fisher reports and the work I did with Dave suggests that intolerance and violence are not necessarily related since the same kind of variables (economic freedom indicators) are correlated with violence but not intolerance. What this says to me is that intolerance itself is all around us but is only politically relevant under particular circumstances, such as what the government is doing and who has access to the government. As far as I can remember, most of the Minorities at Risk findings tended to show that the various suites of discrimination variables tended not to be significantly related to ethnic violence.

Second, I am not sure what causes homophobia or tolerance of homosexuals, but I would guess that those places with more religiosity would be more homophobic. Sorry, but most of the major religions tend to be unfriendly towards homosexuals (gets to my basic view of religions as market maximizing entities, and homosexual is bad for procreation and thus market share). Western societies tend to be less religious, which might facilitate tolerance. Advanced democracy might have something to do with it as well, since equal protection under the law, something that is only now really being applied in the US, is a fundamental democratic concept. But it does seem to take a while to be applied so older democracies may be “getting it” now, while younger democracies are still focused on other elements of democracy: civilian control of the military (largely an afterthought in US, Canada, UK, Sweden, etc), free and fair elections (sort of), etc. Anyhow, if economic freedom is associated with tolerance of homosexuality, it is probably due to the stuff that causes economic freedom rather than the economic freedom itself doing the causal work.

Third, what this discussion really misses is the real key to human progress, which is not economic freedom but better conditions for women. Women doing better is associated with less civil war, more democracy, more economic growth, etc. All kinds of studies (which elude me this early morning) show that the more women are treated better/equally in the workplace, in government, and in the economy, the better off societies and countries are — less violence, etc. Of course, there may be other stuff going on as well, but this particular causal relationship is so appealing that I am not going to question it, especially as I have already written too many words on an early morning.

I am sure my readers can find plenty of work via scholar google that shows that the better off women are, the better off we all are. Right?

A version of this post was first published at Steve Saideman’s blog.

1 comment
  1. Hello Steve
    Ronald Inglehart’s work based on the World Values Surveys suggests that racism, sexism and homophobia are linked. At low levels of development, societies tend to be more focused on survival, which translates into policing traditional gender roles and heterosexuality, and looking after insiders. At higher levels of development, people begin to demand more autonomy and become more tolerant of difference, These broad patterns however do not explain every case. If you think of Denmark, it is among the most tolerant nations in the world in terms of women’s and gay rights, but immigrants in Denmark will tell you that even after decades of living there they find it very hard to be accepted as full equals.

    If you are interested I have written my thoughts on culture and sexism and homophobia on my blog

    Thanks for the post.

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