Rationality and Libertarianism: Why Nobody Loves Us

Will Wilkinson went through a paper written by Jon Haidt and interpreted it to mean (fairly, I think) that “Libertarians are liberals who like markets”. It had quite interesting results:
Libertarian Moral Psychology

Haidt et al found that the results supported their hypothesis about liberals and conservatives. Liberals care most about the Harm/care and Fairness/reciprocity foundations and accordingly largely refused to make trade-offs on the items that reflected these concerns, but were more willing to perform actions that violated the three “binding” foundations — Ingroup, Authority, and Purity. Conservative concern was spread more evenly over the five foundations, and they were less willing than liberals to violate Ingroup, Authority, and Purity for money.

What about libertarians? Here’s what they say:

Because we had a large sample of libertarians, who are usually ignored in political-psychological research, we compared their sacredness reactions to those of liberals and conservatives. Overall, libertarians showed less refusal to violate the five foundations for money that did liberals or conservatives. Each of the five average never scores for libertarians was lower than the corresponding score for conservatives, and each was lower than the corresponding concern for liberals.

Further down they report:

A further novel finding of the present study was that libertarians had the lowest sacredness scores on all five foundations. This finding supports Tetlock’s predictions [see here] that free-market libertarians would be the least outraged and most open to contractualizing moral violations. The differences were particularly stark between libertarians and conservatives on the three binding foundations. Libertarians may support the Republican Party for economic reasons, but in their moral foundations profile we found they more closely resemble liberals than conservatives. [Emphasis added]

Jon Haidt commented on the post to discuss his new paper, which also sounds quite interesting.

Great post, great use of our findings. We actually had a lot more information on libertarians in the original draft, but the editor asked us to cut it, thought it wasn’t important enough, wanted us to focus on liberal conservative differences. So now we’re writing a paper comparing libertarians to liberals and conservatives on dozens of scales, and finding so many interesting things. Here’s a preview: Libertarians are liberals who lack bleeding hearts. Libertarians look much more like liberals than like conservatives on most measures, EXCEPT those that have anything to do with compassion, on which libertarians are lower than liberals AND conservatives. The lower levels of compassion, and higher levels of need for cognition and tendency to “systemize” rather than empathize, are probably related to the love of markets.

Thanks again,
Jon Haidt

This also totally explains why, say, Eliezer Yudkowsky is a “better libertarian” than I am 🙂


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