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Political preferences research bleg:

I can think of various reasons why people might favor policies that favor their industry. For instance: (1) Naked self-interest. (2) False consciousness: They wrongly come to believe that what's good for the industry is good for America ("What's good for GM..."). (3) True consciousness: They've learned how important their industry is from the experience of working in it. (4) Self-selection: They were more likely to join the industry in the first place because they sympathized with its interests. (5) Coincidence.

Have these reasons been systematically categorized? Do they have "official names"? (I just made up the names in the list above.) Are there scholarly papers discussing this? (Responsive comments only please.)

A second, somewhat related question: How do people feel about a group pushing a policy if that group would benefit from the policy economically? I can think of two possibilities: (1) Self-seeking bastards! (2) If you disagree with the policy: Self-seeking bastards! If you agree with the policy: Thank goodness someone has an incentive to stand up for the right policy!

Note: I don't really care how you, the readers of the Volokh Conspiracy, feel about such groups. I do care what social scientists have discovered about how people feel in general about them. Any scholarly papers discussing this perception issue?

LTEC (mail) (www):
Unless I misread you, you care how readers of the Volokh Conspiracy feel about such groups, so here is a comment:

I've always been puzzled by people who say:
Affirmative action is a good thing since without it, I never would have gotten to where I am today. And where am I today? I am a leading spokesperson for affirmative action.

Personally, I think inheritance is a great thing since without it, I would never have become rich.
9.19.2006 12:11am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
That was a good example, LTEC, thanks.
9.19.2006 12:23am
Jason Fliegel (mail):

How do people feel about a group pushing a policy if that group would benefit from the policy economically? I can think of two possibilities: (1) Self-seeking bastards! (2) If you disagree with the policy: Self-seeking bastards! If you agree with the policy: Thank goodness someone has an incentive to stand up for the right policy!


I tend to think "Self-seeking people. Let me see which of their arguments I find meritorious, keeping in mind their biases."
9.19.2006 12:54am
AppSocRes (mail):
I think that the research literature on "cognitive dissonance" would have at least some papers that are germane. People are very uncomfortable with holding two (partially) conflicting views on an issue. To deal with this they usually alter their beliefs or perceptions in a way that brings such views into consonance.
9.19.2006 9:03am
Stephen Carter (mail):
A small correction, which I post often, at various places, perhaps because I am a curmudgeon. I do not pretend that the correction is directly relevant to the subject at hand.

When Charles E. "Engine Charlie" Wilson, head of General Motors, was nominated in 1953 to be Eisenhower's secretary of defense, he was asked in his confirmation hearings what he would do if a situation arose in which the interests of the nation conflicted with the interests of GM shareholders. He answered:

"I cannot conceive of one because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa. The difference did not exist."

I think this nuanced idea is not the one the (mis)quote is usually taken to imply, and actually represents the attitude we should want in corporate leaders.
9.19.2006 10:05am
Ken Arromdee:
There are limits on how far cognitive dissonance can be used to explain away people's beliefs because it can become unfalsifiable. It's easy to say "he seems to be a nice guy, yet he's a Republican... the only way to explain that away is cognitive dissonance". It becomes impossible for the guy to defend his position since any defense gets explained away psychologically. Cognitive dissonance is a lot like denial in this respect.
9.19.2006 10:22am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Thanks -- I was aware that this phrase is often misquoted, which is why I didn't (mis)quote the entire phrase in my post.

For what it's worth, I don't think the "correct" phrase is much better. It could mean that:

(1) "good for GM" and "good for US" are each determined by an objective standard, and these always coincide -- which is naive;

(2) only one of them is determined by an objective standard and the second is determined by equality to the first, which raises the possibility that (a) the misquote is correct, you decide objectively what's good for GM and that's good for the country, or (b) the misquote is reversed, you decide what's good for the US and then apply that to GM, which is bad corporate decisionmaking;

(3) each of them is determined by reference to the other, so in fact there's some different, external idea of what's good. This is the most likely reading of what he said, in which case it's just unhelpful and meaningless.

The true quote doesn't show much appreciation that conflicts of interest are real.
9.19.2006 10:23am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
I tend to think "Self-seeking people. Let me see which of their arguments I find meritorious, keeping in mind their biases."

Indeed. Objectivism-leaning types tend to think "Of course they are self-serving. If they are not for themselves, who will be?"
9.19.2006 10:45am
Kevin P. (mail):
I think that this is not limited to just industries, but also to professions, associations and other informal groups. Interesting modern examples: public interest litigators, environmental scientists and climate researchers.
9.19.2006 11:18am
Tracy Johnson (www):
It came to my mind that the preposition in #2 may lead others to believe that it is always wrong. "What is good for Company X is also good for country Y." It may turn out in some cases that the statement works for a varying number of companies and/or a varying number of countries. Albeit temporarily, as geographic economies change over time. (Note, I'm going along with the original as stated in the blog entry and not going down the path whether it was misquoted or not.)
9.19.2006 11:22am
Kierkegaard (mail):
Doesn't Scalia once lament in a whole footnote about how sad he was to find out that the quote wasn't what he thought?
9.19.2006 11:52am
dweeb:
I find it interesting that you are only interested in what social scientists have to say. Can you think of any societal problem that social science is supposed to address that hasn't increased in lockstep with the number of social scientists?
9.19.2006 2:26pm
Goober (mail):
I commonly see (1) referred to (perhaps incorrectly) as rent-seeking. (2) I would suspect is denominated as it was described by Marx himself or one of the early Marxists, but I don't know what that word actually is---I think "false consciousness" might be as good as anything. And my suspicion is that (3), (4) and (5) don't have technical labels.

This is all very uninformed but it's all I got. Cheers,
9.19.2006 2:50pm
Michael Benson (mail) (www):
There was an excellent debate about this between the historians David Brion Davis and Thomas L. Haskell. In essence the debate focuses on how we can tell if an individual is in 1-4 in your list. It's not pecisely on the quesiton of industry advocacy in the present world, but I really think it's worth reading if you are interested in the question of how self-interest and ideas relate. The debate occured in the AHR, and you can find it collected by Thomas Bender in The Antislavery Debate.

I also don't think your list is exhaustive. In particular, I think the label "false consciousness" could clearly be expanded. First someone might come to believe that what is good for their industry is good for America, not because it's in their self-interest, but because they are involved with an institution that indoctrinates them in such a way of thinking. Second, I think that false consciousness by itself is often not enough of an explanation. We know that people can sometimes advocate things that are directly opposed to their self-interest. How then do we explain the process by which they sometimes adopt of so-called "false consciousness" and they sometimes do not?

Finally, I'd suggest that when trying to link self-interest and ideas it's easy to forget how tricky it is to identify in what direction someone's self-interest ought to pull them. People can have self-interest in all kinds of things not directly related to their paycheck.
9.19.2006 2:51pm
Stephen Carter (mail):
Oh, dear. I think not. Wilson meant only to deny that his previous chairmanship of GM had left him unprepared to think, now, in public life, about the national interest. His argument, then, was that whatever policies would best serve America would best serve GM. Perhaps he was in error, but he was making a genuine and interesting claim about the ability of an individual in any field to see an interest larger than his own. Perhaps there is reason to think that the separation is impossible to make, but, if this is so, then the ideal of government of citizens collapses -- unless we are career public servants, we all have our pasts.

As to reading the quote the other way around -- the "vice versa" at the end -- I agree that it is more troubling, but it sounds more like a throwaway than a profession of faith.
9.19.2006 4:43pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I agree. I interpret the first part of the statement as genuine but in error; and I interpret the second part of the statement as a meaningless throwaway. A better ideal of the public servant would be someone who candidly acknowledges that the interests DO diverge and that he'll try as well as he can to identify the national interest, etc.; the GM quote may be better than naked self-serving but I merely find it unenlightening.
9.19.2006 4:49pm