February 19, 2018

Populations with Big Governments Tend to be Happier if (and only if) they are Smart

A new study has found that nations with bigger governments tend to have happier populations, but only in high IQ countries. Obydenkova and Salahodjaev (2017) looked at the relationship between government size, defined as government spending as a percentage of GDP, IQ, and national subjective well-being (SJW), as measured by a questionnaire administered to 3,000+ people per nation, across 147 countries.

They found that both IQ and government size positively correlated with national happiness, as did economic development (GDP per capita). Ethnic diversity, income inequality (GINI), and being in Africa were all found to predict lower than average subjective well-being.

Correlation Matrix

Some might suppose that countries with larger governments only tend to be happier because they are wealthier, or because their populations are smarter, or because they tend to have less income inequality.

Such hypotheses are conceptually reasonable, but they were all refuted by the finding that government size continued to predict higher national happiness even after controlling for IQ, GDP per capita, income inequality, ethnic diversity, and whether the country was in Africa.

This on its own is an important finding which libertarians will need to grapple with: populations with bigger governments tend to be happier than populations with small governments, even when the populations being compared are equally wealthy.

Main Regression.JPG

There was also a significant interaction between government size and IQ meaning that government size was more strongly linked to national well-being among high IQ nations. Obydenkova and Salahodjaev broke this interaction down by looking at the correlation between government size and subjective well-being just in countries with above and below average IQ.

Among high IQ nations, a significant correlation of 0.38 was found between government size and national happiness:

Among High IQ Nations

This was not the case among low IQ nations. In these countries, IQ had a statistically insignificant correlation of -.01 with national happiness:

Among Low IQ Nations

Obydenkova and Salahodjaev hypothesize that high IQ populations may be better at electing non-corrupt governments that do what they want. If this is true, it would make sense that a bigger government would not lead to happier people in low IQ nations where governments tend to be more corrupt and to act independently of the will of the populous.

Another possibility, fully consistent with the one just offered, is that low IQ populations are more vulnerable than average to the negative effects of a welfare state. To the degree that variation in government spending among low IQ nations reflects variation in welfare spending, this study supports that narrative as well.

Another interesting finding of this study is that economic inequality is positively correlated with national happiness after controlling for government size, wealth, IQ, etc. This finding poses a difficulty for those, normally liberals, who argue that economic inequality damages national well-being independently of these other variables.

Returning to IQ, it would be interesting to see what these results would look like if social cohesion was controlled for. Higher IQ people tend to be more trusting and pro-social, and tightknit communities may tend to feel better than atomized ones about government projects and welfare spending.

I’d also like to see this broken down by policy. My hunch is that some kinds of government spending, such as spending on needed public infrastructure, benefit both high and low IQ populations while other kinds of spending, such as on welfare, benefit high IQ populations far more than they do low IQ ones.

Regardless, this paper provides yet another demonstration of the importance of considering a population’s IQ when analyzing government policy.



Facebook Comments
  • Emil Kirkegaard

    “national subjective well-being (SJW)”

    Such a Freudian slip. Social Justice Warrior or Subjective Well Being? 😉

    These kind of studies are not very convincing. Would be more convincing if they used sub-national data (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_administrative_divisions_by_country). There is variation in the govt spending of these units too, the sample size is much larger and one can adjust for country-level effects. Another option is longitudinal data.

    • Rauf

      I am not sure if such data is available for most countries.

      • Emil Kirkegaard

        UK has it. EU maybe too.

  • Liosnagcat

    So, they think they can measure happiness, and with a questionnaire, no less. If you want to make me unhappy, you need only make me complete a happiness questionnaire.

    For those who wish to fend for themselves, free from harassment and unwanted help, government of any size is an impediment to happiness.

    No questionnaire required; just common sense.

    • Davidsonmaene

      Also, happiness is not of limitless value. Freedom is often more desirable, and there is no logical, objective, reason why those who wish to trade in happiness for freedom should be forced to go with the crowd.

      Besides, the possible negative consequences of Government interference must be accounted for, however much happiness is gained in the short run.

      • Liosnagcat


  • Mailinated

    Ryan needs to create more stuff for the youtube channel

  • Ramesh

    Big Government is not bad if it is run by people of your ethnic group and has the interest of your ethnic group at heart. Even if the USA would have been a 100% White population and thus a high IQ population, the fact that US deep state is more concerned about Israel rather then the USA, makes any big or small government a problem and a big government a bigger problem than a small one. Third Reich Germany would have been an opposite case where the government actually cares about the population.
    One more factor to consider besides IQ would be the morality in the population and the homogeneity of the population.