Government Spending & Cultures of Dependence

Returning to the discussion I started in the post entitled Government Spending Levels & Economic Freedom, I wonder if this table can give us something more tangible than an abstract level of “economic freedom”. Provided such spending levels are implemented long term, do they not ultimately affect the character of the peoples inhabiting these places? Can (or do?) higher levels of spending ultimately create cultures of dependence amongst substantial sections of the populace? Is it not perhaps so, that substantial numbers begin to feel “entitled” to support? And is it not so, that in many economies the drag on economic activity created by the heavy weight of government tends to smother individual initiative – such as is most crassly the case in the increasingly socialist countries of the so-called West?
 
In other words, do people look to an ultimately indifferent government for their welfare? Or do they look to themselves and their families? If the former, then are we not looking at a general preference for surviving by appropriation instead of creation? I.e. can we correlate such “cultures of dependence” with other hallmarks of “modern” society, such as high crime rates?
 
To start with, it seems clear that there is no correlation between absolute levels of income and property crime (e.g. theft). “Poor” areas are often far safer than “rich” areas, while the inverse can be equally true. Just to cite two examples, some “poor” places where I recall feeling quite safe include rural Hungary as well as the Gansu and Ningxia provinces of China. By contrast, I suspect that the favelas of urban Brazil or the shantytowns of South Africa are much less safer places.
 
One note: Just to be clear, I am defining “safety” here as the frequency of property crime. Conversely, when I say “crime-free”, I am referring a lack of property crime. I am not thinking of so-called “crimes” of personal conduct (forgetting to pay taxes, adultery, growing hemp, wearing one’s hair too long etc.).
 
One seemingly obvious pattern is the apparent contrast between “urban” and “rural” areas. But does this pattern really hold, or is there something deeper at work here? Let’s look at the example of Malaysia, an economically vibrant yet also crime-plagued country. Though I’d have to go statistic-digging to confirm it, theft, armed robbery and murder seem pretty common there, not only in the major cities, but in smaller ones, as well – even if perhaps not on the level of, say, South Central Los Angeles or São Paolo. So perhaps the crucial factor is more subtle. Thailand by contrast, though certainly no less prone to violence, is clearly far less criminal.
 
 Hypothesis: Could the level of government spending serve as a proxy? Could we thereby equate this not only with the level of economic freedom, but also implicitly with the prevalence of a culture of dependence? If for the sake of argument we accept the Heritage Foundation numbers, then Burma tops the list at 7%. I wonder, is Burma a dangerous country? A country where people have the habit of living off the creations of others? Not ever having visited Burma, I have little evidence either way, but I rather suspect not. I would guess that in a country as poor as Burma, the pickings available via theft or government largesse are quite limited.
 
Here’s the Top 10:
 
Burma (7.2%)
Singapore (12.5%)
Macau (12.6%)
Turkmenistan (13.3%)
Central African Republic (14.0%)
Bangladesh (14.3%)
Guatemala (14.3%)
Hong Kong (14.5%)
Guinea (15.2%)
 
An interesting mix of very rich free market city states and rural unindustrialized states, incidentally (?) also including the state with the highest per capita income worldwide, Macau ($59,430 p.a. according to the Heritage Foundation).
 
No doubt there are further significant factors influencing this equation. Yet be that as it may, it seems to me that this particular factor merits additional research.
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One Response to Government Spending & Cultures of Dependence

  1. Pingback: Cultures of Depredation | Aha moments

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