More government equals more happiness, finds survey analysis

People in states with more government spending obviously chose to pay higher taxes - and they are happy about their choice, finds survey results published in Social Science Research. It then compared self-reported happiness to government spending data for states from the U.S. Census Bureau for 1976-2006. Revenues to fund state public goods are raised from a combination of state taxes and transfers from the federal government to states, averaging 22.5 percent of total state revenues for that 30-year period.

Using such correlation, the conclusion was Americans are happier in states where governments spend more. Everyone can use a park, for example, and the existence of parks makes people feel like they are living in a nicer neighborhood. The downside is that these are surveys with numerous confounders being correlated to one thing. Are people in lower Harlem in Manhattan really happier because they live near Central Park than someone in Kansas who pays lower taxes and owns a farm and is surrounded by nature?

One thing does seem to be true; no one is against parks. While fiscal conservatives want lower taxes, they are less likely to balk when taxes are used for police or green areas. Education, gender and race/ethnicity lines were also irrelevant to happiness about government spending on those projects. This is likely because conservatives understand "free rider" economics about public works the same way they understand it about welfare. If everyone has to pitch in individually to pay police, a few will balk knowing they will get the benefit anyway. So government acts as a way to prevent free riders in public works, even as it enables them in other programs.

Over time, political polarization has happened in states as well, so some of this is explainable by demographics. A left-wing person is going to be happier about living in California than a right-wing person, even though they pay more in taxes and for goods. If you live near Central Park, you have to tell people you are happy. Otherwise, you are strange for paying New York City taxes and living costs.