Chicken-egg questions in political positions and issue attitudes

From J. Robert Lennon’s rant, I learn about an article by Mark Helprin advocating unlimited copyright. Lennon writes:

It seems he [Helprin] would like copyrights to extend forever, thus allowing Disney to get rich off its stale creations for eternity. Here, though, is the money quote:

Were I tomorrow to write the great American novel (again?), 70 years after my death the rights to it, though taxed at inheritance, would be stripped from my children and grandchildren.

Can you see the mistake [writes Lennon]? No, no, not the parenthetical “again?”, which is almost too pathetic to mention. The mistake is that the rights to his imaginary masterpiece would not be “stripped” from his heirs–in fact, his heirs would keep all their rights. They would just have to share them with everybody else.

I’m pretty sure that in 70 years my descendants will have more important things on their minds than royalty checks for Bayesian Data Analysis, so I can’t say I have a dog in this fight–what interests me here is the political angle.

Helprin is well known as one of the few literary-type writers with strong Republican sympathies. (I’m sure there are others . . . well, obviously there’s Tom Wolfe, and John Updike wrote about his support for the Vietnam War, hmm, Evelyn Waugh would be a Republican if he were living now, right? And P.J. O’Rourke isn’t really a literary-type writer but surely he has the ability to do so if he were to put his mind to it . . . then there’s Christopher Buckley, but does he really count? Maybe that Deliverance guy was pretty conservative, I dunno–hard to tell the politics from the novel. Kingsley Amis. And there’s Kipling but that takes us back a bit. Anyway, you get the idea.)

I don’t know anything about the background of Helprin’s interest in copyright law, but I wonder whether his opinion came partly in reaction to the fact that leftist anti-corporate types are the ones opposing copyright extensions. (This is the chicken-egg question referred to by my title above.) Just as, in reverse, a Democrat might oppose the death penalty in reaction to the people who are its most visible supporters. It’s an instinctive pro-business stance or an instinctive anti-business stance; either can be appropriate in any specific situation but either represents an “ideology” in the sense of being a perspective from which each specific situation is viewed.

In our recent research, Delia and I have found surprisingly low correlations between issue attitudes–but, to the extent these correlations are increasing, one possible explanation is that people are starting to align their attitudes with the attitudes of their allies (and against those of their enemies).

4 thoughts on “Chicken-egg questions in political positions and issue attitudes

  1. I concur. One could easily spin IP as a government intervention story: years from now, the government will still be restricting my right to use information. And anybody who writes a properly worded application to the Patent Office is granted a government-enforced monopoly—how interventionist can you get! So there's just as much rhetoric for making conservatives loathe IP as love it.

  2. Couldn't it be much simpler? Rather than being reflective of a given author or artist's overall political views, couldn't support for stronger copyright law be an exception?

    Perhaps on this specific issue Helprin simply knows on which side his bread is buttered.

  3. On the issue of alignment of attitudes along ideological lines, I recently wrote a paper in Social Science Research that applies Converse's idea of 'non-attitudes' to the economic attitudes (e.g. attitudes about redistribution) of conservative Protestants (CPs) in the US. We found that more educated CPs tended to be "consistently" economically conservative *as well* as socially conservative, while less educated CPs were not much different than everyone else in their economic attitudes. We argued that the better educated CPs were more aware of the political dialog among elites than less educated CPs. Thus, the better educated were more likely to align their attitudes along consistently conservative or liberal lines. This is the standard argument coming out of Converse, but we applied it to CPs. We also found some evidence that more recent cohorts of better educated CPs were more likely to be economically conservative than older cohorts. (Using the GSS.) This may reflect the fact that older CPs grew up at a time when conservative religionists, through were aligned with the Democratic Party.

  4. According to this, it's not just anti-corporate types that fight for limits on intellectual property rights. In fact, it's interesting to see how the two sides line up in this case.

Comments are closed.