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Moral sentiments, democracy and redistributive politics: between nature and culture

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  • Gilles Le Garrec

    (Observatoire Français des Conjonctures Économiques)

Abstract

According to the standard economic approach, the level of redistribution in a democratic society is growing with the inequality of the income distribution. However, data do not support such a finding. In this article, we assert that the canonical model fails first in its basic assumption, the fundamental selfish nature of human beings. Following Adam Smith as well as modern cognitive sciences, we then suppose that a moral instinct coexists with a selfish one. It follows that democracy, based on an unanimous agreement and not on a majority of voters as in the standard approach, can be characterized by two different cultures. In the first one, in the spirit of Locke, individual property comes before the government. In such a culture, we show that a growing difference between median and mean incomes is not necessarely associated with a higher redistribution. In the second culture, in the spirit of Rousseau, the general will comes before particular interests. As a result, we find that in such a culture an increase of the top incomes can reduce the redistribution.

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Paper provided by Observatoire Francais des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE) in its series Documents de Travail de l'OFCE with number 2007-09.

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Date of creation: 2007
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Handle: RePEc:fce:doctra:0709

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  1. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., 2006. "The Economics of Fairness, Reciprocity and Altruism - Experimental Evidence and New Theories," Handbook on the Economics of Giving, Reciprocity and Altruism, Elsevier.
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  6. International Monetary Fund, 2003. "Income Inequality and Redistributive Government Spending," IMF Working Papers 03/14, International Monetary Fund.
  7. Tania Singer & Ernst Fehr, 2005. "The Neuroeconomics of Mind Reading and Empathy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 340-345, May.
  8. Amartya Sen, 1996. "Maximization and the Act of Choice," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1766, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  9. Michel Forsé & Maxime Parodi, 2006. "Justice distributive. La hiérarchie des principes selon les Européens," Revue de l'OFCE, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 98(3), pages 213-244.
  10. Alberto Alesina & Edward Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 2001. "Why Doesn't the US Have a European-Style Welfare System?," NBER Working Papers 8524, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Cited by:
  1. Gilles Le Garrec, 2007. "Pourquoi l'Europe redistribue-t-elle plus que les Etats-Unis? Au delà du médian égoiste," Documents de Travail de l'OFCE 2007-03, Observatoire Francais des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE).

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