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

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  • Gilles Le Garrec

    (OFCE)

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 Örst in its basic assumption, the fundamental selÖsh 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 a unanimous agreement and not on a majority of voters as in the standard approach, can be characterized by two different cultures. In the Örst one, in the spirit of Locke, individual property comes before the government. In such a culture, we show that a growing di§erence between median and mean incomes is not necessarily 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 Önd that in such a culture an increase of the top incomes can quite paradoxically reduce redistribution.

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Paper provided by Sciences Po in its series Sciences Po publications with number 2007-09.

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Date of creation: Mar 2007
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Handle: RePEc:spo:wpmain:info:hdl:2441/6124

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  1. International Monetary Fund, 2003. "Income Inequality and Redistributive Government Spending," IMF Working Papers 03/14, International Monetary Fund.
  2. Alberto Alesina & George-Marios Angeletos, 2004. "Fairness and Redistribution," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000000283, UCLA Department of Economics.
  3. Singer, Tania & Fehr, Ernst, 2005. "The Neuroeconomics of Mind Reading and Empathy," IZA Discussion Papers 1647, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1994. "A Theory of Conformity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 841-77, October.
  5. Jean Tirole & Roland Benabou, 2004. "Belief in a Just World and Redistributive Politics," 2004 Meeting Papers 15, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  6. Amartya Sen, 1996. "Maximization and the Act of Choice," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1766, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  7. Meltzer, Allan H & Richard, Scott F, 1981. "A Rational Theory of the Size of Government," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 914-27, October.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Roland Benabou, 2000. "Unequal Societies: Income Distribution and the Social Contract," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 96-129, March.
  11. 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.
  12. Akerlof, George A & Dickens, William T, 1982. "The Economic Consequences of Cognitive Dissonance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(3), pages 307-19, June.
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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 égoïste," Sciences Po publications 2007-03, Sciences Po.

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