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Why is there so little redistribution?

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  • Jo Thori Lind

Abstract

In democratic societies with skewed income distributions, simple political economy models predict that the poor will form a coalition to implement high taxes. I review this basic theory and some of its extensions. Then I discuss how we can test the model, and some common pitfalls, before I review the empirical findings. Generally, the empirical support for the theory is weak. I end with a review of selected parts of the literature that tries to explain this lack of empirical support.

Suggested Citation

  • Jo Thori Lind, 2005. "Why is there so little redistribution?," Nordic Journal of Political Economy, Nordic Journal of Political Economy, vol. 31, pages 111-125.
  • Handle: RePEc:noj:journl:v:31:y:2005:p:111-125
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    File URL: http://www.nopecjournal.org/NOPEC_2005_a06.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Lee, Woojin & Roemer, John E., 2006. "Racism and redistribution in the United States: A solution to the problem of American exceptionalism," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(6-7), pages 1027-1052, August.
    2. Roland Benabou & Efe A. Ok, 2001. "Social Mobility and the Demand for Redistribution: The Poum Hypothesis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(2), pages 447-487.
    3. Deininger, Klaus & Squire, Lyn, 1996. "A New Data Set Measuring Income Inequality," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 10(3), pages 565-591, September.
    4. John E. Roemer & Karine Van der Straeten, 2006. "The Political Economy of Xenophobia and Distribution: The Case of Denmark," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 108(2), pages 251-277, July.
    5. Moffitt, Robert & Ribar, David & Wilhelm, Mark, 1998. "The decline of welfare benefits in the U.S.: the role of wage inequality," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(3), pages 421-452, June.
    6. Lind Jo Thori, 2007. "Does Permanent Income Determine the Vote?," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 7(1), pages 1-27, July.
    7. Alberto Alesina & Dani Rodrik, 1994. "Distributive Politics and Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(2), pages 465-490.
    8. Borge, Lars-Erik & Rattso, J.Jorn, 2004. "Income distribution and tax structure: Empirical test of the Meltzer-Richard hypothesis," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 48(4), pages 805-826, August.
    9. Alesina, Alberto & La Ferrara, Eliana, 2005. "Preferences for redistribution in the land of opportunities," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(5-6), pages 897-931, June.
    10. Romer, Thomas, 1975. "Individual welfare, majority voting, and the properties of a linear income tax," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 4(2), pages 163-185, February.
    11. Roland Benabou, 2000. "Unequal Societies: Income Distribution and the Social Contract," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 96-129, March.
    12. Lindert,Peter H., 2009. "Growing Public," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521529174, May.
    13. Jo Thori Lind, 2010. "Do the Rich Vote Conservative Because They Are Rich?," Review of Economics and Institutions, Università di Perugia, vol. 1(2).
    14. Jose-Victor Rios-Rull & Per Krusell, 1999. "On the Size of U.S. Government: Political Economy in the Neoclassical Growth Model," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1156-1181, December.
    15. Lindert, Peter H., 1996. "What Limits Social Spending?," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 1-34, January.
    16. Galasso, Vincenzo, 2003. "Redistribution and fairness: a note," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 19(4), pages 885-892, November.
    17. Lind, Jo Thori, 2007. "Fractionalization and the size of government," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(1-2), pages 51-76, February.
    18. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2000. "Who wants to redistribute?: The tunnel effect in 1990s Russia," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 87-104, April.
    19. repec:cup:apsrev:v:95:y:2001:i:04:p:859-874_40 is not listed on IDEAS
    20. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 1994. "Is Inequality Harmful for Growth?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 600-621, June.
    21. Roemer, John E., 1998. "Why the poor do not expropriate the rich: an old argument in new garb," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(3), pages 399-424, December.
    22. Rothschild, Michael & Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1970. "Increasing risk: I. A definition," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 225-243, September.
    23. Roberts, Kevin W. S., 1977. "Voting over income tax schedules," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 329-340, December.
    24. Woojin Lee & John Roemer, 2005. "Values and Politics in the US: An Equilibrium Analysis of the 2004 Election," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2005-08, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
    25. Milanovic, Branko, 2000. "The median-voter hypothesis, income inequality, and income redistribution: an empirical test with the required data," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 16(3), pages 367-410, September.
    26. Moene, Karl O. & Wallerstein, Michael, 2003. "Income Inequality and Welfare spending: A disaggregated Analysis," Memorandum 18/2003, Oslo University, Department of Economics.
    27. Andrea Brandolini & Anthony B. Atkinson, 2001. "Promise and Pitfalls in the Use of "Secondary" Data-Sets: Income Inequality in OECD Countries As a Case Study," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 39(3), pages 771-799, September.
    28. Krusell, Per & Quadrini, Vincenzo & Rios-Rull, Jose-Victor, 1997. "Politico-economic equilibrium and economic growth," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 243-272, January.
    29. John Roemer, 2005. "Will democracy engender equality?," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 25(1), pages 217-234, January.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
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    Cited by:

    1. Javier Olivera, 2015. "Preferences for redistribution in Europe," IZA Journal of European Labor Studies, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 4(1), pages 1-18, December.
    2. Jo Thori Lind & Dominic Rohner, 2017. "Knowledge is Power: A Theory of Information, Income and Welfare Spending," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 84(336), pages 611-646, October.
    3. Gilles le Garrec, 2009. "Feeling guilty and redistributive politics," Documents de Travail de l'OFCE 2009-22, Observatoire Francais des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE).
    4. Chen, Daniel L. & Lind, Jo Thori, 2016. "The Political Economy of Beliefs: Why Fiscal and Social Conservatives/Liberals (Sometimes) Come Hand-in-Hand," IAST Working Papers 16-62, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST).
    5. Erik Lindqvist & Robert Östling, 2013. "Identity and redistribution," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 155(3), pages 469-491, June.
    6. Creedy, John & Moslehi, Solmaz, 2009. "Modelling the composition of government expenditure in democracies," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 42-55, March.
    7. Gilles Le Garrec, 2011. "Redistribution and the cultural transmission of the taste for fairness," Working Papers hal-01069524, HAL.
    8. Gilles Le Garrec, 2011. "Redistribution and the cultural transmission of the taste for fairness," Documents de Travail de l'OFCE 2011-24, Observatoire Francais des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE).
    9. John Creedy & Shuyun May Li & Solmaz Moslehi, 2008. "The Composition of Government Expenditure in an Overlapping Generations Model," Department of Economics - Working Papers Series 1043, The University of Melbourne.
    10. Milanovic, Branko, 2010. "Four critiques of the redistribution hypothesis: An assessment," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 147-154, March.
    11. John Creedy & Solmaz Moslehi, 2014. "The composition of government expenditure with alternative choicemechanisms," New Zealand Economic Papers, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 48(1), pages 53-71, April.
    12. repec:spo:wpecon:info:hdl:2441/eu4vqp9ompqllr09iak4384sp is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Campante, Filipe R., 2011. "Redistribution in a model of voting and campaign contributions," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(7-8), pages 646-656, August.
    14. Le Garrec, Gilles, 2013. "Guilt aversion and redistributive politics: A moral intuitionist approach," Economics Discussion Papers 2013-53, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).
    15. Loukas Karabarbounis, 2011. "One Dollar, One Vote," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 121(553), pages 621-651, June.
    16. Jo Thori Lind & Daniel Chen, 2016. "The Political Economy Of Beliefs: Why Fiscal And Social Conservatives/Liberals Come Hand-In-Hand," 2016 Meeting Papers 606, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    17. repec:spo:wpecon:info:hdl:2441/eu4vqp9ompqllr09hacc56d41 is not listed on IDEAS
    18. John Creedy & Solmaz Moslehi, 2008. "Voting over Taxes and Expenditure: The Role of Home Production," Department of Economics - Working Papers Series 1052, The University of Melbourne.
    19. Gilles Le Garrec, 2009. "Feeling guilty and redistributive politics," Working Papers hal-01066215, HAL.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • H53 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Welfare Programs

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