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Belief in a Just World and Redistributive Politics

  • Roland Bénabou

    (Princeton University, National Bureau of Economic Research, and Centre for Economic Policy Research)

  • Jean Tirole

    (Institut D'Economie Industrielle, GREMAQ/CNRS, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

International surveys reveal wide differences between the views held in different countries concerning the causes of wealth or poverty and the extent to which people are responsible for their own fate. At the same time, social ethnographies and experiments by psychologists demonstrate individuals' recurrent struggle with cognitive dissonance as they seek to maintain, and pass on to their children, a view of the world where effort ultimately pays off and everyone gets their just desserts. This paper offers a model that helps explain i) why most people feel such a need to believe in a "just world"; ii) why this need, and therefore the prevalence of the belief, varies considerably across countries; iii) the implications of this phenomenon for international differences in political ideology, levels of redistribution, labor supply, aggregate income, and popular perceptions of the poor. More generally, the paper develops a theory of collective beliefs and motivated cognitions, including those concerning "money" (consumption) and happiness, as well as religion. Copyright (c) 2006 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology..

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Article provided by MIT Press in its journal Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Volume (Year): 121 (2006)
Issue (Month): 2 (May)
Pages: 699-746

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Handle: RePEc:tpr:qjecon:v:121:y:2006:i:2:p:699-746
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