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Racism and Redistribution in the United States: A Solution to the Problem of American Exceptionalism

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Abstract

The two main political parties in the United States put forth policies on redistribution and on issues pertaining directly to race. We argue that redistributive politics in America can be fully understood only by taking account of the interconnection between these issues, and the effects of political competition upon the multi-dimensional party platforms. We identify two mechanisms through which racism among American voters decreases the degree of redistribution that would otherwise obtain. Many authors have suggested that voter racism decreases the degree of redistribution due to an anti-solidarity effect: that (some) voters oppose government transfer payments to minorities whom they view as undeserving. We point to a second effect as well: that some voters who desire redistribution nevertheless vote for the anti-redistributive party (the Republicans) because that party's position on the race issue is more consonant with their own, and this, too, decreases the degree of redistribution. We call this the policy bundle effect. The effect of voter racism on redistribution is the sum of these two effects. We propose a formal model of multi-dimensional political competition that enables us to estimate the magnitude of these two effects, and estimate the model for the period 1976-1992. We numerically compute that during this period voter racism reduced the income tax rate by 11-18 percentage points; the total effect decomposes about equally into the two sub-effects. We also find that the Democratic vote share is 5-38 percentage points lower than it would have been, absent racism.

Suggested Citation

  • Woojin Lee & John E. Roemer, 2004. "Racism and Redistribution in the United States: A Solution to the Problem of American Exceptionalism," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1462, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  • Handle: RePEc:cwl:cwldpp:1462
    Note: CFP 1190.
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    1. Edward L. Glaeser & Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2005. "Strategic Extremism: Why Republicans and Democrats Divide on Religious Values," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(4), pages 1283-1330.
    2. 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.
    3. Thomas Piketty, 1995. "Social Mobility and Redistributive Politics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(3), pages 551-584.
    4. Pagan,Adrian & Ullah,Aman, 1999. "Nonparametric Econometrics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521355643, April.
    5. Jack High (ed.), 2001. "Competition," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 1751.
    6. Erzo F. P. Luttmer, 2001. "Group Loyalty and the Taste for Redistribution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(3), pages 500-528, June.
    7. Alberto Alesina & Edward Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 2001. "Why Doesn't The US Have a European-Style Welfare State?," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1933, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    8. 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.
    9. Robert K. Triest, 1990. "The Effect of Income Taxation on Labor Supply in the United States," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 25(3), pages 491-516.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    racism; distribution; endogenous parties; party unanimity Nash equilibrium; anti-solidarity effect;

    JEL classification:

    • D3 - Microeconomics - - Distribution
    • D7 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making
    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue

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