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Popular Acceptance of Inequality due to Brute Luck and Support for Classical Benefit-Based Taxation

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  • Matthew Weinzierl

Abstract

U.S. survey respondents’ views on distributive justice are shown to differ in two specific, related ways from what is conventionally assumed in modern optimal tax research. A large share of respondents, and in some cases a large majority, resist the full equalization of inequality due to brute luck that standard analyses would recommend. Related, a similar share prefer a classical benefit-based logic for the assignment of taxes over the conventional logic of diminishing marginal social welfare. Moreover, these two views are linked: respondents who more strongly resist equalization are more likely to prefer the classical benefit-based principle. Together, these results suggest that a large share of the American public views the allocation of pre-tax incomes as relevant to optimal tax policy and—at least in part—justly deserved unless proven otherwise, judgments that are inconsistent with standard welfarist objectives.

Suggested Citation

  • Matthew Weinzierl, 2016. "Popular Acceptance of Inequality due to Brute Luck and Support for Classical Benefit-Based Taxation," NBER Working Papers 22462, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22462
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Weinzierl, Matthew, 2014. "The promise of positive optimal taxation: normative diversity and a role for equal sacrifice," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 128-142.
    2. John C. Harsanyi, 1953. "Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-taking," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 61, pages 434-434.
    3. Ilyana Kuziemko & Michael I. Norton & Emmanuel Saez & Stefanie Stantcheva, 2015. "How Elastic Are Preferences for Redistribution? Evidence from Randomized Survey Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(4), pages 1478-1508, April.
    4. Feldstein, Martin, 1976. "On the theory of tax reform," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1-2), pages 77-104.
    5. John C. Harsanyi, 1955. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 309-309.
    6. Marc Fleurbaey & François Maniquet, 2006. "Fair Income Tax," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 73(1), pages 55-83.
    7. Jimmy Charité & Raymond Fisman & Ilyana Kuziemko, 2015. "Reference Points and Redistributive Preferences: Experimental Evidence," NBER Working Papers 21009, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Matthew C. Weinzierl, 2016. "A Welfarist Role for Nonwelfarist Rules: An example with envy," Harvard Business School Working Papers 17-021, Harvard Business School, revised Jul 2017.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation

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