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Belief in a Just World and Redistributive Politics

  • Jean Tirole
  • Roland Benabou

This paper develops a joint theory of ideology and redistributive policy to account for the striking divergence found across countries in voters? attitudes about the causes of individual wealth and poverty (self-reliance or societal forces), as well as in the observed social contract (laissez-faire or welfare-state). In particular, the model sheds light on how expectations of high mobility are sustained (the ?American Dream?) and dampen the demand for redistribution. In so doing, it draws on studies by sociologists and psychologists that document the cognitive efforts often required to maintain, and pass on to one?s children, the view that hard work and sacrifices will ultimately bring a better life, that people get what they deserve, and deserve what they get. The paper thus offers a psychologically grounded but nonetheless rational politico-economic model of why people may feel a need to ?believe in a just world?; of why this need, and therefore the prevalence of the belief, may vary considerably across countries; and of its implications for redistributive policies and the stigma born by the poor.

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Paper provided by Society for Economic Dynamics in its series 2004 Meeting Papers with number 15.

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Date of creation: 2004
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Handle: RePEc:red:sed004:15
Contact details of provider: Postal: Society for Economic Dynamics Christian Zimmermann Economic Research Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis PO Box 442 St. Louis MO 63166-0442 USA
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Web page: http://www.EconomicDynamics.org/society.htm
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  26. Kangas, Olli, 2003. "The grasshopper and the ants: popular opinions of just distribution in Australia and Finland," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 31(6), pages 721-743.
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