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Social preferences and redistributive politics

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  • Fehr Ernst
  • Epper Thomas
  • Senn Julien

Abstract

Increasing inequality and associated egalitarian sentiments have put redistribution on the political agenda. In this paper, we take advantage of Swiss direct democracy, where people voted several times on strongly redistributive policies in national plebiscites, to study the link between social preferences and a behaviorally validated measure of support for redistribution in a broad sample of the Swiss population. Using a novel nonparametric Bayesian clustering algorithm, we uncover the existence of three fundamentally distinct preference types in the population: predominantly selfish, inequality averse and altruistic individuals. We show that inequality averse and altruistic individuals display a much stronger support for redistribution, particularly if they are more affluent. In addition, we show that previously identified key motives underlying opposition to redistribution – such as the belief that effort is an important driver of individual success – play no role for selfish individuals but are highly relevant for other-regarding individuals. Finally, while inequality averse individuals display strong support for policies that primarily aim to reduce the incomes of the rich, altruistic individuals are considerably less supportive of these policies. Thus, knowledge about the qualitative properties of social preferences and their distribution in the population also provides insights into which preference type supports specific redistributive policies, which has implications for how policy makers may design redistributive packages to maximize political support for them.

Suggested Citation

  • Fehr Ernst & Epper Thomas & Senn Julien, 2020. "Social preferences and redistributive politics," ECON - Working Papers 339, Department of Economics - University of Zurich, revised Aug 2023.
  • Handle: RePEc:zur:econwp:339
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    8. Benjamin Enke & Ricardo Rodríguez-Padilla & Florian Zimmermann, 2023. "Moral Universalism and the Structure of Ideology," The Review of Economic Studies, Review of Economic Studies Ltd, vol. 90(4), pages 1934-1962.
    9. Gilles Le Garrec, 2023. "Accounting for the long-term stability of the welfare-state regimes in a model with distributive preferences and social norms," Working Papers hal-03954024, HAL.
    10. Kerstin Mitterbacher & Stefan Palan & Jürgen Fleiß, 2021. "Labor market choices of migrants and redistributive policies," Working Paper Series, Social and Economic Sciences 2021-02, Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Karl-Franzens-University Graz.
    11. Brad C. Nathan & Ricardo Perez-Truglia & Alejandro Zentner, 2020. "My Taxes are Too Darn High: Why Do Households Protest their Taxes?," NBER Working Papers 27816, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Johnston, David W. & Menon, Nidhiya, 2022. "Income and views on minimum living standards," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 199(C), pages 18-34.
    13. Konstantin Chatziathanasiou & Svenja Hippel & Michael Kurschilgen, 2020. "Property, Redistribution, and the Status Quo," Munich Papers in Political Economy 02, Munich School of Politics and Public Policy and the School of Management at the Technical University of Munich.
    14. Buser, Thomas, 2024. "Adversarial Economic Preferences Predict Right-Wing Voting," IZA Discussion Papers 16711, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    15. Konstantin Chatziathanasiou & Svenja Hippel & Michael Kurschilgen, 2021. "Property, redistribution, and the status quo: a laboratory study," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 24(3), pages 919-951, September.
    16. Nickolas Gagnon & Riccardo D. Saulle & Henrik W. Zaunbrecher, 2021. "Decreasing Incomes Increase Selfishness," Papers 2107.02888, arXiv.org.
    17. Konstantin Chatziathanasiou & Svenja Hippel & Michael Kurschilgen, 2020. "Do rights to resistance discipline the elites? An experiment on the threat of overthrow," Munich Papers in Political Economy 08, Munich School of Politics and Public Policy and the School of Management at the Technical University of Munich.
    18. Gilles Le Garrec, 2023. "Accounting for the long-term stability of the welfare-state regimes in a model with distributive preferences and social norms," SciencePo Working papers Main hal-03954024, HAL.
    19. Antinyan, Armenak & Baghdasaryan, Vardan & Grigoryan, Aleksandr, 2021. "Charitable giving, social capital and positional concerns," Cardiff Economics Working Papers E2021/33, Cardiff University, Cardiff Business School, Economics Section.
    20. Bérgolo, Marcelo & Burdin, Gabriel & Burone, Santiago & De Rosa, Mauricio & Giaccobasso, Matias & Leites, Martin, 2022. "Dissecting inequality-averse preferences," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 200(C), pages 782-802.
    21. Zaunbrecher, Henrik & Gagnon, Nickolas, 2020. "Declining Wages Increase Selfish Redistribution in an Environment with Fixed Income Inequality," Research Memorandum 023, Maastricht University, Graduate School of Business and Economics (GSBE).
    22. Sandro Ambuehl & B. Douglas Bernheim, 2021. "Interpreting the will of the people: social preferences over ordinal outcomes," ECON - Working Papers 395, Department of Economics - University of Zurich, revised Jan 2024.
    23. Sandro Ambuehl & B. Douglas Bernheim, 2021. "Interpreting the Will of the People - A Positive Analysis of Ordinal Preference Aggregation," CESifo Working Paper Series 9317, CESifo.
    24. Falch, Ranveig, 2022. "How do people trade off resources between quick and slow learners?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 150(C).
    25. Cohn, Alain & Jessen, Lasse J. & Klašnja, Marko & Smeets, Paul, 2023. "Wealthy Americans and redistribution: The role of fairness preferences," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 225(C).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Social preferences; altruism; inequality aversion; preference heterogeneity; demand for redistribution;
    All these keywords.

    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
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies

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