Experiment Shows Conservatives More Willing to Share Wealth Than They Say

Across 60 nations, Trump supporters are outliers on their views on economic inequality. But their actions suggest it’s not a core philosophical difference.

Comments: 77

  1. Looks to me that this experiment completely avoids, ignores, or confuses the difference between income inequality and the redistribution of income. What is missing is the income of the individuals willing to share. Someone living on income which is satisfactory for their needs may be willing to share their wealth or the income in excess of satisfying his needs. However for someone to redistribute their income for assuring others have an income satisfactory for their needs is an entirely different matter. Conservatives willing to share their wealth are not Marxists.

  2. The premise that conservatives vs liberal economic views center around views of inequality are inaccurate and misleading. Wealth redistribution costs much more than money - it costs individual liberty - the reality of a government who takes greater ownership over our lives, and dictates life decisions in areas of education, morality, and economics. As this study proves conservatives and liberals have similar personal attitudes towards inequality - the difference lies in that conservatives are not willing to surrender human liberty to government - that inevitably always breeds moral and economic decay. Democratic socialism is better than communism, but with excessive government control 51% of the population can oppress 49% in the name of democracy. Liberty is not guaranteed by democracy - a government that never forces people to violate their own conscience and beliefs is the centerpiece of a free society. And in today's progressive environment those freedoms are at risk. A model to safety net the poor without giving up human liberty as a whole is possible and can be created.

  3. The study should have looked at the generosity of the rich vs. the poor, not conservative vs. liberal. Past studies have shown that poor are more generous in helping others. Many of the rich are masquerading as conservatives just to get the tax cuts.

  4. There are three interesting problems and results of the poll. First, conservatives argue vociferously that liberals want to just give away money without respect to merit and the poll results show this is patently false given the results of bonus compensation based only on productivity. Second, it focuses only on income inequality rather than wealth inequality. Third and most important, it focuses on the rich with high income and ignores the basic question. Other surveys have shown that both liberals and conservatives are not envious of the rich per se, but have questions about how they got there, conservatives claiming merit and liberals claiming privilege. What should be the concern is raising incomes of the bottom 80% not worrying about the rich and conservatives and liberals have very different ideas on how to do that. After all, 4 decades of stagnant wages for the bottom 80% ( even including the most recent rise during Trump which is barely a blip) shows what we are doing now for income inequality is not working. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/07/for-most-us-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades/

  5. @tom - Quelle surprise. 40 years of (R)egressive "trickle-up" tax policy proves that when we hand ever-greater shares of our nation's wealth to the Plutocrats and Corporations they just shovel it into their offshore Money Pits. (R)eagan lied!

  6. Very interesting. My main concern is about the study of beliefs about merit and luck. It always seems that beliefs can affect redistribution, but it seems that they are rather a product of income inequality. The higher the inequality the more the people think that economic success depends on merit rather than luck (Mijs, 2019).

  7. Everybody agrees on distribution terms in merit vs. chance distinctions. Huge disagreement exists on definitions of merit vs. chance. They need to move on in the study. I doubt whether gender or race will change the results one iota. No no information here.

  8. @Michael Blazin - Everyone agrees...?

  9. That was the reported finding. Merit gets rewarded, chance does not. I agree that the study does not do anything to resolve disagreement. It just finds a different area for the same disagreement.

  10. The claim that the particular "experiment" described here settles the question of how people really feel about inequality is totally unjustified. For one thing, one simple question certainly does not do it. For another, the question is hypothetical. The experiment would have to be done in the real world, with real money - the way people respond to polls or questionnaires is often different from what they actually do. The US may be more tolerant of inequality than other countries because of a very pronounced white/non-white divide, partly as a legacy of slavery. The Republican party has deliberately exploited and exacerbated this divide for the purpose of getting low-income whites to support plutocratic policies. Thus the wealthy fund a great deal of propaganda which supports those policies and opposes measures to reduce inequality. In effect, a supposed belief in "free market" economics and merited inequality becomes an excuse for racism. The existing racial divide is justified as the outcome of economic principles.

  11. @skeptonomist This is an incentivised study. The choice to redistribute was not hypothetical, but affected the actual income of two other persons.

  12. Most people are ready to share wealth as long as it is fairly done ie not the extreme right, let the rich get richer and the poor get poorer or the extreme left, let the middle class support the abuses of the welfare state.

  13. @Paul Abuses of the welfare state? Try living in the welfare state and tell me how glorious it is?

  14. @pat thank you for you reply. Some "welfare" type things are good, the safety net and certainly now Trump has hurt it and looking to gut it. I am talking about the 1970s when limo liberals perverted the great work done by progressives since 1930 and turned NYC and other cities in generations of poor people on welfare that almost destroyed the cities.

  15. Generosity is often dependent on who the recipients are in relation to the giver. Are conservatives generous to their church, to other white/rural folk like themselves? Likely, yes. Are liberals more generous generally, and specifically, to people not like themselves, the weaker? I would think yes. Internationally, one can see generosity with the welfare state is expected, unless, of course, it is for those other people, those immigrants, for those of other ethnic backgrounds, for those of other classes. Conservatives seem to suffer more from in-group selfishness, whereby human welfare and concern is limited to people like themselves. Yes, liberals suffer from this as well, just maybe not to the same degree.

  16. @James Igoe I have heard this logic before and, without direct evidence, I would say at least that it resonates with me. That is, American conservatives are generally in favor of many aspects of wealth distribution, but among 'their' circle of folks; not outside circles of folks. In the experiment in this article, the participants are choosing how to distribute bonus money among 'their' own work colleagues. Thus, we are still left with an "us vs. them" distinction. The following may not be the best example, but anyone (including American conservatives) participating in an insurance plan (home, auto, medical, etc.) are participating in a wealth distribution plan. Most people consider that everyone in the insurance pool is sharing the risk/cost, and so they are okay with sharing the benefits. And so, in the end, "society" is really all about sharing. How much are you willing to share, and more pertinent here, who are you willing to share it with.

  17. What’s the definition of rich in these surveys? Poor? Hard to answer a question like this without defining these terms, especially across many countries. Rich in the Philippines probably has a different connotation than rich in Australia.

  18. @JTCheek The NPV of a cop's pension (80% of salary for rest of life, available after 20 or 25 years of service) can exceed $1 million USD. So, is a Chicago policeman at age 50 rich? What about the private sector worker with $1 million in 401K? Wealth and income are related, but not necessarily correlated. Just look at the FIRE movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early). Many young workers with high, but not even 1% level income are saving aggressively and stop working in their 30's, able to travel the world (much easier to earn in the US and spend in other countries where the USD goes further).

  19. While it may not have extended to behavior in this experiment--at least not to a statistically significant extent--the attitudes reflected in the initial questions do seem to support that Americans are uniquely Calvinist/Social Darwinist in their approach to who deserves wealth, believing to a much greater extent than most of the rest of the world that being poor is a result of internal dispositions--failure of character or effort--rather than unfair advantage or systemic structure. There are, of course, many Americans who don't believe this, but we seem to have a preponderance of people who do, and it wouldn't be surprising if those believers are over-represented among our ruling classes and oligarchs. It may not have been demonstrated in this experiment, but it is hard to believe that such an attitude does not have far reaching implications for the behavior of those who have the power to make decisions about societal structure and to enforce those decisions.

  20. @Glenn Ribotsky This chart of “reasons for inequality that suggest rich may deserve higher income” shows that American pro-Trumpers are actually close to world averages in believing that the rich work harder, have more ability, delay gratification, and take more risks, while Americans anti-Trumpers are the outliers in believing those things less.

  21. Nice study about the "generosity" of GoodBrain-lovin' conservatives. Here's mine: We spend .78% of our federal budget ($31 Billion of our $4 Trillion budget) on TANF/MOE - aka, welfare. That so-called "safety net" provides meager support to 2.2 million Americans (.67% of our population), 77% of whom are children. GoodBrain and his ilk begrudge even that tiny amount. So much for "conservatives more willing to share wealth."

  22. @Miss Anne Thrope I know, right! $4 of every taxpayer's possible taxes go towards social programs IN TOTAL. $4000 goes to corporate welfare. Who are the REAL welfare queens? "I don't want any of those underserving XYZ getting MY money." Yeah, your FOUR BUCKS. You can have that latte you skipped this morning. We won't tell your wife.

  23. The problem with these surveys is that the person conducting the survey starts believing that whatever people randomly check on a box is real.. these surveys are a absolute waste of time and drawing conclusions from them is even a bigger mistake..

  24. The major error in this analysis is the it conflates "Conservative" with those who "approve of their president" (in the U.S. this meant Trump). Since they don't actually tell us what question(s) they asked to determine that, we have no idea what they are measuring in their poll. The idea that "income redistribution" can be judged by whether respondents think others should share an extra six dollars is nonsensical. Income redistribution as a political idea involves taking the wealth of the "rich" and distributing it to the poor -- we're are not talking six dollars here. This appears to be another improperly done social science experiment -- many of which are being investigated in the great social science reproducibility crisis.

  25. Very enlightening. I agree with this analysis; personally I’ve become more supportive of redistribution after seeing the many ways in which the real world income distribution is not based on merit. There is also an in-group/out-group overlay here though. The difference between incomes of people in different countries is clearly primarily due to the historical conditions in those countries and not individual merit, yet there is little to no support for redistribution across national borders. This shows that most people may be willing to support redistribution of unearned wealth within an in-group, but still be against redistribution to an out-group even when the differences in wealth between members of the in-group and out-group are clearly unearned. I think there really is a difference between liberals and conservatives here, with conservatives being more willing to accept inequality between in-groups and out-groups even when that inequality is not related to the individual merit of each group’s members.

  26. The author of hits piece has a huge misunderstanding of conservative and religious beliefs, as witnessed here: "Further illustrating the divide between beliefs and actions, American conservatives were just as likely as the average person around the world (and as American liberals) to say that within the last month they had donated to a charity, helped a stranger or volunteered their time to an organization. Such actions, insofar as they alleviate poverty, would seem to contradict the idea that the poor deserve to be poor and that inequality is fair." Conservatives believe in charity and give more than liberals, as many studies have shown (google it!). The idea is we BELIEVE the private sector should solve inequality, not the government, and that it is our money to allocate, not the government's. The author needs to understand that conservatives can and do oppose inequality that is unjust; where they differ from liberals is how the problem should be solved and by whom (government vs private sector).

  27. @Patrick And how exactly is the private sector supposed to solve inequality? Trickle down? Grow the economy? Both have been tried, and neither worked. Admittedly, the economy has not grown in the last 20 or so years as quickly as prior, but there are numerous reasons for that, in very significant part demographic. And the gains from the economic growth we've had have gone hugely toward the wealthy. For 20 years (really 40 if you want to go back to Reagan) we've been waiting for trickle-down to save the poor and middle class, and it's only gotten worse. It was government, thru free education (and even cheap education in college), that opened the way for a strong middle-class in America, investment by government (in infrastructure especially) and strong unions (supported by the government after FDR) that made it strong. All the above are now being strangled by conservatives. Sure, the private sector and charities are vital, but they're not enough. Talk to almost anyone in any charity and they'll admit that they can't do it alone. I'm an engineer, and engineering and science tell us that almost any stable system depends on balance. Too much of anything is a bad thing. And right now we have too much of a nearly free-to-do-anything private sector, and too little government and labor power. Until that changes I expect the system to remain unstable.

  28. @Patrick "Conservatives believe in charity and give more than liberals, as many studies have shown (google it!). Well, I did, and guess what? One study from 2012, which Arthur Brooks of AEI cited, claimed such. That's far from conclusive, as the following quote shows. "In 2006 Arthur C. Brooks, now president of the American Enterprise Institute, authored the book Who Really Cares, which Los Angeles Times liberal columnist Michael Hiltzik has cited as "the source of the notion that conservatives are more generous." Hiltzik disputes this "received wisdom," citing a 2013 paper by MIT political scientists Michele F. Margolis and Michael W. Sances that found that, for individuals, the "relationship between conservatism and giving vanishes after adjusting for income and religiosity." In other words, conservatives are more likely to be wealthy and more likely to give to their churches than liberals. Margolis and Sances also argue that, "At the state level, we find no evidence of a relationship between charitable giving and Republican presidential voteshare." Consider this new Chronicle study, then, another interesting rhetorical salvo in the ongoing debate about which side of the American political spectrum is more generous hearted, but not the final one."

  29. @Patrick "Conservatives believe in charity and give more than liberals, as many studies have shown (google it!). Well, I did, and guess what? One study from 2012, which Arthur Brooks of AEI cited, claimed such. That's far from conclusive, as the following quote shows. "In 2006 Arthur C. Brooks, now president of the American Enterprise Institute, authored the book Who Really Cares, which Los Angeles Times liberal columnist Michael Hiltzik has cited as "the source of the notion that conservatives are more generous." Hiltzik disputes this "received wisdom," citing a 2013 paper by MIT political scientists Michele F. Margolis and Michael W. Sances that found that, for individuals, the "relationship between conservatism and giving vanishes after adjusting for income and religiosity." In other words, conservatives are more likely to be wealthy and more likely to give to their churches than liberals. Margolis and Sances also argue that, "At the state level, we find no evidence of a relationship between charitable giving and Republican presidential voteshare." Consider this new Chronicle study, then, another interesting rhetorical salvo in the ongoing debate about which side of the American political spectrum is more generous hearted, but not the final one."

  30. When I see them put their money behind Planet Earth, and Women and Children for Health Insurance and shelter, I'll believe it, not until then. Oh yes and ethics.....they let lies go unpunished from the WH.

  31. How absolutely miraculous that this "experiment" was conjured up at this particular moment in time, with these particular Democratic presidential candidates vying for nomination.

  32. I know many conservatives who are willing, even eager, to share their wealth; but they prefer to do so through charity rather than through a system of forced extraction by taxation. Not only is the act of charity a religious duty, one has the ability to direct the act toward individuals one deems worthy. And those who receive charity cannot claim they are receiving benefits as a legal right. Sharing is one thing - an admirable thing - but one receives no satisfaction merely through the fulfillment of the legal act of complying with the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code.

  33. @octavian I prepare taxes as a volunteer. Conservatives have spent almost a hundred years propagandizing their own people against civilization and the taxation required to support it. No one particularly likes giving up hard earned money, but most people follow the law. They pay their taxes out of duty. The idea that someone forces them is laughable. There is no discipline except self-discipline. You don't HAVE to pay taxes, people can and DO go to jail, if they really refuse. In fact, people, liberals and conservatives, ALWAYS think their tax refunds are coming "from the Government." They never understand: 1) This is THEIR money, being returned to them. The government has been using it, interest free. 2) They should NEVER give the government too much of their money during the year *in the first place.* 3) A big refund is actually a bad thing. I often explain that paying taxes is a game. To play by the rules, you pay every penny you are legally obligated to pay, *not one penny more.* Don't give the government YOUR money. Not because you're proud. Not because you're thinking emotionally. Play by the rules. Most people see this as fair and reasonable. They want every penny back they are legally obligated to get. They want to pay everything they should. Few are anti-social, narcopathic and want to cheat. Most people are honest. They want to obey the law. This cuts across Party lines.

  34. @octavian So, conservatives like to play god, picking the worthy and unworthy. What a surprise. I guess I really don't care what people do with their money if they earned it, my problem is with people that inherited their wealth. How the heck is that moral or efficient? You ought to pay for what you get, not get it for free from mommy and daddy.

  35. @J c Then I'm certain you would condemn the activities of Abigail Disney, who certainly never earned a cent but has managed to disburse millions earned by her ancestors to left-wing causes. The NEW YORKER ran a long article on her activities several months ago. Read it. You might learn something about inherited wealth.

  36. It would be useful to understand who research subjects have in mind when they are reallocating resources among two hypothetical 'workers' since shared (or nonshared) group identity has a significant effect on how people, particularly conservatives - allocate resources. The outcomes observed in the abstract scenario don't seem very generalizable in that sense. Based on other research I would expect conservatives to be as generous as liberals when identity is shared (see: philanthropic giving) but far less when identity is not. As Jon Haidt as shown, conservatives are "groupish." Two other potential moderators: Belief in a Just World (a psychological construct measuring the degree to which someone believes that we 'get what we deserve') and actual corruption levels across countries. Countries differ enormously in how corrupt their markets and courts are, and therefore differ in how distrusting their citizens feel about critical processes and outcomes. Both factors may affect judgments of economic unfairness as dependent measures, and it would be useful for future studies to control for them.

  37. Having answered survey questions a number of times I can say without doubt that many surveys have an intended outcome and they pose the questions and answers to fit their intent. Any multiple choice is automatically suspect. But even when the person being questioned the interviewer will categorize the answers into subgroups of their own making and thus influence the outcome. These so called studies are more likely simplistic manipulation attempts masquerading as science.

  38. @Chris Unfortunately, I've come to believe something similar. If not quite as convinced that the fix is in as you are, I'm just generally suspicious because survey design is very difficult, and stats can be skewed easily. My main question when I see articles like this is whether the writers are just reporting the results or whether they are doing the real journalistic work of evaluating the validity of the study.

  39. @Chris I agree. I participated in a phone poll with a live interviewer who was asking what party I am registered in, who I voted for in 2016, and what I thought about Medicare for all vs. a public option vs. expanding the ACA. There was one question where they asked which would be most the convincing argument against them all, using financial considerations. I said none of those arguments are convincing. I am pretty sure who sponsored that poll because of that question. It is not someone I would agree with.

  40. @Locho Most "science journalists" are in NO way competent to do that. Most science coverage is absolutely awful. This stems from the fact that people who "science" often cannot write and people who write usually cannot science! Typically, those who write professionally do not science professionally and vice versa. Anyone who 1) reads studies, 2) understands study design and 3) has a clue about statistics mostly rolls their eyes about science journalism. Studies themselves vary in quality and design. That also goes doubly for most of what passes for high tech journalism. I'm a retired high tech journalist with background in software development and engineering. I was often tearing my hair out at things that my colleagues would write that showed absolutely no understanding of what they were writing about. Because they had no technical background themselves, they would believe anything, they would write the most sensationalistic nonsense. It was appalling.

  41. The headline misleads on the actual survey results. Conservatives are willing to share if they believe unequal results are randomly distributed---but, of course, overwhelmingly American conservatives don't believe that, as the survey confirms. They believe, almost as a matter of religious faith, that the market fairly distributes income and wealth, and that any attempt to adjust market results are akin to sin. That is a core philosophical difference between conservatives and liberals. Liberals recognize deficiencies and distortions in the market that necessitate regulation---from anti-trust to the minimum wage---to promote both economic efficiency as well as fairness. I think what the survey confirms that this core difference in one's view of market outcomes determines willingness to "share."

  42. Who deserves to be rich is a non-starter unless you also ask the question who deserves to be poor. The answer to both is no one deserves either.

  43. @Jean Thank you! The Calvinist idea that one's socioeconomic status is a sign of one's just deserts is at the root of our social problems. Being rich or poor has nothing to do with what anyone deserves.

  44. @notsofast How does that even work, though? Surely in some very real sense, someone who busts their gut working 70 hours a week really does deserve more than someone who works 35.

  45. @SeanusAurelius But most rich people did not get that way by busting their gut 70 hours a week.

  46. My father, born in Appalachia during the Great Depression, believed two things related to this survey. For years he declaimed them to one and all with great energy and sincerity, usually with a beer in his hand. The two things: 1. Should he ever become rich - whether by lottery or some other means - he would not want the g*^d%$ government taking a penny of HIS money. 2. In the meantime, government money was better spent on HIM than on others who were not him. How about a simpler survey, Center for Experimental Research on Fairness, Inequality and Rationality? How many in this world would agree with my Dad? Maybe "rationality" doesn't have that much to do with it?

  47. @MaryMo Thanks. You explained my thoughts better than I could have due to your personal story. Regarding decisions at a big enterprise, a manager I knew was fond of saying, "logic does not apply."

  48. I don't even know how I would have responded to this survey. Do I think rich people have higher aptitudes, or higher risk tolerance than poor people? That's a silly question. It depends on the rich person! Clearly Steve Jobs was born with more than most of us. Jared Kushner probably was not. Maybe what both those men, and many others like them, do share is socially toxic amounts of self-confidence. It's complicated.

  49. @Syliva Actually the difference is that Jobs did not inherit his wealth, and Kushner did. Forget about personality, luck, looks, intelligence and focus on the one thing we can definitely do something about: inherited wealth. It's immoral, inefficient, and unamerican. We ought to tax inherted wealth--say, beyond a family house--at 99%, and use that money to fund truly equal education for all kids. The bonus to that is that we can stop pretending that everyone ought to *end up* equally, when we all know that isn't true. It's ok that some people work harder or are just plain luckier than others. It's not ok that some start with great wealth--and the primary education opportunities that affords--and some do not.

  50. So, 74% of Trump supports think income differences between rich and poor ARE fair. Words matter.

  51. I'm kind of baffle why the primary driver of inequality: inherited wealth, wasn't even discussed in the project or in this article. Inequality of *results* is not immoral or unfair if the reason the results are unequal was effort, or even luck! The problem come when there is inequality of opportunity from birth. Some inequality cannot be helped: looks, certain types of intelligence or skill, height, etc are just built-in advantages. But Americans generally believe people ought to pay for what they get. It happens to work because it aligns with thermodynamics (you cannot get something for nothing), but it also just feels right. Inheritance is definitionally not paying for what you get--how have children earned anything? Taking 99% of wealth on death, save maybe a family house, would fund truly equal education (and thus opportunity) for all kids. Leave the rest to the markets, but make sure that rich and poor kids are generally on an equal playing field means we'd get more hard working poor kids succeeding and more rich kids earning their way in life. What's wrong with that?

  52. @J c The study talks about when the bonus compensation is based on luck. Inheritance is purely a luck factor...how wealthy a family you were born into. So if you're seeking to change inequality in the U.S., then you might want to focus on the advantages people are provided based on inherited wealth (i.e., luck).

  53. They had to put up with their parents or other relatives for some 50 plus years. In some families, that takes as much work and grit as any job. No one but a current spouse, the IRS and a debtor have any an claim on an estate. If a will exists, all other person only get what the deceased decided. Being born is not the only criterion.

  54. @A-L Inheritance is more than just a luck factor though, it's a major motivation for those of us who care about our children to work so that they will be provided for after our death. It's really not the government's business to intefere with our provision for our own children and grandchildren. We're supposed to work for strangers but somehow working for our own children is bad?

  55. You might think that after a few centuries or so the very idea that any serious discussion was possible without either a clear presentation of the questions underlying the topic or some quantitative data that at the very least involved some rate of change somewhere is unfortunate. Such misty gaggles of words allow almost anyone to take almost any position. Let's say, for example, that inequality is measured by how different the distribution of income is from an ideal state where everyone gets the same amount of income. Might that confound some opinions? Or perhaps, consider different situations where the rate of joining the " workforce" and educational quality of future workers as well as the rate at which "jobs" are performed by machines without human intervention varies. Would that matter? Maybe it is better to stare at the shadows on our comfortable cave's wall; those vague images cast by the powerful slinking in front of their fire; passively gaze and speculate about what might be true.

  56. There's never been a time in history where there hasn't been a gulf between rich and poor, conservative and liberal. Yes some rich individuals, and to a lesser extent some conservatives, sometimes spread their wealth, but by and large what they believe is that what they have is theirs by divine right - they ARE more equal. They do see themselves as smarter, more able, and heads above the poor in every way, chafing at giving any of their wealth away to alleviate "inequality". We, globally and especially in the USA, are in a era where "I've got mine, and you're not getting any of it" prevails, and is personified by Trumpism and its supporters, which is a culmination of 70 years of conservative Republican policies. It's also very interesting that conservative Christians wholeheartedly support those policies, which are anathema to the spirit of Christianity.

  57. Why would anyone give away money towards a goal of reducing inequality? People give money to people that need food to eat, shelter to avoid elements, clothes if they have none or scholarships if education not available. Do I care if Jeff Bezos has 100 thousand times my wealth? Not really if I do not need any basic items. Inequality per se means very little.

  58. @Michael Blazin I don't care about Jeff Bezos' money per se but I sure do care that it gives him the power to buy political influence and promote his own pet causes, totally distorting what was intended to be a democratic system of governance and turning it into a functional plutocracy.

  59. @Michael Blazin Answer to Q1: To produce a more harmonious society. Answer to Q2: If he pays his taxes, which will help feed, clothe, and shelter others, then you shouldn't care.

  60. The experimental results echo other things I have read about sharing behavior, including in groups of young children. We are more inclined to share things received randomly, but we are also inclined to feel entitled to keep the fruits of our own efforts. Jonathan Haidt has distinguished these two types of "fairness". One is the ethic of even distribution, in part motivated by a desire for everyone to have a share (and perhaps in part motivated by envy of those who have more). The other is the ethic of proportionality, recognizing that more productive people deserve bigger rewards. The shame is when these become irrational ideologies--and when political partisans (and media allies) promote one without recognizing the other. One more observation: when considering reasons for differences in wealth I have seldom seen a discreet focus on the desire to accumulate wealth. People who hold this goal will almost certainly make decisions that lead to greater wealth. Similarly, those who prioritize other values above wealth will likely end up with less. Seem like an arbitrary ethic to equalize wealth between these groups is "unfair".

  61. An explanation for wealth or income inequality that is missing from the list presented here is that some have access to opportunities that others don’t. Educational opportunities facilitate better job access, better incomes and better access to investment opportunities. Better financial education helps people to make more informed choices that keep them out of bad debt and encourage them to own more productive assets. We spend a lot of time arguing about pay equity, but most wealth in this country is accumulated through gains on asset ownership. If we don’t have policies in place that encourage and facilitate asset ownership farther down the income scale, there is no hope of stemming inequality.

  62. Most of the worlds population live in undemocratic regimes which are nothing like a meritocracy at all. It is only common sense that people living in a Western nation consider economic differences to be more due to merit than the world's population, which includes people living in e.g. Afghanistan. The fact that liberals appear to have the same sort of attitude towards their economic system as Indians and Zambians when they live in the USA surely makes them the ones out of touch with reality.

  63. Jonathan, There was a great experiment during the Johnson Administration called "The Great Society". That movie ended with; 22 trillion spent and higher unemployment and poverty. There is a group of people in this rich country who have given up and only want to survive on the work of others! Allowing them to wallow in largess for generations has done them no favors. To embrace the magic of taking care of oneself is the greatest freedom on the Earth! These people never experience that because the bleeding hearts don't think them able to accomplish this. Don't work and you don't eat has always worked. That leaves much more for the Truly incapable!

  64. The problem with giving the government the authority to be the great redistributor should be obvious to all by now. The more government is allowed to decide who gets what, the more corrupt and vicious our politics become. "Progressives" tend to think that government redistributionism is a new idea. Actually, a familiarity with world history reveals that this has almost always been the case in monarchies, aristocracies, and every form of despotic government. And nowhere has it enhanced liberty or succeeded in ameliorating inequality. Guess what! When the government decides who gets the good stuff, it's the people in the government and their friends who end up very rich while everyone else remains poor.

  65. @C. Gowing This is a basic logical fallacy called an EITHER/OR argument. Either we have freedom or we have communism. Nobody is arguing this. All the overwhelming evidence shows that we don't actually have free markets and they are not rational because they are just as human an d fallible as the dictators on the left you mention. See the review of Deutsche Bank in today's issue. All we are saying is to redistribute SOME of the handouts to agribusiness, banks, investors, offshore banking, pentagon mismanagement (see cost of Affgan war) etc. Is that so bad so people can eat, go to school, and have a roof over their heads? The key is the rule of law and transparent democracy and human rights to reign in corrupt, welfare capitalism AND wannabe dictators in places like Venezuela and in the case of Trump who is actively undermining the safeguards in the justice department that cause the types of problems you are mentioning.

  66. @C. Gowing Why is it that when people want the government to raise taxes on the rich it is called redistribution? And when they want the government to lower the taxes on the rich, it is called something else? If the government reset he tax structure to where it was 40, 50, 60 years ago, the rich would have a higher tax rate and, just as there was then, there would be less inequality. It seems to me that the current tax system and the inequality that it produces probably creates more corruption. Rich people and corporations are constantly buying favors, whether it's for college admission or government handouts.

  67. It’s striking that more anti-Trump than pro-Trump Americans believe the rich are born with greater abilities.

  68. @Brian If the rich believed it was due to talent not hard work, it would undermine their argument that they earned it through hard work.

  69. It’s striking that more anti-Trump than pro-Trump Americans believe the rich are born with greater abilities

  70. The big element missing in this discussion is who the money is distributed to. In the experiment the choice was between other workers. Unless the author has information to the contrary, I will assume that the subjects created a mental construct in which those imagined workers were generally “like them.” The problem we have today in politics is that many conservatives assume that the recipients of benefits are not “like them” and thus undeserving of financial expenditures. Race palsy no small part in that thinking.

  71. I don't think the researchers or the author understand the issue of inequality. It is not about merit, but making sure that all people have enough to live a decent life. No liberal I know is against an unequal distribution of wealth. The question is how unequal. Right now it is so unequal that it is bad for the future of capitalisim. Henry Ford realized his workers needed enough of a salary to buy his cars. The poor, working class, and lower middle class spend additional income. It goes right into the economy. The wealthier park it in assets, not always productive ones after financial crisis after financial crissis has shown us. There is a tendency in journalism and creative non-fiction to latch on a research study with very limited aims and make a large generalization. We can see this in health reporting all the time. The data on beliefs about wealth was very interesting though. It is clear that the root of the problem in the US is an outlier ideology on the right that does not have empirical validity on most of its positions as Krugman and others repeatedly demonstrate.

  72. The bigger question here, in terms of fairness, is what is fair for the population as a whole, acknowledging the innate value of every human being, regardless of how productive they are. How much is enough for one person or one family to own? I believe that once a family gets to the point where they have enough capital to never have to work again, then anything beyond that is selfish and harmful to the society as a whole. Redistribute that excess wealth in the form of programs to help people achieve the American dream for themselves, and watch our economy take off, and the US rise in the ranks of happiest nations.

  73. My personal experience is that people who self-identify as very liberal or progressive are very willing to reallocate money through higher taxes on the wealthy - a group they do not belong to - and less likely to reallocate money through charitable contributions. No one is prevented from giving their own wealth away, many people do. Demanding higher taxes on others is another story altogether.

  74. It is my belief that money distributed through charities is distributed less fairly than money distributed through government programs. Almost all charities are inherently selective about who they distribute money to, whether due to race, religion, creed, geography, or other factors. Many charities are also extremely opaque in their bookkeeping, and it is frequently the case that charities distribute only a small fraction of the money they bring in to the charitable causes they supposedly help. I don’t oppose charity, but I don’t trust most charities, particularly ones beyond a local level, as a means of effectively helping people who are in need.

  75. Compare the CEO of a national delivery service and its drivers that we see everyday. Does one work longer hours?  Does one have greater personal risk? Greater financial risk? Who gets the golden parachute? How many times shrewder, smarter or more energetic or talented is one over the other?   Is it actually harder to recruit a successful CEO than drivers? Does one move faster with more energy and stay out of the way of others better than the other? Make choices and decisions based on information provided by others? Have more ambition? Be more conscientious? No. It's the luck of advantage and circumstance. All respondents live in a country, equipped with the capacity at a large scale, sufficient for a productive team effort to generate large income returns. I didn't see Bhutan Chad or Paraguay on the list. Great success of any community warrants a fair distribution of its fruits ----   payback to ordinary workers, citizens, volunteers, neighbors, and families, who, together, secure a vibrant and stable nation where fortunes can be made and preserved. There's a mechanism to do this: progressive taxation

  76. Even if subjects' statements about whether they would share a small bonus labelled as random or a productivity bonus are confirmed experimentally, it is a very different thing to support government policies that significantly affect our economic life-prospects through large measures that we would not personally control, than to share at our own discretion a six-dollar bonus with co-workers we know personally.

  77. It's the protestants. Conservative Americans care about suffering, of course. If you sit them down and show them a starving, homeless child, their hearts melt. They care. They want to give to help the child. But. For people of a particular strand of Christian theology, there's that pesky personal salvation thing. Being a helper is as or more important than someone in need being helped. If the government redistributes income to help the poor, who gets the moral credit for that? Does everyone get the same 'virtue points' simply by virtue of living there? How can the rich prove their generosity if the government forces them to be generous? If the rich man has no choice but to help the poor, starving Lazarus, does he get to go to heaven despite his cruel heart?