Who Cares about Inequality? Liberalism and Distributive Justice in America
California State University, Chico
June 21, 2009
Utilizing a two-pronged empirical approach, I test the assumption that Americans are ambivalent toward growing economic inequality. My experimental and survey results show that the majority of Americans - many women and people of color - are more egalitarian than we've been led to expect and are even willing sacrifice personal gain for the well-being of others. Put another way, the assertion of Alesina et al. (2005) that Americans are individualistic and attribute differences to skill and effort is overstated, as is the notion that Americans largely tolerate inequality in the economic domain, a claim advanced by Hochschild (1981) and later reinforced by Bartels (2008). Scholars in economics and political science have been assuming for over 150 years that all Americans think alike on matters of distributive justice. My economics experiments which operationalize John Rawls' "Veil of Ignorance" show that particular groups in the US are intolerant of inequality - they often choose to reduce inequality rather than maximize expected income on the individual level.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 99
Keywords: economic inequality, liberalism, Rawls, veil of ignorance, experimental economics, distributive justice, inequality aversion
JEL Classification: C90, C91, C92, C93, D30, D31, D63, D64, Z10working papers series
Date posted: June 22, 2009 ; Last revised: September 1, 2009
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