Redistribution and Racism, Tolerance and Capitalism

37 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2013

Date Written: February 28, 2013


In debates over the roles of law and government in promoting the equality of income or in redistributing the fruits of capitalism, widely different motives are attributed to those who favor or oppose capitalism or income redistribution. According to one view, largely accepted in the academic social psychology literature (Jost et al., 2003), opposition to income redistribution and support for capitalism reflect an orientation toward social dominance, a desire to dominate other groups. According to another view that goes back at least to the nineteenth century origins of Marxism, anti-capitalism and a support for greater legal efforts to redistribute income reflect envy for the property of others and a frustration with one’s lot in a capitalist system.

In this paper I expand and test the first (social dominance) thesis using twenty nationally representative General Social Surveys conducted by the National Opinion Research Center between 1977 and 2010, involving over 21,000 respondents. I first show that respondents who express traditionally racist views (on segregation, interracial marriage, and inborn racial abilities) tend to support greater income redistribution. Traditional racists also express less positive views toward free-market capitalism and its consequences, tending to want the government to guarantee jobs for everyone and to fix prices, wages, and profits. Next, I report a similar pattern for those who express intolerance for unpopular groups on the fifteen Stouffer tolerance questions (regarding racists, homosexuals, communists, extreme militarists, and atheists). Those who express less tolerance for unpopular groups tend to favor income redistribution and to be less supportive of capitalism and its discontents. Using full latent variable structural equation modeling shows similar results. The data are broadly inconsistent with the standard belief in the social psychology literature that pro-capitalist and anti-redistributionist views are positively associated with racism and intolerance.

I then explore an alternative hypothesis, showing that, compared to anti-redistributionists, strong redistributionists have much higher odds of reporting anger, sadness, loneliness, outrage, and other negative emotions. Similarly, anti-redistributionists had much higher odds of reporting being happy or at ease. Last, both redistributionists and anti-capitalists expressed lower overall happiness, less happy marriages, and lower satisfaction with their financial situations and with their jobs or housework. Further, in several General Social Surveys anti-redistributionists were generally more likely to report altruistic behavior than those who favored a stronger policy of government redistribution of income.

Keywords: racism, redistribution, capitalism, tolerance, envy, social dominance, altruism

JEL Classification: P1, K00, D71, D72

Suggested Citation

Lindgren, James T., Redistribution and Racism, Tolerance and Capitalism (February 28, 2013). Northwestern Law & Econ Research Paper No. 13-05, Available at SSRN: or

James T. Lindgren (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
773-294-9043 (Phone)

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