The Role of Expressive Versus Instrumental Preferences in U.S. Attitudes Toward Taxation and Redistribution

Philosophical Explorations of Justice and Taxation National and Global Issues, Helmut P. Gaisbauer, Gottfried Schweiger, Clemens Sedmak, Eds., Springer International Publishing (2015)

UCLA School of Law, Law-Econ Research Paper No. 15-18

Posted: 25 Nov 2015

See all articles by Kirk J. Stark

Kirk J. Stark

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

Date Written: 2015

Abstract

Polling data suggest that Americans are concerned about rising economic inequality, yet the same polls reveal popular opposition to redistributive tax policies that would help mitigate inequality. Numerous commentators have drawn attention to this paradox, attempting to explain why voters would support policies contrary to their pecuniary interests. In this article, Professor Kirk Stark connects the debate over U.S. tax attitudes with research on the role of expressive preferences in electoral choice. An expressive account of political behavior emphasizes the low likelihood that any one voter’s views will influence policy outcomes and thus locates her cost-benefit calculus in the expression itself rather than its effect on policy outcomes. Expressive considerations include the reputational consequences of taking sides in popular debates, especially as those consequences bear on the voter’s effort to portray herself to the people that matter in her life — her family, friends, co-workers, and most of all, herself. The author explains how an expressive account resolves the supposed “paradox” of popular opposition to redistributive tax policies and discusses the implications of this view for U.S. tax politics.

Keywords: taxation, politics, public opinion

JEL Classification: H2, H20, H24, H30

Suggested Citation

Stark, Kirk J., The Role of Expressive Versus Instrumental Preferences in U.S. Attitudes Toward Taxation and Redistribution (2015). Philosophical Explorations of Justice and Taxation National and Global Issues, Helmut P. Gaisbauer, Gottfried Schweiger, Clemens Sedmak, Eds., Springer International Publishing (2015); UCLA School of Law, Law-Econ Research Paper No. 15-18. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2695129

Kirk J. Stark (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States
310-825-7470 (Phone)

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