Manipulation of Self-Interest Perception Can Increase Support for Redistribution: Experimental Evidence Testing the Meltzer and Richard Model
59 Pages Posted: 5 Oct 2016 Last revised: 31 Jan 2018
Date Written: January 31, 2018
Income inequality in the United States has increased in recent decades while public support for redistribution has failed to rise in the same period. These competing trends are often framed as countering standard expectations in political economy. Recent scholarship posits that citizens' lack of accurate information about inequality explains this empirical puzzle. In this paper, I argue that this explanation is insufficient as preferences for redistribution are contingent on the political process whereby taxes are collected and spent. I present evidence from a survey experiment where I manipulate a respondent's standing in the income distribution as well as the way in which tax revenues are transferred back to households. When transfers are made such that citizens understand the consequences to their net income, they state self-interested demands for redistribution. However, this result is diminished when individuals consider the real-world political process that determines how taxes are spent.
Keywords: Inequality, Preferences for Redistribution, Taxation, Self-interest, Public Policy
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