Does telling Swedes about the true income distribution make them more right-wing?

by on October 3, 2014 at 11:34 am in Data Source, Economics, Education, Political Science | Permalink

Maybe so.  Let’s hear from Mounir Karadja, Johanna Möllerström (my new colleague), and David Seim:

We study the extent to which people are misinformed about their relative position in the income distribution and the effects on preferences for redistribution of correcting faulty beliefs. We implement a tailor-made survey in Sweden and document that a vast majority of Swedes believe that they are poorer, relative to others, than they actually are. This is true across groups, but younger, poorer, less cognitively able and less educated individuals have perceptions that are further from reality. Using a second survey, we conduct an experiment by randomly informing a subsample about their true relative income position. Respondents who learn that they are richer than they thought demand less redistribution and increase their support for the Conservative party.

This result is entirely driven by prior right-of-center political preferences and not by altruism or moral values about redistribution. Moreover, the effect can be reconciled by people with political preferences to the right-of-center being more likely to view taxes as distortive and to believe that it is personal effort rather than luck that is most influential for individual economic success.

The paper (pdf) is here, and the pointer is from Gabriel Sahlgren.

1 Ray Lopez October 3, 2014 at 11:51 am

“Modern-day Republicans have become, quite simply, the Party of the One Percent – the Party of the Rich. ” – so, if you’re rich but ignorant of being rich, then I guess you become a (Swedish equivalent) Republican when informed of the same. Quite a narrow study if you ask me. Anecdotally, when I found I was in the 1% (Net worth > 8 M), I actually became more of a socialist. Since if it’s true TC’s thesis of Great Stagation is true, then we must spread the wealth to keep the hoi polloi placated.

2 Actual Libertarian October 3, 2014 at 8:04 pm

>Anecdotally, when I found I was in the 1% (Net worth > 8 M), I actually became more of a socialist.

That’s pathetic. You could have given your own money to charity instead of demanding forced redistribution from others.

3 Ray Lopez October 4, 2014 at 12:12 am

I have no intention of giving my money to charity, and have some tax avoidance schemes already in place. If I don’t have kids some undeserving relative will get my money. But I’m still more of a Socialist than I was before 2008, thanks to TC’s book Great Stagnation, which does make sense. Long term I remain a actual libertarian.

4 Marian Kechlibar October 4, 2014 at 2:52 am

First and foremost, you remain an amusing troll, Ray 🙂

5 Thomas October 4, 2014 at 3:11 am

The idea is to make everyone else give their money. Ray provides an apt example.

6 Michael October 4, 2014 at 8:47 am

He does give his money to charity–by way of Filipino prostitutes outside of Manila.

7 foosion October 3, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Other surveys show that most people dramatically underestimate inequality, both in the US and Sweden. If people are informed of the truth, do the underestimators become more redistributionist?

8 TallDave October 3, 2014 at 1:24 pm

The interesting thing about Sweden is that their brand of democratic socialism doesn’t have much central planning in it — they devolve powers locally to an extent that would be radical in the U.S. and most First World countries.

9 li zhi October 3, 2014 at 1:25 pm

I estimate that it is not possible to rationally believe a party controlling one house of congress as well as occupying the majority of the govenors’s mansions counts only 1% as its base. The statement is absurd or delusional, imho, or intended as political disinformation. I don’t know enough about Sweden to comment on the study except to wonder why transfer payments were not included and to puzzle over how “cognitive ability” was measured – last I heard we don’t even understand what that means, let alone have a way to reduce human cognition to a single parameter. Science magazine (Sep 26) had a short essay on the difference between conservatives and liberals views on government redistribution. The subject was pain (as in Clinton’s famous “I feel your pain” line): liberals address the pain they ascribe to others while conservatives believe that others falsely report pain. I’d add that discussions of a distribution (wealth, income, standard of living) as if it were a variable we can exert direct control over fundamentally requires a big government (ie Democratic) context. Some of us deny our ability to predict the effects any intervention will have (long or medium term) on “the” distribution, even if we allow that a single metric adquately captures something of interest (and many would say that effort, free time, family, and social activities are parameters as important as income is to an adequate representation of individual satisfaction. Focus on one crude parameter is simply misleading.)

10 XVO October 3, 2014 at 1:47 pm

IQ measures it pretty well. You need to take a closer look at it. Or you have and you’re a delusional equalist.

11 Donald Pretari October 3, 2014 at 2:16 pm

“Moreover, the effect can be reconciled by people with political preferences to the right-of-center being more likely to view taxes as distortive and to believe that it is personal effort rather than luck that is most influential for individual economic success.”

Now, there’s a surprise. It would be interesting to see how people view other people’s outcomes, given a range of scenarios. Of course, it doesn’t even follow that if you’re responsible for your success, I’m responsible for my lack of success. It’s just that it’s not enough that I need to be seen as successful, you must also be seen as unsuccessful for me to feel really special.

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