When does greater inequality lead to greater redistribution?

Henry Farrell reports:

Noam Lupu and Jonas Pontussen (PDF) have a piece on the relationship between inequality and distribution in the new American Political Science Review. There is a lot of debate about whether the level of economic inequality in society leads to greater or lesser distribution – what Lupu and Pontussen suggest is that the structure of inequality (that is – the more particular relationships between different segments in the income distribution, rather than some summary index) is more important. More particularly they argue that if one tries to hold racial and ethnic cleavages constant, the key factor determining redistribution is the income gap between middle income voters and lower income voters. Where this gap is low, middle class people feel some degree of solidarity with the poor and exhibit what Lupu and Pontussen describe as “parochial altruism.” That is, they are more likely to support income redistribution because they feel that the poor are in some sense, ‘like them.’ When the gap is high, middle class people will have a much weaker sense of solidarity with the poor, and hence be less supportive of redistribution. Lupu and Pontussen suggest that the US is an outlier, with weaker solidarity than the structure of US inequality would suggest. They argue that the explanation for this is straightforward – “it is clearly attributable to the high-concentration of racial-ethnic minorities in the bottom of the income distribution.” More bluntly put – middle class Americans feel less solidarity with the very poor because the very poor are more likely to be black.

Comments

"more like them" is more likely to be: have a similar work/ independence/ non-victim/ entitlement mentality.

Groups that study, do homework, graduate from high school (able to read, write, and do some math); get jobs and keep them for a year or more; not have children out of wedlock.

These are behavior indicators, not race-based indicators.

But yes, the very poor, white and black, don't graduate, don't keep jobs for over a year; and do have babies out wedlock -- all "choices" of the very poor.
But a much higher percentage of US born (not foreign born) blacks make this poverty choices. If there was actually no racism at all, but there was a behavior based non-solidarity, and a racial group had too little of the good behavior (acting "too white"), how could it be differentiated from racism?

Now I'm working in Rwanda, where average wages are about $50/month; but top middle natives make $500/month; and some (overpaid?) very top locals make even $5000/month.

It's very clearly an education/ jobs with foreign companies (like mine) difference for the still too few middle jobs. Top locals are exceptional outliers.

Middle class people feel solidarity with noble but unlucky. My father was an orphan and became a truck driver, and he's one of the most respected people in my extended family in spite of modest accomplishments by professional standards. That's because he was part of a dying breed, a Hank Hill type character with decent values that followed through with actions. People feel solidarity with Hank Hill. They don't feel solidarity with white trailer trash or the black underclass.

"But yes, the very poor, white and black, don't graduate, don't keep jobs for over a year; and do have babies out wedlock — all “choices” of the very poor."
"These are behavior indicators, not race-based indicators."

Personal responsibility, that is, holding people responsible for their choices, should definitely be a main component of anyone's morality. But I don't believe that it is adequate to make it the only component, especially when talking about patterns found in large groups of people. Ultimately people make certain choices because of genetic predisposition, environmental pressure that forces choices or limits ones options, and perhaps some choices are just a result of random processes in the brain. People who are not in these disadvantaged groups seem to at least have the *choice* to help change the environment for others. Government policy is one obvious solution to many people. If you could twiddle some knobs in our environment and have everyone making better choices how could you possibly justify against doing so? In the real world the issues are not this easy but some still have the *choice* to make a best effort at trying to understand and fix any problems out there.

" If there was actually no racism at all, but there was a behavior based non-solidarity, and a racial group had too little of the good behavior (acting “too white”), how could it be differentiated from racism?"

Answering this question means quantifying and separating out the genetic/environmental/random causes for this particular situation. The paper that was posted is working on one piece of the environmental puzzle. Overall it is a difficult task for science.

When I think of people who cry victim and have an out-sized sense of entitlement, the very first group I think of is the very poor.

Wait, no, it isn't.

"Redistribution" is a weasel word. It would be better to eschew it - or even better, to abjure it.

“it is clearly attributable to the high-concentration of racial-ethnic minorities in the bottom of the income distribution.”

Should we be a little more reluctant to state what is "clearly" going on inside other peoples' heads? I don't have access to the studies they reference to support this claim, but I am skeptical.

I agree, it is much more complicated than resorting to racial bias. To me it is more likely environmental and not genetic (supremely hard for me to accept genetic predisposition theories as well as racial explanations). There is just too much variation in the people involved. And bias and/or missed variables in the studies to draw such broad conclusions.

Perhaps by their logic the relatively recent influx of immigrants to Europe, and their proclivity to take advantage of generous social welfare benefits, is what is currently driving the rightward tilt of many members of the EU?

Instinctually, though, I agree with Tom Grey - I resent anyone of any race who makes poor choices and expects others to pay for them.

Also, what of the fact that America's social welfare system has grown, not shrunk, with our ethnic diversity?

But that's absolutely not true -- not in the slightest. Total (Fed/State/Local) Welfare Spending s a % of GDP was about 3% in 1970 and was about 3% prior to the Great Recession. Federal Welfare Spending has been around 2% over that time.

Please describe to me what the welfare state looked like in the super white America of the early 1900s and what it looks like in the much more diverse post-1965 America. There were NO "entitlement" programs before the 1930s. The "War on Poverty" coincides with the '65 immigration bill. Basic history, man. This is not even a question, let alone a tough one.

You're showing your ignorance badly. There isn't another modern democracy without 'entitlement' programs. And the US wasn't superwhite in the 1900s, we used racism to marginalize them.

The new racism is that the poor are poor because of black culture, but that isn't true. First, because whites, hispanics, asians are poor too. Second, because working class culture has always been troublesome. Strikes, riots, theft, etc. during your 'superwhite' era. If you weren't educated and grew up poor in the inner city you'd have 'bad' culture too. Just like if you're poor and educated in a rural area you'd be a redneck and expect us to pay for your postal service, highways, company tax breaks, football teams and education and look the other way while your farmers employ and abuse illegal immigrants.

Given the participation rate in the USA I would be cautious in drawing such conclusion. I don't think we can simply make the assumption at increases in participation rates causally create a preference for the left, as the study assumes. I think before we do that a model of the distribution of who doesn't participate and what variable induce the various segments' participation is needed.

"Perhaps by their logic the relatively recent influx of immigrants to Europe, and their proclivity to take advantage of generous social welfare benefits, is what is currently driving the rightward tilt of many members of the EU? "

The new European right is economically progressive. See for example this statement by Marine le Pen, the new leader of France's Front National:

“Every time an activity is transferred from the public to the private sector, the result is detrimental to equality and prices soar. I am therefore in favour of entrusting the public sector with transport, education, healthcare, the banks and the elderly. And I am also in favour of state intervention in strategic areas such as energy, communications, telecommunications and the media. I am also considering a fiscal revolution that would notably re-balance capital and labour”.

http://www.social-europe.eu/2011/02/marine-le-pen-is-opening-up-a-new-front-in-france/

By what logic do you call him "right" then?

"More bluntly put – middle class Americans feel less solidarity with the very poor because the very poor are more likely to be black."

More likely than the average population surely, but not more likely than in the poor population. There are more poor white folks than black.

More likely than the average population, and more likely in the minds of voters...which is what's important. Since 80% of Americans live in Metro Areas, middle class voters think of poor blacks in the ghetto when they think of welfare -- not poor whites in Appalachia.

Second the comments that the authors are too quick to cry racism - I've seen studies like this before (applied to Scandinavia and suggesting that greater immigration = lesser social solidarity = lessened support for social welfare / redistribution) and they tend to gloss over alternative explanations. However, I'll have to read this one; maybe there's more to it then the others. Still extremely skeptical though - concluding that "racism" is involved can often get you published where a conclusion more along the lines of "unfortunate historical coincidences leading to sticky socioeconomic disadvantages continue to harm the prospects of certain groups of people" might not.

Perfectly well in line with the general idea that politics is about relative prestige.

I don't know that I would believe his assumption without more evidence. I mean, there are nontrivial ethnic immigrant underclasses in France, the UK, etc.

In fact, this argument strikes me as being wrong on both counts, because the U.S. system gets a much larger proportion of revenue from the rich than the rest of the OECD.

"I mean, there are nontrivial ethnic immigrant underclasses in France, the UK, etc. "

- yes, and they put them in specially designed ghettos where authorities can keep an eye on them.

European countries have come to acknowledge that if they want to raise the revenue to pay for the welfare state, they're going to have to levy taxes broadly with a mechanism like the V.A.T.

Paging Bryan Caplan -- Researchers have understood for quite some time that ethnically heterogeneous societies are less likely to support income redistribution. And based on this research, we would be less likely to support income redistribution if we had a bunch of unskilled immigration.

Tom Grey's comment "“more like them” is more likely to be: have a similar work/ independence/ non-victim/ entitlement mentality" is typical to me of bigotry, because a negative assumption about the Other the first thing he leaps to. Bigotry? Yes. How would comments about non-victim mentality and entitlement spring to mind as being associated with minorities in the first place unless Tom associated them with minorities himself? Ah, but "I'm not a racist." Or "I'm not a bigot." Of course not. No one ever is. I have good friends who are black, I belive government should only do such and such, etc., bla bla. The fact that Tom links his assumption that minorities view themselves as dependent victims with a sense of entitlement points to the fact that he holds that pejorative view to be self-evident about a substantial number of human beings who are of a different ethnicity and/or social class than his, (he's not attributing these traits to himself). That is bigotry. What he should not be doing is attributing his view points onto entire classes of people. He should instead ask himself, 'to what extent is this true, even if a little bit, and what role do i, personally, play in that?' And he should come to terms with his gentle bigotry. To what does he himself feel entitled to, even if only a little? What does he feel victimized by, if only to a small degree? There is a list there, which he doubtless will be under some cognitive dissonance should he attempt to be honest about it. Bigotry is a form of projection.

Like Joe said Tom, how dare you comment about a substantial number of human beings who are different from you. Don't you realize that in this day and time, any negative assumptions along these lines will instantly brand you a bigot, or even worse, the dreaded "R" word? Joe is simply telling you that you aren't qualified to express an opinion, no matter how true, factual or otherwise accurate, because, well, because Joe doesn't agree.

Tom, this Joe thinks you are "spot on" with your observations.

You really kicked the shit out of that straw man, Joe Too. Solid effort.

Don’t you realize that in this day and time, any negative assumptions along these lines will instantly brand you a bigot, or even worse, the dreaded “R” word?

Joe Too, a whole lot of people who vote Republican aren't the least bit ashamed of it and don't at all mind getting the "R" word attached to them.

Sure, and in a better world they would at least feel guilty to vote Republican and perhaps might reform. But in the world we have, most of them show no remorse.

Except for Bush. A whole lot of Republicans are sorry about Bush and several have apologised to me about him.

Yeah, middle class whites are such racists for not wanting to surrender any more of their hard-earned income to the black poor.

Redistributon suggests that we are 'taking' the riches income and giving it to the poor. This is based on the assumption that people own all of their pretax income. Of course, taxation and property rights are legislated simultaneously so that is impossible.

In other words: we aren't redistributing it, because it wasn't theirs in the first place.

Cahal, good "social compact" point. I think the Lupu and Pontussen are over-simplifying a bit, but the idea that the middle class is either with the poor (in homogenous societies) or with the rich (heterogenous) does fit the US, Euro, and Latin Am. societies roughly. Each has a clear "other" like those famous Cadillac-driving black straw persons of the 1980s that drives the middle to vote to redistribute less of the rich's money.

Justice also falls into this -- power cocaine vs. crack cocaine sentencing in the US in the 90s is the perfect example. One is a white crime, the other a black, and the sentencing was about a 40x differential per gram. "Rich white Harvard kids buy cocaine, but they'll be my future coworkers when I'm rich, so cut them some slack."

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