Thursday, August 3, 2017

Compassion, Envy, and Redistribution

Feed the babies
Who don't have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Living in the streets
Oh, oh there's a solution
--Steve Miller Band

Interesting multi-disciplinary, multi-national study on what motivates individual support for economic distribution. The fundamental hypotheses propose that various motivational systems--compassion, envy, self-interest, and taste for fairness--nfluence a person's support for economic redistribution. Scales used in the study can be found here. Over 6000 respondents from four countries were obtained.

Among the less interesting findings was that self-interest was positively associated with support for forced redistribution. Stated differently, if you perceived that you would benefit from the redistribution program, then you were in favor of it. Not a surprise.

A more interesting finding was that there was no significant relationship between taste for fairness and support for redistribution. This is surprising to me. The researchers were careful to measure fairness using two separate underlying definitions consistent with common views--i.e., fairness under law and fairness in outcomes. Neither of the fairness scales were found related to support for distribution in 'all-in' regression models.

Perhaps this was due to high cross correlations with other constructs. Unfortunately, correlation matrices are not available and the researchers, while conducting some assessment of internal consistency of their scales (e.g., Cronbach's alpha), did not evaluate/report measures of discriminant validity. This is a limitation of this study that lends to the feel that this is a 'working paper' that has been published in a 'preliminary edition' of a proceeding as indicated on the pdf masthead.

The most interesting findings concerned the compassion and envy constructs (both measured with multi-item psychometric scales). Personal compassion was not associated with support for coerced economic redistribution. Instead, compassion was positively related to charitable giving and voluntary work with the needy. Individuals who did support forced redistribution were less prone to charitable giving.

Envy was found to be positively associated with forced redistribution. Moreover, based on several cases posed in the study, respondents who measured high on the envy scale were prone to tax the wealthy (i.e., redistribute economic resources) more even though poor people would receive less.

Results of this study suggest that compassionate people do not favor forced redistribution. Rather, they prefer voluntary charity. Envious people, on the other hand, support forced redistribution. However, envious support for the forced redistribution may not be due to desire to help the poor as much as it is due to desire to hurt the rich.

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