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Public Opinion, the 1%, and Income Redistribution

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Abstract

Because of the skewed distribution of income and wealth, a majority of people could make significant financial gains by redistribution from the affluent minority. However, redistribution of this kind is not particularly popular. Moreover, the rapid increase in top salaries since the 1970s has not provoked a strong reaction from the public. This essay considers the paradox of public opinion on redistribution. There are many hypotheses, but until recently there has not been much empirical research. However, recent work on opinions about salaries suggests that most people have quite egalitarian standards of fairness, in which corporate executives would receive only a few times as much as average workers. At the same time, there is often a good deal of support for measures that make taxes less progressive, notably as the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. That is, people seem to think that high salaries are unfair, but do not necessarily support government efforts to move toward a “fair” distribution. The essay discusses some ways to reconcile this apparent contradiction. Two of the most promising are a lack of trust in government and moral objections to redistribution. However, we must also consider the possibility that the pattern of opinions is in some sense irrational: the challenge is to specify a theory of irrationality to make positive predictions. Finally, the essay discusses the availability of data on public opinion, and identifies two major needs: historical and comparative data. Keywords: redistribution; wealth; public opinion; social justice; rationality; self-interest

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... The current wage is more than a decade old. Rogue employers and greedy businesspeople are not popular (see, e.g., Rebovich and Kane 2002;Weakliem 2015). 6 And the new wage could be phased in over time, giving well-meaning employers the time they need to adjust. ...
... What it does do, however, is go some distance toward restoring the balance of power between workers and employers over the long run, a cause which is long overdue, by offering workers the support they need in the short run. Notes business and the elite (Weakliem 2015). Insofar as they exploit hostility to the better-off without transferring money to government, therefore, raising and enforcing the minimum wage may be ideal approaches to fostering redistribution. ...
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