Sunday, April 30, 2017

Inequality Isn’t the Real Issue: Research suggests that people care most about fair chances, not the distribution of wealth

By Christina Starmans, Mark Sheskin and Paul Bloom. Frm the WSJ. Dr. Starmans is a postdoctoral associate in psychology, Dr. Sheskin is a postdoctoral associate in cognitive science, and Dr. Bloom is a professor of psychology, all at Yale University. Excerpts:
"we can find no evidence that people are, in fact, concerned with economic inequality for its own sake."

"Americans were unaware of just how unequal their society is: They thought that the bottom 40% had 9% of the wealth and the top 20% had 59%, while the actual proportions were 0.3% and 84%."

"people thought on average that, in the perfect society, individuals in the top 20% should have more than three times as much money as individuals in the bottom 20%.

A similar endorsement of inequality appears in studies done in 16 other countries, and it holds for men and women, people on the right and left of the political spectrum, and teenagers."


"Other research points to an even greater acceptance of inequality, with one study finding that people prefer for the richest 20% to have 50 times the wealth of the poorest 20%."

"In other studies, psychologists have been careful to separate concerns about equality from concerns about fairness. When you do this, both adults and children reject unfairly equal distributions in favor of distributions that are fair but unequal. For example, in a 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General by Alex Shaw and Kristina Olson, 6- to 8-year-olds insisted on dividing rewards equally between two boys who both cleaned a room. When one boy was described as having done more work, however, the children demanded that the harder worker receive a larger reward." 

"few people worry about inequalities between the very rich and the very, very rich, even though the inequalities might be greater, both absolutely and proportionately, than the inequalities between the poor and the moderately well-off."

"we think that many of these equality-obsessives are in the grips of a false consciousness. They fail to distinguish worries about inequality from worries about unfairness. They are confused about what they really want. Human beings, the research suggests, are not natural-born socialists, but we do care about justice."

"When is it unjust to treat people the same—that is, which factors (hard work, skill, need, morality) are fair grounds for inequality and which are not? Which resources should be distributed on the basis of merit?"

"There is no consensus about what a perfectly just world would look like, but for most of us, it will be an unequal one."

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