Support for redistribution is shaped by compassion, envy, and self-interest, but not a taste for fairness

Daniel Sznycer, Maria Florencia Lopez Seal, Aaron Sell, Julian Lim, Roni Porat, Shaul Shalvi, Eran Halperin, Leda Cosmides, John Tooby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations

Abstract

Why do people support economic redistribution? Hypotheses include inequity aversion, a moral sense that inequality is intrinsically unfair, and cultural explanations such as exposure to and assimilation of culturally transmitted ideologies. However, humans have been interacting with worse-off and better-off individuals over evolutionary time, and our motivational systems may have been naturally selected to navigate the opportunities and challenges posed by such recurrent interactions. We hypothesize that modern redistribution is perceived as an ancestral scene involving three notional players: the needy other, the better-off other, and the actor herself. We explore how three motivational systems-compassion, self-interest, and envy-guide responses to the needy other and the better-off other, and how they pattern responses to redistribution. Data from the United States, the United Kingdom, India, and Israel support this model. Endorsement of redistribution is independently predicted by dispositional compassion, dispositional envy, and the expectation of personal gain from redistribution. By contrast, a taste for fairness, in the sense of (i) universality in the application of laws and standards, or (ii) low variance in group-level payoffs, fails to predict attitudes about redistribution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8420-8425
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume114
Issue number31
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes

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