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Full Access Not Asking for Much: Public Opinion and Redistribution from the Rich 1

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Not Asking for Much: Public Opinion and Redistribution from the Rich 1

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image of Comparative Sociology
For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

Abstract The logic of self-interest suggests that most people will favor imposing heavy taxes on the rich and distributing the proceeds among the general population, but in reality this is not a popular position. A number of explanations have been suggested, but there has been little systematic research. This paper reviews a wide range of survey data with the goal of identifying more or less promising explanations. Three receive clear support: most people underestimate the earnings of those at the top, believe that the chance of earning high incomes contributes to economic growth, and have little faith in the government’s ability to redistribute wealth. One can be rejected: that people tend to overestimate their own economic standing. Others receive mixed or moderate support. The paper concludes by discussing how public opinion may help to account for national differences in the concentration of wealth and income.

Abstract The logic of self-interest suggests that most people will favor imposing heavy taxes on the rich and distributing the proceeds among the general population, but in reality this is not a popular position. A number of explanations have been suggested, but there has been little systematic research. This paper reviews a wide range of survey data with the goal of identifying more or less promising explanations. Three receive clear support: most people underestimate the earnings of those at the top, believe that the chance of earning high incomes contributes to economic growth, and have little faith in the government’s ability to redistribute wealth. One can be rejected: that people tend to overestimate their own economic standing. Others receive mixed or moderate support. The paper concludes by discussing how public opinion may help to account for national differences in the concentration of wealth and income.

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2013-01-01
2016-12-08

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