September 18, 2015


Why Income Inequality Isn't Going Anywhere : Rich elites--even rich liberal elites--don't believe in redistributing wealth. (Ray Fisman and Daniel Markovits, 9/17/15, Slate)

[O]ur results suggest that, at least when it comes to attitudes toward inequality, Fitzgerald is right: Elite Americans are not just middle-class people with more money. They display distinctive attitudes on basic moral and political questions concerning economic justice. Simply put, the rich place a much lower value on equality than the rest. What's more, this lack of concern about inequality among the elite is not a partisan matter. Even when they self-identify as progressive Democrats, elite Americans value equality less highly than their middle-class compatriots. [...]

We invited three very different classes of subjects to play our game and thus reveal their distribution preferences. The first came from the American Life Panel, or ALP, an Internet-based pool constructed by the RAND Corp. to resemble, as accurately as possible, the American public at large: It's composed of Americans from across the economic and social spectrum. The second class constituted an intermediate elite. It was made up of undergraduates at the University of California-Berkeley, one of the most selective colleges in America and indeed the world, and a subset from the American Life Panel filtered to hold post-B.A. degrees and enjoy household annual incomes of more than $100,000. The third and final class constituted an extreme elite, constructed from the student body at Yale Law School. The median annual income of recent Yale Law graduates exceeds $160,000; among its alumni are former President Clinton and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, as well as Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Sotomayor. Yale Law students constitute an extreme elite if ever there was one. (By comparing the behavior of Yale Law and Berkeley students, as well as the ALP elite, with that of the general population, we can have greater confidence that the differences we are noticing relate to eliteness rather than some idiosyncratic attribute of future lawyers or students at Yale.)

The experimental behaviors of these three subject classes--once again, making real allocations with real money--revealed stark differences between attitudes toward economic justice among ordinary Americans and among the elite. To begin with, the Berkeley and Yale subjects were twice as likely to be selfish as their compatriots in general. In this respect, intermediate and extreme elites stand together with each other, and stand apart from the rest of the country.

What's more, elite Americans show a far greater commitment to efficiency over equality than ordinary Americans. And this time, the bias toward efficiency increases with each increment of eliteness. The ALP subjects split roughly evenly between focusing on efficiency and focusing on equality; the Berkeley students favored efficiency over equality by a factor of roughly 3-to-2; and the Yale Law students favored efficiency by a factor of 4-to-1.

Yale Law students' overwhelming, indeed almost eccentric, commitment to efficiency over equality is all the more astonishing given that the students self-identified as Democrats rather than Republicans--and thus sided with the party that claims to represent economic equality in partisan politics--by a factor of more than 10-to-1. An elite constituted by highly partisan Democrats thus showed an immensely greater commitment to efficiency over equality than the bipartisan population at large.

Of course, the key to our future is that it is more efficxent to exploit technology to do away with jobs and to redistribute wealth at birth, rather than near death.

Posted by at September 18, 2015 3:26 PM

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