Those Who Favor Income Redistribution Are Less Happy and Less Generous.--

Last fall and winter, I circulated a paper on the relationship of people’s views on income redistribution and capitalism to traditional racism and to intolerance for unpopular groups. I presented it to Gary Becker’s and Dick Posner’s Rational Choice Workshop at the University of Chicago and to the Law, Economics, and Organization Workshop at Yale.

With the publication of Arthur C. Brooks’ new book Who Really Cares (tip for the news story to Instapundit), which presents data showing that conservatives tend to be more generous than non-conservatives, I decided to put a full PDF copy of my paper on SSRN. It appears that our analyses directly overlap only slightly, though they are certainly generally complementary.

In the field of social psychology, it is commonly believed that people support capitalism and oppose greater income redistribution because they are racist or want to dominate other people or groups. Indeed, a study of college students in the United States and secondary students in Sweden found that attitudes supporting capitalism were positively associated with racism and an orientation toward social dominance (Sidanius & Pratto, 1993). In my draft article I expand and test this thesis using 16 nationally representative General Social Surveys conducted by the National Opinion Research Center between 1980 and 2004.

In later posts, I will discuss my main results, but in this post I want to confirm one of Brooks’ findings (in chapter 3 of his book)--those who oppose greater government income redistribution tend to give much more to charity. What follows is a shortened version of one small section of my paper (the paper includes relevant charts).

In the 1996 General Social Survey, about 900 respondents were asked: “On how many days in the last 7 days, have you felt . . .” happy, sad, lonely, calm, anxious, angry, tense and angry, and twelve other emotions. These results were compared to the results on an income redistribution question:

EQWLTH: “Some people think that the government in Washington ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor . . . . Think of a score of 1 as meaning that the government ought to reduce the income differences between rich and poor, and a score of 7 meaning that the government should not concern itself with reducing income differences.”

Strong redistributionists (category 1) reported that they “worried a lot about little things” on about one more day a week than strong anti-redistributionists (category 7). They also reported being “lonely” and being unable to “shake the blues” on about an additional day a week. Strong redistributionists (category 1) also reported about one fewer day a week on which they were “happy,” “contented,” and “at ease.”

In terms of relative odds, strong redistributionists (category 1) had about two to three times higher odds of reporting that in the prior seven days they were “angry” (2.0 times higher odds), “mad at something or someone” (1.9 times), “outraged at something somebody had done (1.9 times), sad (2.1 times), lonely (2.3 times), and unable to “shake the blues” (3.5 times). Similarly, anti-redistributionists had about two to four times higher odds of reporting being happy (3.8 times) or at ease (2.1 times). The data are consistent with redistributionists in the general public being more angry, sad, lonely, worried, and restless, and less happy, at ease, and interested in life.

Not only do redistributionists report more anger, but they report that their anger lasts longer. Further, when asked about the last time they were angry, strong redistributionists were more than twice as likely as strong opponents of leveling to admit that they responded to their anger by plotting revenge. Last, both redistributionists and anti-capitalists expressed lower overall happiness, less happy marriages, and lower satisfaction with their financial situations and with their jobs or housework.

But do these attitudes have behavioral consequences? In other words, are the data consistent with the hypothesis that anti-redistributionists are more generous or altruistic? Data from self-reports appear to support the notion that those who oppose income redistribution are somewhat more altruistic in their behavior than redistributionists. Compared to those favoring greater income redistribution, anti-redistributionists are more likely to report that they donated money to charities, religious organizations, and political candidates (p<.000000001). This hypothesized effect remains significant (p=.001) after controlling for race, gender, age, income, and education. Anti-redistributionists were also more likely to report having returned money after receiving too much change, and to have looked after plants, pets, or mail while someone was away. The one sort of altruistic behavior the redistributionists were more likely to engage in was giving money to a homeless person on the street. Thus, it appears that those who wanted the government to promote more income leveling were less likely to be generous themselves in their patterns of charitable donations and some other altruistic behaviors.

Among the blogs noting or discussing the philanthropy issue are:
Res Publica,
Blogs of War,
American Conservative Daily,
Truth About Everything.

UPDATE: Below some commenters speculate that the pattern of greater donations to charity by anti-redistributionists is trivial in size or simply a function of religion. But anti-redistributionists give more to secular (non-religious) charities as well. Brooks reports (p. 56) that strong anti-redistributionists gave 12 times more money to charity than strong redistributionists, and 9 times more to secular (non-religious) causes.

In my own analysis of donation (which was simply part of a paragraph in a much longer paper), I expected to find larger donations and a greater frequency of donation for anti-redistributionists, but I expected that to disappear entirely when one controlled for income. As expected, the effect is lessened but to my surprise, it still remains statistically significant.

2D UPDATE: The insightful Ralph Luker at Cliopatria briefly comments:

Arthur C. Brooks' new book, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, is likely to be controversial and his data needs to be tested. But would it be surprising if rightists placed greater trust in private initiatives to do what leftists expect of government?

More at:

Mirror of Justice (Greg Sisk),
Political Pit Bull.