In my Openness to Creative Destruction, I claim that most people do not care as much about inequality per se, as they do about unfair inequality. What they care about is the differences in income be roughly related to differences in contribution. I illustrate this by recounting a famous experiment that Frans de Waal conducted with capuchin monkeys. The evidence in the study quoted below, supports my claim.
(p. B3) In 2018, four economists at the Center for Experimental Research on Fairness, Inequality and Rationality at the Norwegian School of Economics conducted a huge experiment — mostly via face-to-face interviews — using the Gallup World Poll. The Norwegian team — Bertil Tungodden, Alexander Cappelen, Ingvild Almas and Erik O. Sorensen — worked with Gallup to survey 65,000 people across 60 countries about their beliefs related to the gaps between the rich and the poor.
Part of the survey was an experiment. Respondents were randomly assigned to different conditions and presented a real-life scenario: Two people were recently hired to independently complete a short assignment; they were both paid, but one was given an additional $6.
In the first group, survey takers were told that the additional $6 was given out randomly. In the second group, they were told the $6 went to the worker who was more productive in completing the assignment. In both cases, respondents were asked how they would divide the additional earnings: whether they would transfer none of it, some of it or all of it to the other worker.
. . .
American conservatives might assume liberals are averse to merit-based compensation. The experiment proves that’s not so. When told the bonus payment was made only to the most productive worker, only 13 percent of the liberals transferred all of the money equally to the less productive worker, which is within the margin of error of the American conservative response (10 percent).
Americans both liberal and conservative were more likely than most people worldwide to accept merit-based income differences. As one of the study’s investigators, Mr. Tungodden, mentioned in his public presentation on the study, people in richer countries were more likely than people in poorer countries to allow merit-based differences. In the rich and more egalitarian country of Norway, 88 percent of respondents transferred the bonus payment equally when told it was allocated by chance, but only 33 percent did so when allocated by merit.
For the full commentary, see:
Jonathan Rothwell. “THE UPSHOT; Think Only Liberals Will Share the Wealth? A Survey May Surprise You.” The New York Times (Friday, February 14, 2020): B3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary was last updated February 14, 2020, and has the title “THE UPSHOT; Experiment Shows Conservatives More Willing to Share Wealth Than They Say.”)
The soon-to-be-published version of the research discussed above, is:
Almås, Ingvild, Alexander W. Cappelen, and Bertil Tungodden. “Cutthroat Capitalism Versus Cuddly Socialism: Are Americans More Meritocratic and Efficiency-Seeking Than Scandinavians?” Journal of Political Economy (forthcoming 2020).
My book, mentioned above, is:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.