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Social Justice or Malicious Envy?
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Death and taxes may be inevitable, but it is only the latter which gather vocal apologists. Tax, these enthusiasts aver, is a good thing because it makes good things happen: hospitals, schools, roads, clean water and government inspectors maintaining standards.

Certainly, taxes may provide services at better standards and lower costs than could be obtained by individuals acting on their own. Rubbish collection is one example, military defence another. It is very probably true of public health, where small contributions can obtain considerable communal benefits. However, in the UK only a minor proportion of taxes are spent on such matters. Healthcare, education and defence account for 36% of spending. Another 36% is taken up by welfare and pensions, which in older times were considered a personal responsibility. The last third is general government activities. For example, “Protection” relates to police, fire services, courts and jails. “Interest” is the cost of government spending more than it raises in taxes. The “Other” category covers a very wide range of interventions, some 28 in total, several with welfare connections.

Proponents of higher taxes might be motivated purely by the overall advantage of government procurement of services as opposed to private provision. On the other hand, it might be due to the wish to obtain benefits. Could other motives explain support for higher taxation?

Chien-An Lin and Timothy C. Bates at the University of Edinburgh decided to find out.

Each is to count for one and none for more than one: Predictors of support for economic redistribution

https://psyarxiv.com/3jq4c/

There is a great deal in this paper, so I have had to summarize, and to concentrate on the main findings, particularly of the first study, and not the second replication.

They recruited a representative sample and then gave them questionnaires to complete. They set standards so that anyone who answered quickly and without thought was excluded (no one did that). They tested every questionnaire for consistency (Cronbach Alpha) and all of them are sufficiently consistent, so the answers are not distorted by a few freak questions. I have put in all the detail because these scales are not well known, so examples are helpful.

A total of 403 participants were recruited using Prolific Academic (268 females, mean age 37 years, SD = 12.19). We pre-registered a criterion that subjects who completed the questionnaire less than 20 seconds would be excluded. No subjects met this criterion. The racial mix of the sample was representative, with participants identifying as White (n = 366; 90.8%), Black (n = 14; 3.5%), Mixed (n = 14; 3.5%), Asian (n = 6; 1.5%) and other (n = 1; 0.2%), 2 participants (0.5%) chose not to answer.

Attitudes toward redistribution were measured with the 11-item support for economic redistribution scale Sznycer et al. (2017). An example reverse-scored item is “Wealthy people should not be taxed more heavily than others”. Each item used a Likert response scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The Cronbach Alpha of economic redistribution in our sample was 0.90.

Communal fairness and instrumental harm were measured using the Oxford Utilitarianism Scale (Kahane et al., 2018). This 9-item instrument consists of two subscales: Impartial Beneficence, which we use to assess communal fairness; An example item is “It is just as wrong to fail to help someone as it is to actively harm them yourself”) and Instrumental Harm (example item: “It is morally right to harm an innocent person if harming them is a necessary means to helping several other innocent people”). Scores were on a Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). In our sample, Cronbach Alphas were 0.63 and 0.69 for Communal fairness and Instrumental Harm.

Compassion, envy, and self-interest were measured as in Lin and Bates (2021).

The 10-item dispositional compassion scale Goldberg (1999); Sznycer et al. (2017) reliably (Cronbach Alpha = 0.80 in our sample) assesses compassion based on Likert responses from 1 (very inaccurate) to 5 (very accurate) to content such as “I suffer from others’ sorrows”.

Self-interest used a single item: “Imagine that a policy of higher taxes on the wealthy is implemented. What overall impact do you think the higher taxes on the wealthy would have on you?” with responses on a 1 to 5 scale: My own economic situation would 1: significantly worsen; slightly worsen; stay the same; slightly improve; 5 significantly improve.

The 5-item Malicious Envy Scale (Lange & Crusius, 2015) scores items from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree) with example content including “If other people have something that I want for myself, I wish to take it away from them”. The Cronbach Alpha of Malicious Envy was 0.80 in our sample.

Wealthy-harming preference was measured using a scenario choice Sznycer et al. (2017). Scenario one (wealth harming) was “The top 1% wealthiest individuals pay an extra 50% of their income in additional taxes, and as a consequence of that the poor get an additional £100 million per year (the extra 50% in taxes paid in former fiscal years leaving the wealthiest with relatively less taxable income)”.
Scenario two (helping the poor) was “The top 1% wealthiest individuals pay an extra 10% of their income in additional taxes, and as a consequence of that the poor get an additional £200 million per year (the extra 10% in taxes paid in former fiscal years leaving the wealthiest with relatively more taxable income)”.

Finally, support for coercive redistribution was measured with a 19-item coercive redistribution scale generated for this study (see supplementary material detailing development of this scale and the refined, 5-item short version used in study 2). Example items include “People questioning redistribution of wealth should be punished” and “If the wealthy try to avoid tax, it would be permissible to use mild torture to reveal the money they are hiding from the poor”. Responses were on a Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Factor scores on the first component of a factor analysis of the 19-item coercive redistribution scale were used to score subjects.

So, sex and compassion do not have significant effect on whether respondents are willing to be coercive to achieve redistributive taxation. These “mild torturers” were motivated mostly by malicious envy, instrumental harm, self-interest and (least of all) communal fairness. The paper looks at the basis of “communal fairness” in more detail, and it has a sting in the tail, in that you have to be accepted into the commune before you can benefit from the proclaimed fairness. For example, communal fairness is a good explanation of honour killings: they are justified because they preserve the purity of the commune.

All these studies together account for over 40% of the variance in support for redistribution, more than achieved in any previous study.

In summary, not all requests for redistributive taxation arise from noble motives.

 
• Category: Science • Tags: Government Spending, Taxes 
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  1. res says:

    In summary, not all requests for redistributive taxation arise from noble motives.

    Not exactly surprising ; )

    But I did find the degree to which that is true surprising.

    • Replies: @very old statistician
  2. Another 36% is taken up by welfare and pensions, which in older times were considered a personal responsibility.

    This is a misleading statement. Pensions have been considered part of compensation for over 50 years, and considered a form of deferred wages. Governments often do not pay their share of pension contributions into the pension plan/fund until retirement, and then as a lump sum of a calculated actuarial value, not the actual value that the into the pension contributions would have earned over length of the retiree’s employment. True pension plans cannot be “mixed” with any other funds. They are “stand alone” funds, not part of general revenue or expenditures, and definitely not part of welfare. What is rarely mentioned, is that pension plan sponsors own the surplus as well as the deficit. In the 1980s, when plans had large surpluses, the sponsors would reclaim the surplus. Here, in my city, the city council has taken $386 million of surplus, over the life of the civic employees’ pension plan, and now are complaining that, for the first time, the plan has a deficit for which they are responsible. Governments do the same.
    As for “older times were considered a personal responsibility”, that must be ancient times, as pensions have been around for almost 200 years, and welfare, through churches, much longer.

    • Replies: @Rosie
  3. dearieme says:

    pensions have been around for almost 200 years

    The earliest pensions that I can remember being mentioned in school history lessons were those that Henry VIII paid to the monks expelled from the monasteries. But there are older pensions than that.

    https://www.pensionsarchive.org.uk/84/

    I presume that the Roman soldiers in Britannia got pensions – in the form of land or cash lump sum? – at the end of their service, so that’s nearly two thousand years hereabouts.

    The old system of buying commissions in the army served in place of pensions: you sold your colonelcy (or whatever) when you retired.

  4. UNIT472 says:

    I don’t think this has much to do with how the modern government works. Central Banks monetary policies decide who gets what and, surprise, it is not the ‘people’.

    For example, a few years ago when I retired I put $400,000 with an insurance company. They agreed to pay me a bit over 3% on this money. The US 10 year was earning about 2.7% at the time. I didn’t want market risk and was willing to accept the lower return in exchange for safety and ease of mind. I would take the interest income and leave the principle to my heirs.

    The economy was supposedly recovering and the need for ’emergency monetary policy’ ( QE ) was no longer necessary. Guess what. Instead of the $1200 per month in interest income ( taxable) I was getting, I am now getting $330 per month. What’s my effective tax rate?

  5. onebornfree says: • Website

    “Certainly, taxes may provide services at better standards and lower costs than could be obtained by individuals acting on their own”

    Complete and utter b.s.

    “The kind of man who wants the government to adopt and enforce his ideas is always the kind of man whose ideas are idiotic” H.L.Mencken

    “Everything government touches turns to crap” Ringo Starr

    “Government is a disease masquerading as its own cure” Robert LeFevere

    No regards, onebornfree

  6. @res

    why the surprise? or were you just being nice?

    Here is something I did not know before the internet was invented —– that after it was invented, I would be able to read comment threads on controversial subjects I know about, and most of the time, almost all of the commenters I disagree with (or as the case might be, almost all the commenters I agree with) would be obviously fueled by resentment.

    The comment sections at Unz review, and at pretty much every place on the internet with comment sections that deal with subjects over which people might feel resentment, are ALWAYS almost overrun by people who are not sure of their facts but who are certain that someone might want to hear why they are full of resentment. Not always, but almost always.

    AND ALMOST ALWAYS WOULD BE A LARGE NUMBER IF “almost always” WERE AN INTEGER NUMBER ….. (number theory joke, it helps if you have read the canonical Dover paperbacks on the subject ….)

    • Replies: @res
    , @Resartus
    , @Anonymous
  7. As I’ve aged, I’ve realized more and more why Envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

    When I was younger, I thought it was just a throwaway one, much less interesting or powerful than lust, greed, pride, or wrath. Certainly, its often far less articulated in moves and TV shows, e.g. in the classic movie Seven, unlike the other graphically depicted sins, envy is merely assigned to Kevin Spacey’s killer, who targets his victims because he is envious of the detective who pursues him and the detective’s life. He is summarily and ungraphically executed with a single gunshot.

    However, in dealing with the rise of communism, I’ve seen example after example of how pure jealousy and spite motivate the left. These people feel a deep rooted hatred of someone having something better than them, without reason. It’s one thing to dislike a man’s gains for doing something underhanded, but its just evil envy of someone being a little bit better off than you that drives a lot of socialism and communism.

    The negroes have a term for envy these days: “haters.” Much of the Left is truly drunk on haterade.

    • Replies: @YetAnotherAnon
  8. The only reason, the only purpose, for taxation is redistribution. Only the rich should pay taxes and they should be taxed confiscatorially. Making the rich un-rich is the only reason for taxes. Not funding the government.

    And, btw, McMansionettes, I mean the ultra-rich, people you cannot even conceive. Not the guy down the street with a trust fund.

  9. TTSSYF says:

    In summary, not all requests for redistributive taxation arise from noble motives.

    It’s interesting to see it quantified, but I don’t find it too surprising. Obama wanted to raise the capital gains tax, not because it would bring in more tax revenue (he acknowledged that it wouldn’t), but because it was “fair.” And what is CRT if not a big bowl of wishful thinking, resentment, and envy?

  10. BCB232 says:

    Very interesting. Professor, does this fit with Edward Dutton’s spiteful mutant hypothesis and what do you think of his hypothesis?

    The confidence intervals seem large.

  11. dearieme says:

    Thou shalt not covet.

    Nobody knows when that stuff was written: around the time of the Babylonian Exile maybe. One writer argues that the OT was composed in Alexandria, simultaneously written in Hebrew and Greek i.e. long after the Exile. Anyway, whenever it was written, and by whom, bits of it are awfully good. The commandment against coveting is one of the best bits though it gets ignored an awful lot.

    P.S. “Thou shalt not covet” seems to me to preclude the notion that Christian Socialism can exist.

  12. hillaire says:

    What is clearly evident to those still capable of critical thinking, for the credentialed imbecile the application of ‘scientisms’ and’ statistics’ must be applied (no doubt to be re-evaluated and amended at a later date by other credentialed imbeciles using further scientisms and statistics)… this ensures further fiscal opportunities and the possibility of further ivory tower credentialisms and government kick-backs…

    for the hard of thinking this now represents the scientific method:

    They recruited a representative sample and then gave them questionnaires to complete. They set standards so that anyone who answered quickly and without thought was excluded (no one did that). They tested every questionnaire for consistency (Cronbach Alpha {credentialed imbecilism}) and all of them are sufficiently consistent, so the answers are not distorted by a few freak questions. I have put in all the detail because these scales are not well known, so examples are helpful.

    Of course I am in agreement with the imbeciles findings… but that is because I am aware that a fat envious pink haired pig who practices social jewstice.. won’t be motivated by altruism.

  13. res says:
    @very old statistician

    My surprise at the degree was mostly a belief in the apparently obsolete concept of noblesse oblige. Along with people understanding that the nice things society at large provides have to be paid for somehow.

    You comment provides a useful if depressing lens to read comments here through. Distressing how well it works for some of my comments. Though resentment can come from either envy or a sense of injustice, and I think those two are different. Though on inspection that difference might be subtle if it exists at all.

    Is your joke something to do with un/countably infinite or something else?

    • Replies: @very old statistician
  14. Resartus says:
    @very old statistician

    but who are certain that someone might want to hear why they are full of resentment.

    Don’t believe it is resentment…
    But “Disbelief” that anyone would have a different
    Opinion/Outlook/Agenda than they do…..

    IMO (for what it’s worth), that seems to be the biggest driver
    of current Mental Issues (especially in Activists/SJWs)…..

  15. It’s said that the measure of a society is how it treats its least fortunate. Maybe a truer measure of society is who creates its least fortunate, and then convinces them that the problem is the other unfortunates.

    Envy doesn’t really cover it. Affluent people are virtually driven by envy, whereas poor people are more likely to be driven by survival, or despair. Complaining about the use of taxes is mostly a distraction to get people looking at the class immediately above or below them, rather than the actual source of their misfortune — which is half themselves, which nobody wants to admit, and half the very top, which nobody thinks they can do anything about. So we continue to argue amongst ourselves while we get weaker and they build even stronger barriers.

  16. If you consider a 50% tax rate on high incomes to be “wealth harming” – which it isn’t, it’s a tax on income not on accrued wealth, though it will reduce future accrued wealth – then you have to acknowledge that all post-war UK governments up to Thatcher, including those of McMillan, Churchill, Home and Heath were “wealth harmers”.

    I believe marginal tax rates were up to 98% in the Sixties.

    • Replies: @Philip Owen
  17. @R.G. Camara

    “pure jealousy and spite motivate the left. These people feel a deep rooted hatred of someone having something better than them”

    That was back in the “Occupy Wall Street” days. The oligarchs control tech and media, and have brilliantly switched the hatred onto straight white males.

    Hell, all the people who fund the left are billionaires.

    I don’t think its envy, it’s survival. These people want you to live in the pod and eat the bugs, if you haven’t noticed. They want to teach your kids to hate their forebears. They want to farm us like cattle.

  18. Malla says:

    It is transfer of wealth from Whites to others. Also Income taxes are to prevent many from becoming financially independent.
    Your income is your hard work and labour, Government never did that labour, you did.

  19. Anonymous[124] • Disclaimer says:
    @very old statistician

    The comment sections at Unz review…are ALWAYS almost overrun by people who…are certain that someone might want to hear why they are full of resentment

    Hmmm. Seems like YOU “resent” that.

    Amirite? (<:)

    • Replies: @very old statistician
  20. Some of the questions were economically naive. Over a wide range, tax take rises with lower taxes as tax avoidance and evasion become less worthwhile. High rates of tax can lead to less tax raised.

    I am not surprised that demands for higher are driven more by envy than compassion for the poor. Debate a socialist or trade union offIcial on Twitter and you will quickly reach that conclusion. Debate a religious person and compassion takes over but there are few religious people around. The god Mammon has many followers.

    I like this study. It appeals to my confirmation bias.

  21. @YetAnotherAnon

    I briefly paid 70% in the late ’80’s.

  22. Rosie says:
    @Curmudgeon

    As for “older times were considered a personal responsibility”, that must be ancient times, as pensions have been around for almost 200 years, and welfare, through churches, much longer.

    Deficit hawks worry about the inflationary effects of monetary policy and spending, but never tax cuts. (This is not necessarily hypocritical, to be sure.) But inflationary effects cannot be ignored. I am skeptical that individual responsibility for retirement is realistic. For whatever reason, when people have more disposable income, the price of housing goes up. Hence, those who decline to save for retirement have an advantage in securing desirable housing, which pressures others to forgo retirement savings, and on and on it goes.

    The only realistic solution is forced savings, it seems to me. Maybe I’m wrong.

    • Replies: @Curmudgeon
  23. @res

    Is your joke something to do with un / countably infinite or something else ?

    Well, if it wasn’t funny it wasn’t a joke …. but yes, I was referring to the references number theorists often make, in the first chapters of their “books for the common reader” (hence the reference to Dover paperbacks, where number theory popularizations are still published and sold, decades after the professors that wrote them retired) to the mathematical fact that there are as many integers as there are unreal numbers, if you wait long enough …. meaning, basically, at some point “ALMOST ALWAYS”, if it were a number, would ordinately correspond to an unreal number while still being a real number.

  24. @Anonymous

    There are people in this world who have something close to an angelic disposition.

    Not me.

    (not that there is a lot of resentment in my comments —- the only people who I am consciously unkind to are people with science arrogance —- and sometimes I, one of the closest living relatives of the member of our Bell family who you may have heard about, like to treat people who consider me as their intellectual inferior (they might be right, but most of the time nothing I said justifies them in thinking that) in the way one treats a younger friend who needs to learn that, no matter how proud we are of our achievements, we are —– almost all of us, with a few exceptions —- more or less clueless, unless we put in the effort, in the realm of any field of science into which we have not previously poured our heart and soul (or at least watched, with the humble appreciation all scientists should have, the facts of our chosen field as they graciously unfolded on our expeditions) – for example, the suburban expeditions I myself have taken, not only in the Northern Hemisphere but also far below the EQUATOR —- into the suburban nights (Billions of suburban nights, no matter how mediocre you think suburbia might be, have been experienced by hundreds of millions of people who are at heart poets) to watch the fireflies, as they repeat, or start over again, with only their beautiful small cherished totally loveable glow, the patterns- something more than a orange smudge in the twilight, something less than a work of art at the level of a draftsman WHO UNDERSTANDS EVEN IN A FIREFLY-lit night what is good in this world, and can draw it — the image of something that is BEAUTIFUL AND CHERISHED IN THE HEARTS of anyone who has the heart to love, nights, fireflys – the lineaments of a beloved memory – to change gears from the mysterious and the beautiful to the everyday —- or for example our expeditions on the (never adequately filmed as the near infinite playhouse of humanity that it is ) Metro to watch the subdued looks of the psychologically unfortunate denizens of WHATEVER IT IS IN THIS WORLD THAT CONSTITUTES THAT WONDERFUL PLACE where we can look at others with compassion and understanding, and can understand why they look so sad on the last few minutes of their subway ride from where they were to where they will be —- Freud never commented on that, Otto Rank, who was more concerned with the creatives among us, never commented on that, but nevertheless —– nevertheless, when someone asks me if I have expressed resentment from time to time, I can say, yes I have, but I have looked at, and been looked at, tens of thousands of times, by people who know,when they are looking at me, that they are looking at a fellow human, with a kind heart, and I HAVE KNOWN THE SAME ABOUT THEM.

    On comment threads, on the other hand ….. well, fortunately, comment threads are not real.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  25. @James Thompson

    One of those poems that could not be better written. (Adlestrop, by Edward Thomas …..)

    For the record, I am not a lyric poet and even if I were, My life has been more along the lines of Walter de la Mare’s “At the Natural History Museum” (where the poet, who is enchanted, during a weekend tour of some off-the-beaten-path seaside resorts, is enchanted in a local natural history museum by the exquisitely natural diorama wherein a great auk is displayed, but notices a young couple who have rushed in to the little local museum just to stay dry from the rain, and reflects “they, a young couple in love, look at each other with excitement and love, and I, an old poet, look at the great auk, and the great auk looks at me…”)

    • Replies: @dearieme
  26. dearieme says:
    @very old statistician

    Thomas enlisted in the infantry in 1915 and was killed two years later in the Battle of Arras, while the first edition of his Poems (1917) was being prepared for press.

  27. Dearieme — Thanks —- I did not know he enlisted (I knew he died, but I did not know he enlisted).
    Yes, he was one of the best who ever lived.

  28. @Rosie

    I’m not opposed to “forced” savings. Pension plans, set up as trusts, are a more efficient way of doing that, because of the pooled risk of plan members. In the US, Social Security began running into problems when it stopped being a trust in the early 70s.
    In pension plans that are not trusts, the “sponsor” whether a company or government, owns the surplus of the plans. Often, the surplus it taken, or employer contribution holidays result. There are many studies that have shown defined benefit plans cost less than defined contribution plans. That is one reason Wall Street wants an end to defined benefit plans. The other, of course, is that the large “institutional investors” have enough assets to be able to “move” the market. If they ever got their act together, they could crush many Wall Street with their $3.4 trillion in assets.
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/188683/us-defined-benefit-pension-plan-total-assets-since-1990/

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