A Brookings Working Paper on Redistribution Spurs Discussion

April 22, 2015

A working paper by ISPS Affiliates Vivekinan Ashok, Ebonya Washington, and Princeton’s Ilyana Kuziemko, finds that although economic inequality has increased since 1970, Americans support for redistribution policies has remained flat and among certain groups, the elderly and African-Americans, has actually fallen. Published in The Brookings Papers of Economic Activity (BPEA), “Support for Redistribution in an Age of Rising Inequality: New Stylized Facts and Some Tentative Explanations” has been cited by several journalists recently and is stirring up the debate on whether the public supports redistribution of wealth. 

In The New York Times, Thomas Edsall in ”Obama, Hands Off My Medicare” suggests that older voters’ retreat from redistribution is due to Obamacare being financed by Medicare cuts, thereby making Medicare beneficiaries worry that any new government program will come at the expense of current ones. In the article, Edsall also cites Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s work on how to understand the logic of working-class white “support for the G.O.P. in an era of runaway inequality.”

In Upshot, Neil Irwin in “Why Americans Don’t Want to Soak the Rich” concludes that the question isn’t why they don’t, but who exactly is being counted as rich and who exactly will benefit from such taxing?

In The Economist, the writer compares the British system to the United States and suggests that any effort to tax the wealthy, could prove less effective than imagined and, if badly designed, could do more harm than good. 

In the New YorkerJohn Cassidy in “Is Support for Income Redistribution Really Falling?” contests the idea that public support for income redistribution is on the wane, and suggests that the evidence is more favorable if the question is couched in different terms.

And William A. Galston writes in The Wall Street Journal in ”A Better Campaign Theme Than Inequality” that the paradox of more people being aware of inequality but less likely to want intervention stems from basic mistrust of the federal government.