Advertisement

The Role of Expressive Versus Instrumental Preferences in U.S. Attitudes Toward Taxation and Redistribution

  • Kirk J. StarkEmail author
Chapter
Part of the Ius Gentium: Comparative Perspectives on Law and Justice book series (IUSGENT, volume 40)

Abstract

Polling data suggest that Americans are concerned about rising economic inequality, yet the same polls reveal popular opposition to redistributive tax policies that would help mitigate inequality. Numerous commentators have drawn attention to this paradox, attempting to explain why voters would support policies contrary to their pecuniary interests. This chapter connects the debate over U.S. tax attitudes with research on the role of expressive preferences in electoral choice. An expressive account of political behaviour emphasizes the low likelihood that any one voter’s views will influence policy outcomes and thus locates her cost-benefit calculus in the expression itself rather than its effect on policy outcomes. Expressive considerations include the reputational consequences of taking sides in popular debates, especially as those consequences bear on the voter’s effort to portray herself to the people that matter in her life—her family, friends, co-workers, and most of all, herself. The author explains how an expressive account resolves the supposed “paradox” of popular opposition to redistributive tax policies and discusses the implications of this view for U.S. tax politics.

Keywords

Income Redistribution Expressive Account Popular Attitude Expressive Preference Government Redistribution 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

References

  1. Autor, David, and David Dorn. 2013. The growth of low skill service jobs and the polarization of the U.S. labor market. American Economic Review 103 (5): 1553–1597.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bartels, Larry. 2005. Homer gets a tax cut: Inequality and public policy in the American mind. Perspectives on Politics 3:15–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bartels, Larry. 2008. Unequal democracy: The political economy of the new gilded age. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Brennan, Geoffrey, and Loren Lomasky. 1993. Democracy and decision: The pure theory of electoral preference. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brooks, David. 2003. The triumph of hope over self-interest. New York Times, 12. January.Google Scholar
  6. Caplan, Bryan. 2008. The myth of the rational voter: Why democracies choose bad policies. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  7. De Tocqueville, Alexis. 1835. Democracy in America. Trans. Henry Reeve. London: Saunders and Otley.Google Scholar
  8. Graetz, Michael, and Ian Shapiro. 2005. Death by a thousand cuts: The fight over taxing inherited wealth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Kliemt, Hartmut. 1986. The veil of insignificance. European Journal of Political Economy 2 (3): 333–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. McCall, Leslie. 2013. The undeserving rich: American beliefs about inequality, opportunity, and redistribution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Meltzer, Allan, and Scott Richard. 1981. A rational theory of the size of government. The Journal of Political Economy 89 (5): 914–927.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Norton, Michael, and Dan Ariely. 2011. Building a better america-One wealth quintile at a time. Perspectives on Psychological Science 6 (1): 9–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Piketty, Thomas. 2014. Capital in the twenty-first century. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Reed-Arthurs, Rebecca, and Steve Sheffrin. 2011. Windows into public attitudes towards redistribution. Proceedings of the National Tax Association, 165–173.Google Scholar
  15. Sears, David, and Carolyn Funk. 1990. The limited effect of economic self-interest on the political attitudes of the mass public. The Journal of Behavioral Economics 19 (3): 247–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Sheffrin, Steve. 2013. Tax fairness and folk justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Sobel, Russell, and Gary Wagner. 2004. Expressive voting and government redistribution: Testing Tullock’s ‘charity of the uncharitable’. Public Choice 119:143–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Tullock, Gordon. 1971. The charity of the uncharitable. Economic Inquiry 9:379–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Zelenak, Larry. 2004. Framing the distributional effects of the bush tax cuts. Tax Notes 105:83–95.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawUniversity of California, LALos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations