Christina Fong


Redistributive Politics with Target-Specific Beliefs


More than a third of Americans and Germans give different answers about the role of effort and circumstances beyond one’s control in explaining low incomes and high incomes. These targetspecific beliefs coexist with big differences in attitudes towards supporting those with low incomes and taxing those with high incomes. We show that there is a strong and robust relationship between target-specific beliefs and redistributive preferences in both countries. We then incorporate target-specific beliefs into a model explaining support for taxing the rich and helping the poor. In addition to explaining the empirical patterns with an eye on the middle class, our theory suggests the existence of a moral release equilibrium in which the rich choose high taxes on lower income classes to discourage effort and create an unworthy poor class, thereby escaping moral pressure to support the poor. The moral release equilibrium also helps to explain why early interventions targeting children that everyone should agree on from efficiency and equality of opportunity perspective may politically fail.

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Christina Fong