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VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon

Inequality Acceptance: the role of self-interest, freedom and special obligations

Alternative title: Hvorfor aksepterer vi ulikhet? Betydningen av egen-interesse, frihet og spesielle forpliktelser

Awarded: NOK 12.0 mill.

Project Number:

302145

Application Type:

Project Period:

2020 - 2025

Funding received from:

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Subject Fields:

Inequality is a pressing social issue and inequality considerations figure prominently in almost all spheres of society. An important question is why people accept large inequalities. The research project examines three potential source of inequality acceptance. In the first part of the project we study the role of self-interest as a source of inequality acceptance. The ambition of this is to conduct the first study of how representative samples from the general population view the moral acceptability of selfishness and how selfishness is justified. In the subproject ?The moral acceptability of selfishness? (headed by Alexander Cappelen, Ranveig Falch, Erik Sørensen and Bertil Tungodden), we have conducted a survey experiment with 20.000 participants from the US and Scandinavia, recruited through an international data-collection agency (NORSTAT) to be nationally representative (+18 years old) on observable characteristics. Preliminary results suggest that people find it morally acceptable to assign more weight to their own interests than to others? and that this is not primarily driven by a self-serving bias. Moral justifications matter and we identify the relative importance of different justifications. We document striking differences across countries, with American respondents finding it more acceptable to assign more weight to own interests than Scandinavian respondents. We are currently writing up this paper and organizing a global survey (in 62 countries) using a subsample of the question. In the second part of the project, we study the role of freedom as a source of inequality acceptance, with a focus on the freedom to help others. A key challenge in liberal egalitarian societies is to combine the liberal ideal that individuals should have the freedom to pursue their own idea of the good life and the egalitarian ideal that unfair inequalities should be eliminated. There is an inherent tension between these ideals because individuals who exercise their freedom to choose might create unfair inequalities. A research group, consisting of Alexander Cappelen, Cornelius Cappelen, Sam Hirshman and Bertil Tungodden, have conducted a non-incentivized survey experiment on how people trade off a concern for the liberal ideal that people should be free to help those they care about and a concern for the ideal that inequalities due to luck should be eliminated. Results from the pilot suggests that a concern for freedom is an important source of inequality acceptance. The group is currently developing an incentivized experiment that will be implemented in 2022. In the third part of the project, we study the role of special obligations as a source of inequality acceptance. We conduct experimental studies of how inclusive or exclusive people are when they draw the "moral circle", and the prevalence of moral universalism across the world. This project had an early start and we had the opportunity to collect data in 60 countries as part of Gallup World Poll in 2020/2021. The research team, consisting of Alexander Cappelen, Ben Enke (Harvard University) and Bertil Tungodden, has started to analyze the data.

Inequality is a pressing social issue and inequality considerations figure prominently in almost all spheres of society. An important question is why people accept large inequalities. The research project consists of three work packages that each examines a potential source of inequality acceptance. WP1: Self-interest versus fairness, studies the role of self-interest as a source of inequality acceptance. The ambition of this work package is to conduct the first study of how representative samples from the general population in a large number of countries make the trade-off between self-interest and fairness. The experimental design allows us to estimate selfishness as a source of inequality acceptance both at the individual and at the societal level, and to provide unique insights on the determinants of selfishness. WP2: Freedom versus fairness, examines the role of freedom as a source of inequality acceptance. A key challenge in liberal egalitarian societies is to combine the liberal ideal that individuals should have the freedom to pursue their own idea of the good life and the egalitarian ideal that unfair inequalities should be eliminated. There is an inherent tension between these ideals because individuals who exercise their freedom to choose might create unfair inequalities. This work package provides novel studies of how people make trade-offs between the liberal ideal and the egalitarian ideal in real distributive situations. This work package will also initiate an ambitious set of studies that examine people’s beliefs about the extent to which individuals are free to shape their own destiny, and how these beliefs are associated with policy views. WP3: Special obligations versus fairness, explores the role of special obligations as a source of inequality acceptance. This work package will launch experimental studies of how inclusive or exclusive people are when they draw the "moral circle", and the prevalence of moral universalism across the world.

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VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon