Who cares about inequality?

The Maxwell School has released its latest poll on Americans’ attitudes to inequality. As Norberto Bobbio once wrote, attitudes to inequality are the best way of gauging a person’s position on the left/right spectrum, and their poll strongly reinforces that.

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3 Responses to Who cares about inequality?

  1. Fred Argy says:

    Andrew, thanks for drawing our attention to the latest Maxwell poll on attitudes to inequality in USA. I was particularly interested in the polling on how Americans view such issues as
    – the “fairness” of the reward system,
    – whether citizens have an equal opportunity to succeed and
    – the extent of upward mobility (how easily it is to get up the ladder)

    They show an incredible smugness among Americans about equality of opportunity. It explains why there is not much pressure on governments to do anything about rising inequality and low income mobility.

    I am not aware of precisely the same questions being asked of Australians. I did note in my discussion paper on equality of opportunity (s. 5.1) that Australians have a greater tendency to blame the poor themselves for their predicament than their counterparts in Europe or Scandinavia and that only 15% of Australians disagreed with the proposition that ‘people are rewarded for their skills’ – a low figure compared with a majority of the other countries surveyed but comparable with the US results in Maxwell (p. 8).

    How complacent are Australians about inequality? Does anyone have recent survey findings comparable to the ones posed by Maxwell on pp. 8-9? Perhaps Andrew Norton might know of some.

  2. Cross-commented from my blog:

    Fred – Sorry for the delay in replying. I was having some computer problems yesterday that prevented me from accessing some files, but in the end they don’t contain a match on those questions – they are about living standards.

    For what it’s worth, this question was asked in 1993, 2003 and 2005:
    “The way things are in Australia, people like me and my family have a good chance of improving our standard of living.” Pretty much identical results all three times: 46-47% agree, 28% neither agree nor disagree, and 19-23% disagree.

    In 2003 and 2005, the following question was asked: “Compared to your parents when they were the age you are now, do you think your own standard of living is better, worse or the same as theirs was?” 76% and 73% respectively said better. A similar question in 1993 asked about the respondent’s father; 77% said better.

    This all looks very stable over the 1993-2005 period at least, but is more evidence that the rising tide is indeed lifting most boats than any particular mobility.

    On a quick search of social science data archive I found a 1992 survey with questions on getting ahead. Vast majorities thought natural ability and hard work were important, a smaller majority thought well-educated parents.

  3. Fred Argy says:

    Thanks Andrew. A mine of information as usual.

    Australians seem generally quite confident that people with effort and ability can rise up the ladder – but not as as confident as the Americans, yet, as AL points out, we have more justification for complaceny than they have.

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