UC Davis Agricultural and Resource Economics

Patrizio Piraino, University of Cape Town

Is Inequality Inevitable? A Survey Experiment on Demand for Redistribution in South Africa

Date and Location

Monday, March 7, 2016, 4:10 PM - 5:30 PM
ARE Conference Room, 2102 Social Sciences and Humanities


Recent evidence has shown that demand for redistribution does not react to inequality as predicted by basic political economy models. High inequality countries tend to display low redistribution. Based on social psychology theories, this paper proposes a channel that could help explain this apparent contradiction: if citizens believe that high inequality is inevitable and cannot be changed, they may become resigned and demobilized, demanding little redistribution as a way to cope with such situation. We examine this argument with a survey experiment in South Africa. To communicate the idea that the inequality they experience need not be so high, we provide an “international” information treatment that shows inequality in South Africa together with much lower levels of inequality in other countries. A placebo “local” treatment shows inequality within the country alone. The international treatment (but not the local one) reduces perceptions that inequality is inevitable and, in turn, leads to higher demand for redistribution. The pattern is present in different relevant subsamples. We consider, and rule out, some alternative explanations for these findings.

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