Social Justice or Malicious Envy ?, by James Thompson
Death and taxes may be inevitable, but it is only the latter that bring together vocal apologists. Taxes, these enthusiasts claim, are a good thing because they make good things happen: hospitals, schools, roads, clean water, and government inspectors upholding the standards.
Certainly, taxes can provide services with better standards and lower costs than those that could be obtained by individuals acting on their own. Garbage collection is one example, military defense another. This is most likely the case in public health, where small contributions can yield considerable community benefits. However, in the UK only a small proportion of tax is spent on these matters. Health, education and defense account for 36% of spending. Another 36% goes to social assistance and pensions, which in earlier times were considered a personal responsibility. The last third is the activities of the general government. For example, “Protection” refers to the police, fire services, courts, and prisons. “Interest” is the cost of government spending more than it increases in taxes. The “Other” category covers a wide range of interventions, some 28 in total, several with connections to well-being.
Proponents of higher taxes could be motivated solely by the general advantage of public procurement of services as opposed to private provision. On the other hand, it may be due to the desire to profit. Could other reasons explain the support for higher taxes?
Chien-An Lin and Timothy C. Bates of the University of Edinburgh decided to find out.
Each must count for one and none for more than one: predictors of support for economic redistribution
There is a lot in this article, so I have had to summarize and focus on the main findings, particularly the first study, and not the second replica.
They recruited a representative sample and then gave them questionnaires to complete. They set standards so that anyone who responded quickly and mindlessly was excluded (no one did that). They tested each questionnaire for consistency (Cronbach’s Alpha) and they are all consistent enough that answers are not distorted by a few weird questions. I have put all the details because these scales are not very well known, so the examples are useful.
A total of 403 participants were recruited through Prolific Academic (268 women, mean age 37 years, SD = 12.19). We previously recorded a criterion that excluded subjects who completed the questionnaire in less than 20 seconds. No subject met this criterion. The racial mix of the sample was representative, and participants identified themselves as white (n = 366, 90.8%), black (n = 14, 3.5%), mixed (n = 14, 3.5%) , Asians (n = 6; 1.5%) and others (n = 1; 0.2%), 2 participants (0.5%) chose not to respond.
Attitudes towards redistribution were measured with the support of 11 items for the economic redistribution scale Sznycer et al. (2017). An example of a reverse-rated item is “Rich people shouldn’t pay more taxes than others.” Each item used a Likert-type response scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The Cronbach’s Alpha for economic redistribution in our sample was 0.90.
Community equity and instrumental harm were measured using the Oxford Utilitarianism Scale (Kahane et al., 2018). This 9-item instrument consists of two subscales: Impartial beneficence, which we use to assess community equity; An example item is “It is just as wrong not to help someone as it is to actively harm yourself”) and Instrumental harm (example item: “It is morally right to harm an innocent person if doing so is a necessary means of helping various other people innocents. ”) Scores were on a Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). In our sample, Cronbach’s alphas were 0.63 and 0.69 for community equity and instrumental harm.
Compassion, envy, and self-interest were measured as in Lin and Bates (2021).
The 10-item dispositional compassion scale Goldberg (1999); Sznycer et al. (2017) reliably (Cronbach’s Alpha = 0.80 in our sample) assesses compassion based on Likert responses from 1 (very inaccurate) to 5 (very exact) to content such as “I suffer from the penalties of others”.
Self-interest used a single article: “Imagine a higher tax policy is implemented for the rich. What overall impact do you think higher taxes for the rich would have on you? “with responses on a scale of 1 to 5: My own financial situation 1: would get significantly worse; slightly worsen; stay the same; slightly improve; 5 significantly improve.
The 5-Item Malicious Envy Scale (Lange & Crusius, 2015) scores items from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree) with sample content including “If other people have something I want for me, I wish take it away from them. ” Cronbach’s Alpha for malicious envy was 0.80 in our sample.
Preference to hurt the rich was measured using a choice of scenario Sznycer et al. (2017). Scenario one (damage to wealth) was “The richest 1% of people pay an additional 50% of their income in additional taxes and as a consequence the poor earn an additional £ 100 million per year (the An additional 50% in taxes paid in previous fiscal years leaving the wealthiest with relatively less taxable income) ”.
Scenario two (helping the poor) was “The richest 1% of people pay an additional 10% of their income in additional taxes and as a result the poor earn an additional £ 200 million per year (the An additional 10% in taxes paid in previous fiscal years leaving the wealthiest with relatively more taxable income) ”.
Finally, support for coercive redistribution was measured with a 19-item coercive redistribution scale generated for this study (see supplementary material detailing the development of this scale and the refined short version of 5 items used in study 2). Examples of items include “People who question wealth redistribution should be punished” and “If the rich try to avoid taxes, it would be permissible to use mild torture to reveal the money they are hiding from the poor.” The responses were on a Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Factor scores in the first component of a 19-item coercive redistribution scale factor analysis were used to score subjects.
Therefore, sex and compassion do not have a significant effect on whether respondents are willing to be coercive to achieve redistributive taxation. These “soft torturers” were motivated primarily by malicious envy, instrumental harm, self-interest, and (least of all) community justice. The document looks at the basis of “community justice” in more detail, and has a thorn in the tail, as you have to be accepted into the commune before you can benefit from proclaimed justice. For example, community equity is a good explanation for honor killings: they are justified because they preserve the purity of the commune.
All these studies together account for more than 40% of the variation in support for redistribution, more than achieved in any previous study.
In short, not all requests for redistributive taxation arise for noble reasons.