Political economists agree that a trade-off exists between equality and efficiency. Using a hypothetical society paradigm, we manipulated the mean income (representing efficiency) and income variability (representing equality) of distributions of wealth and the correlation between wealth and effort within a society. Subjects made all pairwise comparisons of distributions within societies of differing meritocracy. A "maximin" principle best described trade-off resolution strategies when effort and outcome were weakly linked: People maximized the minimum standard of living within a society. A compromise principle best described preferences when income was tightly linked to effort: People rejected distributions in which some citizens fell below the "poverty line" but maximized efficiency above this constraint. Ideological polarization was pronounced under moderate meritocracy; here liberals could focus on the role of chance and conservatives on the role of effort and ability.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science