Sunday, June 3, 2012

An interesting survey that doesn't exist

A 2011 essay in the City Journal by Luigi Zingales, a professor at the University of Chicago business school, compared attitudes towards economic inequality in the United States and other countries.  The key passage (which also appears in his new book, A Capitalism for the People):

"in a recent survey of 27 developed countries by the Pew Charitable Trusts, only one-third of Americans agreed that it was the government’s responsibility to reduce income inequality; the country with the next smallest fraction to agree was Canada, with 44 percent, and the responses rose as high as Portugal’s 89 percent. Americans do not want to redistribute income, but they do want the government to provide a level playing field: over 70 percent of Americans said that the role of government was 'to ensure everyone has a fair chance of improving their economic standing.' This belief in equality of opportunity is supported by another belief: that the system is actually fair. Sixty-nine percent of Americans in the same survey agreed with the statement 'People are rewarded for intelligence and skill,' a far larger percentage than in any other country."

The Pew web site contains no reference to this survey.  However, I was able to track down the sources, which appear to be the 1999 International Social Survey Programme, which is the source of the first and third questions, and a Pew survey which was conducted in the United States and Canada in 2009, which was the source of the second.   The percentages for all countries on the ISSP questions:

           Reward   Reduce
USA           69    33
Philippines   69    59
Australia     65    48
WGermany      65    47
EGermany      56    73
Canada        56    44
Japan         54    47
NIreland      53    64
NZealand      51    47
Austria       49    70
Britain       48    64
Portugal      44    89
Spain         41    77
Norway        38    60
Sweden        38    57
Israel        38    81
France        36    62
Cyprus        34    56
Poland        31    80
Chile         30    74
Hungary       23    79
Czech         23    69
Slovenia      20    83
Latvia        20    76
Russia         9    82
Slovakia       9    72
Bulgaria       5    81

I wouldn't characterize 69.4 percent as "far larger" than 68.8 percent (the Philippines), or even the 65 percent in Australia and West Germany.  However, the United States does stand out on both questions.  A more recent round of the ISSP (2009) includes the question on government responsibility to reduce differences in income between people with high and low incomes, and once again only 33% of Americans agreed. 

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