Saturday, June 9, 2012

Americans and Equality: Not so exceptional

In my last post, I wrote about a "recent Pew survey" of twenty-seven nations in which Americans were much less favorable to income redistribution than people in any of the other nations.  That survey turned out to be from the International Social Survey Programme in 1999. 

The ISSP had another survey on social inequality in 2009, and it included a wider range of questions on redistribution.  Specifically:
1.  Agree or disagree that "differences in income in [country] are too large."
2.  Agree or disagree that "it is the responsibility of the government to reduce differences in income between people with high income and those with low incomes." [the 1999 question]
3.  Agree or disagree that "the government should provide a decent standard of living for the unemployed."
4.  Agree or disagree that "the government should spend less on benefits to the poor."
5.  "Do you think people with high incomes should pay a larger share of their income in taxes than those with low incomes, the same share, or a smaller share?"
6.  "Generally, how would you describe taxes in [country] today for those  with high incomes?  ... much too high, too high, about right, too low, much too low"
7.  "Is it just or unjust--right or wrong--that people with high incomes can buy better health care than people with lower incomes?"
8.  "Is it just or unjust--right or wrong--that people with high incomes can buy better education for their children than people with lower incomes."

There were 38 nations in this survey.   You can get a general index of views on equality by adding up the ranks on each of these questions.  The fancier approach is to perform a factor analysis and calculate factor scores, but that gives almost identical results.  The rankings, from least to most egalitarian:

NZ-New Zealand      284.5
PH-Philippines      265.0
US-United States    252.5
GB-Great Britain    244.0
ZA-South Africa     225.0
AU-Australia        224.0
NO-Norway           208.0
CZ-Czech Republic   203.5
CN-China            199.0
IL-Israel           193.0
AR-Argentina        191.0
BE-Belgium          184.5
CL-Chile            181.5
TW-Taiwan           181.0
PL-Poland           180.0
DK-Denmark          176.0
JP-Japan            171.0
ES-Spain            169.5
SE-Sweden           168.5
AT-Austria          158.0
CY-Cyprus           155.0
SK-Slovak Republic  153.0
CH-Switzerland      149.5
DE-Germany          141.5
FI-Finland          139.5
KR-South Korea      117.5
PT-Portugal         117.5
IS-Iceland          117.0
EE-Estonia          100.0
BG-Bulgaria          98.0
FR-France            97.5
TR-Turkey            82.0
HU-Hungary           79.0
RU-Russia            77.5
SI-Slovenia          73.0
LV-Latvia            69.0
HR-Croatia           66.0
UA-Ukraine           36.0

The United States is one of the least egalitarian nations, but doesn't stand out as much.  (We still rank as the least egalitarian on question 2, but not on any of the others).  Overall, Americans are only the third least egalitarian, behind New Zealand and the Philippines, and just ahead of Great Britain.  The most striking pattern is that five of the six least egalitarian nations were settled by people from the British Isles (the other is the Philippines, which was an American colony for about fifty years).  People of British descent don't necessarily make up a majority, but they had a disproportionate influence on the political history and culture of those nations. A few other interesting points are the big difference between the Czech and Slovak Republics, Norway's ranking as one of the less egalitarian nations, and  Switzerland's ranking as one of the more egalitarian. 

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