Tuesday, April 22, 2014

We're #1?

Larry Bartels has an article entitled "US is a world leader is class conflict over government spending."  The data behind his claim is that differences between the rich and the poor in opinions about government spending were larger in the US than in any of the 33 countries in the 2006 International Social Survey Pogramme (see the link on the right), except South Africa.  But his analysis was based on just one question--opinions about whether people were in favor of "cuts in government spending," so I looked at questions from the 2009 ISSP survey, which focused on social inequality, to see if the same pattern held.

I created an index based on questions about whether differences of income in the country are too large, whether it is the government's responsibility to reduce income differences, the government should provide a decent standard of living for the unemployed, the government should spend less on the poor, and whether people with high incomes should pay a larger share of their incomes in taxes than people with low incomes. This seems like a pretty good measure of support for egalitarian policies.  The size of "class" differences (coefficients from a regression of opinions on standardized income):

New Zealand      1.21
Sweden           1.03
Great Britain   1.02
Czech Republic   1.01
United States   0.90
Australia  0.89
Denmark     0.81
Germany          0.77
Latvia           0.70
Iceland          0.69
Slovak Republic  0.69
Japan            0.66
Finland          0.64
Belgium         0.61
Poland           0.55
Hungary          0.54
Switzerland      0.53
Slovenia         0.53
Italy            0.49
Austria          0.48
Ukraine          0.43
Estonia          0.42
Bulgaria         0.39
South Africa     0.38
Cyprus           0.37
Russia           0.35
France           0.33
Chile            0.29
Croatia          0.26
Portugal         0.25
Spain            0.25
South Korea      0.23
Taiwan           0.18
Argentina        0.15
China            0.11
Norway           0.08
Turkey           0.02
Philippines      0.02
Israel           0.01
Venezuela -0.31

The United States is not at the very top, but is close.  Britain, New Zealand, and Australia are also among the highest (Canada was not included in this survey).  So Bartels's general point is supported, although large class differences seem to have roots in Britain rather than being unique to the United States.  There also seems to be a tendency for class differences to be larger in more affluent nations.  The negative figure for Venezuela means that people with higher incomes were (slightly) more egalitarian, which seems very surprising, but given the political situation you have to wonder about the data quality for that country.

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