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When is redistribution popular? Social conflict and the politics of inequality

Working paper

Working paper

Redistributive policies are often perceived as politically costly and fairly difficult to implement. Even among ordinary citizens income inequality may not always be perceived as a negative force but rather as sign of opportunities opening up for them, even if that is not the actual case.

This working paper analyses perception data for over 15 thousand ordinary citizens in 40 countries and finds that when individuals perceive the adverse effects of inequality in terms of social tensions and conflict between the rich and the poor, it is more likely that they demand more redistribution from their governments.  However, the effects seem to be stronger at lower levels of actual inequality and in countries with lower levels of social conflict.

This research suggests that there is political will from the general public to act upon inequality, but that the challenge is for governments and practitioners to act quickly when inequality is starting to rise in order to capitalise the support towards redistributive policies rather than waiting until  it is high and entrenched in the political and economic system.

Laura Rodriguez