Discussion Paper
No. 2013-53 | October 07, 2013
Gilles Le Garrec
Guilt Aversion and Redistributive Politics: A Moral Intuitionist Approach
(Published in Economics, Psychology and Choice Theory)


In mainstream economics individuals are supposed to be driven only by their self-interest. By contrast, surveys clearly show that people do care about fairness in their demand for redistribution. In this article, in the spirit of the "new synthesis" in moral psychology (Haidt, 2007: The new synthesis in moral psychology) the author proposes to modelize the voting behavior over redistribution as the interaction between (a) an automatic cognitive process which quickly generates intuitions on the fair level of redistribution, (b) a rational self-oriented reasoning which controls the feeling of guilt associated with fair intuitions. In addition, considering that guilt aversion depends on the cultural context, the author shows that the model exhibits a multiplicity of history-dependent steady states which may account for the huge difference of redistribution observed between Europe and the United States.

JEL Classification:

D03, D64, D72, H53

Cite As

Gilles Le Garrec (2013). Guilt Aversion and Redistributive Politics: A Moral Intuitionist Approach. Economics Discussion Papers, No 2013-53, Kiel Institute for the World Economy. http://www.economics-ejournal.org/economics/discussionpapers/2013-53

Comments and Questions

Anonymous - Referee report 1
December 09, 2013 - 08:42
see attached file

Anonymous - Referee report 2
January 02, 2014 - 08:25
see attached file

Gilles Le Garrec - Proposed revision and reply to referee reports
January 28, 2014 - 08:39 | Author's Homepage
see attached file

Anonymous - Reply_referee 2
February 27, 2014 - 08:27
see attached file

Anonymous - Reply_referee 1
March 04, 2014 - 08:34
see attached paper

Ekkehart Schlicht - Guilt aversion is an empty concept
March 01, 2014 - 12:37 | Author's Homepage
The median voter earns less than average income, for purely arithmetic reasons. He or she would always vote for more redistribution. So the problem is to explain that this does not occur. If voters were selfish, the of voters earns less than median income. If they were selfish, they would vote for more redistribution. (The situation where such a vote would reduce their income is emprically far away -- remember the Laffer curve? And the recent IMF study by Ostrich and others?) So the problem is, why doesn't the majority vote for more redistribution, rather than less. This may, for instance, occur because because of "guilt aversion": people may feel guilty if they expropriate others. This shows, I guess, that “guilt aversion” is a rather empty concept in the sense that it presupposes a norm violation that induces guilt, and this means that it presupposes a norm. So if you have “inequity aversion” you feel guilty if you don't vote for redistribution; if you have a preference for “conformism”, you feel guilty if you don't vote like the others do; if you have a preference for liberty, you feel guilty if you vote to restrain the liberty of others, etc. In the end, such arguments boil down to writing some norm into the utility function. This does not contribute much. It simply rephrases the problem, and you don't need to distinguish two systems for doing that.To say that norms depend on the cultural context is correct, but is a rather empty statement. In order to make headway here, we have to look how preferences are shaped by the cultural context. It occurs to me that earlier contributions were more reflective about these issues. I just came across a paper by C. C. von Weizsäcker (http://www.coll.mpg.de/Download/Weizsaecker/A70.pdf)that takes up the issue of environmental morality in a way that I find much less superficial than current ideas about “social preferences.” It appears to me that this line of argument could apply to issues of voting about redistribution, too. At least, stumbling about von Weizsäckers paper prompted me to write this comment.