Friday, June 05, 2009

"In the blood"

The Economist ("In the blood") points us to "Culture, Context and the Taste for Redistribution" by Erzo Luttmer and Monica Singhal. They look at the preferences of recent immigrants and find that national background explains a significant amount of varying tastes for redistribution policies. The authors conclude:

By studying immigrants, we are able to credibly disentangle cultural determinants of
preferences for redistribution from economic and institutional determinants. We find that individuals’ preferences for redistribution are strongly affected by preferences in their countries of birth: the average preference for income redistribution in the culture where an immigrant is raised continues to have an effect once they emigrate. This effect is highly statistically significant and robust to rich controls for economic factors and to the choice of sample and
specification. Our results show that these cultural influences also affect real behaviors, such as voting. Cultural determinants of preferences for redistribution appear to be strongly persistent across generations. At a fundamental level, this paper provides evidence on the nature of preferences for

But is it that the surveyed immigrants like or dislike government efforts to redistribute? Or is it that the immigrants happen to be sanguine about politicians' rhetoric? Is it that immigrants are less skeptical that programs will deliver what backers promise? The paper does not raise the possibility.

A debate over the ethics of top-down redistribution is one thing. A debate about how culture shapes one's attitudes is another. But what does the analysis of immigrants' stated preferences reveal?

In any case, it's a interesting paper that made my day.