Not necessarily who you’d think.
Instead of opposing redistribution because people expect to make it to the top of the economic ladder, the authors of the new paper argue that people don’t like to be at the bottom. One paradoxical consequence of this “last-place aversion” is that some poor people may be vociferously opposed to the kinds of policies that would actually raise their own income a bit but that might also push those who are poorer than them into comparable or higher positions. The authors ran a series of experiments where students were randomly allotted sums of money, separated by $1, and informed about the “income distribution” that resulted. They were then given another $2, which they could give either to the person directly above or below them in the distribution.
In keeping with the notion of “last-place aversion”, the people who were a spot away from the bottom were the most likely to give the money to the person above them: rewarding the “rich” but ensuring that someone remained poorer than themselves. Those not at risk of becoming the poorest did not seem to mind falling a notch in the distribution of income nearly as much. This idea is backed up by survey data from America collected by Pew, a polling company: those who earned just a bit more than the minimum wage were the most resistant to increasing it.
Poverty may be miserable. But being able to feel a bit better-off than someone else makes it a bit more bearable.
Thanks, Mr Jender, for sending me this fascinating article.
Stoat and I had a brief exchange on the psychological impact of strong, negative feedback. I thought back to this passage from Ira Glass, who is the director and lead narrator in “This American Life,” a charming and informaitve weekly broadcast on NPR. Glass’s comments do not directly fit philosophers, but it does not take much imagination to apply them:
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
There are lots of complications that could be put in, but one thing worth stressing in this context is that acccusatory insistence on a beginner’s meeting your standards can be lethal in this situation. That is, it can kill creativity. The opposite, an insistence that everything the beginner does is brilliant, can also have a bad effect, leading that person unsure about how to repeat the effect. Worst of all, may be the idea that one is not and never can be a player. Or, in fact, there may be a still worse one.
I remember being at an art exhibit of work by Cezanne and looking at a series which consisted in the same still life done from slightly different perspectives or with slightly different tones. I wondered what sort of love of self it might take to do that. I don’t know that I was right about self-love being required, but I do suspect that attacks that jeer, ridicule, make fun of one are especially threatening to creativity.