The poor often vote against their own interests. The conventional wisdom on this has been that they one day aspire to be rich, and they are empathizing with their future selves’ wish to have low taxes more than their present situation.
A new study by the national bureau of economic research shows evidence of a much more plausible explanation. Participants were given various sums of money, and an income distribution chart that showed where they stood in relation to the field of other participants. They were then given the choice between giving their money to those below them in the income distribution, or to those above them. Which did they choose?
It varied, but for those who were right above the bottom, they tended to give the money to people above them on the chart. Had they given the moeny to the person below them, then they would have ceded their position and fallen to the bottom themselves.
This theory of last place aversion will make sense to you if you’ve worked a low income job in the years when minimum wage increases have been mandated. Let’s say minimum wage was five dollars an hour. You toiled away at the company for a year and got a fifty cent raise. Now along comes a dollar increase in the minimum wage. After a year of training and experience, you find yourself making the same wage as those who are newly hired. Sure, the company could just raise everyone by a dollar, but that’s a huge expense, and if you’ve been there, you know it doesn’t tend to happen, and that there is plenty of grumbling in the ranks, even when they got a bit of a raise themselves.
Why can’t we just be happy for those who got a wage boost? Why must we look to everyone else to determine our own self worth? If you give one of your pets a bigger treat than the other, you will see that we don’t have a monopoly on the concept of fairness. It’s a survival skill. It drives us to stay ahead of the pack, even if it means keeping the rest of the pack down.
Those who complain one day that the rich are too rich, may the next day complain that the person below them got a bigger raise than them. Handouts to specific groups who are seen as lower on the social totem pole can cause enough resentment to more than cancel out their benefits. Fairness is not a universal construct. Where you stand depends on where you sit.
"When I give food to the poor they call me a saint.
When I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist." Camara, Helder