We live in a time when, due to our tax breaks for the rich and the diminishing power of unions, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. But psychologists think that what even those of us who are getting rich want MOST is more equality.

According to a new study of behavioral economics, people will spend their own money to make the rich less rich and the poor less poor. They do so without any hope of personal gain, acting, it seems, out of a taste for equality and sense of fair play.

In order to investigate this, he worked with Christopher Dawes to set up a game that was played by 120 volunteers, where participants were randomly allocated different sums of money. They were shown what each player got and presented with a choice to do nothing and maintain the (unequal) status quo or to reduce their own real takeaway pay by one monetary unit in order to either increase or reduce another player’s income by three units. Income alteration was frequent: About three-quarters of participants reduced or increased another player’s income at least once and about a third did so five times or more.

The fact that we care about equality is shown in the wide acceptance of a progressive tax and a social welfare net. Political scientist James Fowler says, “If people didn’t have a taste for equality, then I would expect the world would be even more unequal than it is. It has not been fully appreciated yet how much people are willing to level the playing field.”

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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