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Do smarter people disfavor egalitarian policies?

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Posted October 28, 2014
Picture: Businessmen. Image credit: Ross via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Picture: Businessmen. Image credit: Ross via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

What is a relationship between cognitive abilities and position on particular economic policies? Johanna Mollerstrom at Harvard University and David Seim at the University of Toronto made an attempt to answer this intriguing question. Interestingly, results of their study reveal that smarter individuals do not favor egalitarian policies.  “This finding is important because high-ability individuals are more prone to being politically active, suggesting that policies may be different than what would have been the case if the views of the full population had been equally reflected,” authors of the study published on PLoS ONE think.

Previous studies indicate that individuals who have greater cognitive abilities are more likely to vote and occupy political posts than others. This implies that their political influence is unproportionally high. This fact raises an important question: What political opinion do these persons have on various important policy issues? “To answer this question, we use a unique Swedish data set that matches responses to a tailor-made questionnaire to administrative tax records and to military enlistment records for men, with the latter containing a measure of cognitive ability,” the researchers say.

Study convincingly demonstrates that those individuals, who score higher on cognitive ability test, tend to negatively evaluate income redistribution. “The effect of cognitive ability on the demand for redistribution is large: to change the demand by as much as a one-standard deviation increase in cognitive ability does, an individual has to experience an increase in mean annual income over the last twelve years of about $35,000,” Mollerstrom and Seim report.

What causal mechanisms can explain this noteworthy observation? Swedish scientists propose two complementary explanations. Firstly, they find out that people who have better mental abilities think that success in life rather depends on higher efforts than on good luck. This belief mediates link between mental performance and position on income redistribution. Somewhat unsurprisingly, second mediator detected by data analysis was higher income.

There is no doubt that the present study has at least one strong drawback. It explores the perspective of white males living in Sweden. Researchers emphasize that further analyses of cross-cultural samples which include women are welcomed.

Article: Mollerstrom J., Seim D., 2014, Cognitive Ability and the Demand for Redistribution. PLoS ONE 9(10): e109955. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0109955, source link.

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