Material Heuristics and Attitudes Toward Redistribution


According to the material-heuristics hypothesis, people’s socioeconomic position affects their perceptions about the socioeconomic environment, including how society distributes opportunities and rewards and to what extent people are responsible for their own economic situation. These perceptions, in turn, affect attitudes toward wealth redistribution. In contrast to the material-heuristics hypothesis are the more familiar material self-interest hypothesis, which relates redistributive attitudes to one’s personal interest in gaining or losing from redistribution; and the self-serving reasoning hypothesis, according to which perceptions of how society distributes opportunities and rewards are a consequence rather than a cause of attitudes toward redistribution, which are, in turn, driven by material self-interest. All three hypotheses connect socioeconomic position and attitudes toward redistribution, but only the material-heuristics and the self-serving reasoning arguments account for why perceptions of the causes of wealth and poverty vary across economic groups and why this variation matters for attitudes toward redistribution. Ignoring the role of such perceptions can lead to the simplistic attribution of attitudes toward redistribution to personal self-interest.

Critical Review