PhD Defense O. Buchel
Unequal but Fair? About the Perceived Legitimacy of the Standing Economic Order
- Location: Cobbenhagen building, Aula (access via Koopmans building)
- Supervisor: Prof. P.H.J. Achterberg
- Co-supervisors: Dr. T. Proulx, Dr. A.R.C.M. Luijkx
Acknowledged as the defining challenge of our time, economic inequality has far reaching individual and societal consequences. It negatively affects productivity, decision-making, and health outcomes on the one hand, and political stability and economic growth on the other. Increased competition for resources not allocated at the top skews available reference frames and leads to adoption of unachievable standards, generating stressful social comparisons and anxiety that may intensify inter-group conflicts. Yet, as this dissertation shows on data from surveys from across the world, many of the worse off tend to believe that the social world in general is fair and that large differences in incomes are justified and even necessary.
To understand why and how are the widespread and entrenched differences in incomes and wealth not being contested at a larger scale, this dissertations links perceptions and judgments of economic inequalities to their perceived, and often misjudged, normativity.
It is argued that there is a need for a greater attention and understanding of people’s beliefs about what are the popular opinions and shared values regarding political issues. It is not only that people not know of inequalities, underestimate them, or attempt to rationalize their existence as fair and deserved. It is that people also need to know that their sentiments are shared by others.
Based on results of multiple experimental studies, this thesis explored and supported a possibility that people who believe that the unequal status quo is unsatisfactory and that the standing system should be challenged and changed also tend to believe that their views are not shared by the general population. Even more, such thinking tends to get reinforced when someone else is critical of the system in place. Thus, instead of rising in spirit and assuming that others will finally see at least some of the negative outcomes of the way things are, those hoping for change may get demoralized, feel isolated in their views, and may feel drawn to compromises they shouldn't need to consider.