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Ethical voting in various contexts of democracy: a contribution to the New Political Economy.

Abstract : The New Political Economy1 is based on the postulate of homo politicus that Downs (1957) presents as the clone of homo oeconomicus, a rational agent mo- tivated by the maximisation of his material self-interest. Goodin and Roberts (1975) were the first to propose an alternative to the homo politicus postulate by introducing the notion of ‘ethical voter' 2. The ‘ethical voter' describes a rational agent who is not only motivated by the maximisation of his short term material self-interest but also by the promotion of what he considers as fair for the society as a whole. There have been so far only few attempts to model ‘ethical voting'. Most of them liken ‘ethical voting' to caring about the well-being of the worst-off when voting (see Snyder and Kramer (1988), Kranich (2001) and Galasso (2003)). Alesina and Angeletos (2005) constitute an exception. Following responsibility-based theories of justice, they assume that individuals share the conviction that one deserves the income on the basis of his skill and effort and that only luck creates unfair differences they are consequently willing to compensate. However, the ‘responsibility cut' (Dworkin (1981)) used by Alesina and Angeletos (2005) lacks justification, should one consider the theoretical literature on fair redistribution or the empirical literature on individual opinions on distributive justice. I propose to analyze ‘ethical voting' in a more comprehensive way. The thread of this work is a ‘fair utility function'. More precisely, I specify in paper 1 a ‘fair utility function' to model citizens' trade-off between their self-interest and some of their major concerns for fairness. Paper 2 and paper 3 rely on the ‘fair utility function' to study voting behavior over the (re)distribution of economic surpluses in different contexts of democracy4. In paper 2, my coauthor and I compute the politico-economic equilibrium that emerges when citizens are endowed with the ‘fair utility function'. We model the institutional setting of a typical Western democracy where political cleavages are mainly income-based. In paper 3, I estimate the ‘fair utility function'. I base my estimation on survey data that I collected in an ethnically polarized democracy where political cleavages are mainly ethnic-based. Paper 1 investigates whether concerns for fairness influence the aggregate out- come in real life interactions so that economic analysis should complete the postulate of homo economicus with the postulate of homo ethicus. I conduct a three-step analysis addressing the following research questions: • Which are the main concerns for fairness that individuals are able to show? • Do these concerns for fairness influence the aggregate outcome in the eco- nomic field? • Do these concerns for fairness influence the aggregate outcome in the po- litical field? Based on experimental evidence, I identify three main concerns for fairness likely to influence individual behaviors besides self-interest: utilitarian altru- ism, ‘Rawlsian' altruism and desert-sensitivity. Utilitarian altruism consists in maximizing the sum of all utilities. ‘Rawlsian' altruism consists in maximizing the utility of the worst-off. Desert-sensitivity consists in weighting one's con- cerns for fairness towards others, should they be utilitarian altruistic concerns or ‘Rawlsian' altruistic concerns, depending on these others' deservingness with respect to their responsibility characteristics. I find out that concerns for fairness have no impact on market aggregate out- comes, should I focus on markets involving complete contracts or on markets involving incomplete contracts. I provide evidence that concerns for fairness have a significant impact on po- litical aggregate outcomes. More particularly, concerns for fairness (utilitarian altruism, ‘Rawlsian' altruism, and desert-sensitivity) seem to express through citizens' position on a liberalism/conservatism scale which ultimately impacts their voting behavior. However, evidence also shows that ethnic prejudice, an unambiguously unfair motivation, constitutes a serious challenger to individual concerns for fairness, even in the Western democratic context where political parties are officially divided along income-based, not ethnic-based, lines. My findings suggest that economic theory in general (and the New Political Economy in particular) should pay more attention to the modelling of ethical voting behaviors to improve its explanatory and predictive power. I propose a provisional ‘fair utility function' to model citizens' trade-off between their self-interest and the three various concerns for fairness which are utilitarian altruism, ‘Rawlsian' altruism and desert-sensitivity. • Which is the politico-economic equilibrium emerging in a society where individuals are endowed with the ‘fair utility function'? We study a simple voting model where a unidimensional redistributive parame- ter is chosen by majority voting in a direct democracy where political cleavages are income-based. We allow for heterogeneities in productivities and preferences for consumption and leisure and incorporate the incentive effects of taxation. We show that in a society where altruistic preferences are desert-sensitive, (i) strictly lower levels of redistribution emerge in political equilibrium comparedto a society where altruistic preferences are not desert-sensitive and (ii) lower or equal levels of redistribution emerge in political equilibrium compared to a society where preferences for redistribution are purely egoistic. We then investigate the following research question: • Can our theoretical result help explain the differences between the Ameri- can and the European social contract? Using data from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) 1992 dataset, we provide empirical evidence that: (i) preferences for redistribution are not purely egoistic, (ii) desert-sensitivity induces lower support for redistribution and (iii) differences in desert-sensitivity hold between both continents, inducing lower support for redistribution among Americans compared to Europeans. We see two apparent explanations helping to understand why preferences for re- distribution are more desert-sensitive among individuals in the US than among individuals in Europe (see Alesina et al. (2001) and Alesina and Glaeser (2004) for an extensive discussion). First, the myth of the US being the ‘land of op- portunity' greatly entrenched its customs. Meanwhile, European perceptions are influenced by the historical (from medieval times till the nineteenth cen- tury) division of society into classes, where birth and nobility were the main determinants of wealth and success. Second, the American belief of undeserv- ingness of the poor may reflect racial prejudice against the black minority. Poor white voters might reduce their support for redistribution when they believe that poor black citizens also benefit from redistribution (see Luttmer (2001) for strong empirical evidence). Roemer et al. (2007) find out that marginal income taxes would have been much higher when racial prejudice would have been absent. They believe that racial prejudice is the major underlying factor explaining why in the US, while the past twenty years were characterized by a sharp rise in inequality, the effective marginal income taxes have fallen. • In an ethnically polarized country, does aversion towards inter-ethnic in- equity induce citizens to vote for a party promoting an equitable allocation of national resources among ethnic groups?5 or, in other words, Could ethical voting help reduce risks of conflict in ethnically polarized countries? Relying on data collected among students from Addis Ababa University, my answer is threefold. First, I show that aversion towards inter-ethnic inequity significantly lowers university students' temptation to vote for their ethnic party. This finding is encouraging. Under my initial assumption that the degree of ethical concerns of university students constitute an upper bound of the degree of ethical concerns of the average citizen, this finding indeed suggests that ethical concerns could also influence his voting behavior. In other words, nationwide civic education programmes could be a promising conflict-reducing strategy in ethnically po- larized countries. Finkel (2002, 2003) provides evidence that civic education programs have a significant impact on participants' ‘political tolerance', while his concept of ‘political tolerance' is close to our notion of ‘aversion towards inter-ethnic inequity'. Second, I find out that, though significant, the relative impact of ethical concerns is very small in comparison to the impact of ethnic group loyalty, an important determinant of ethnic voting. This finding is discouraging since it suggests that the relative impact of ethical concerns will be even lower across a more representative sample of the Ethiopian population. In other words, the ‘return' on nationwide civic education programmes in terms of switch from ethnic voting to ethical voting is expected to be low. Third, I analyse the sociodemographic determinants of university students' aver- sion towards inter-ethnic inequity and ethnic group loyalty. I provide confirma- tion that some specific sociodemographic characteristics significantly (i) increase the degree of aversion towards inter-ethnic inequity and (ii) lower ethnic group loyalty. Those characteristics have in common that they reduce the ‘psycholog- ical' distance between ethnic groups, like living in a cosmopolitan city and hav- ing parents belonging to different ethnic groups (see Atchade and Wantchekon (2006) for a first evidence). Besides, I find that ethnic group loyalty is par- ticularly strong among ethnic groups experiencing a severe level of grievance. Finally, evidence shows that aversion towards inter-ethnic inequity depends pos- itively on the income of the household in which the respondent grew up in.
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Submitted on : Friday, July 23, 2010 - 10:03:57 AM
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  • HAL Id : pastel-00003566, version 1


Marie-Anne Valfort. Ethical voting in various contexts of democracy: a contribution to the New Political Economy.. Political science. Ecole Polytechnique X, 2007. English. ⟨pastel-00003566⟩



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