Don't Tell Tyler Cowen
By Arnold Kling
About this paper by Ilyana Kuziemko, and others.
Why do low-income individuals often oppose redistribution? We hypothesize that an aversion to being in “last place” undercuts support for redistribution, with low-income individuals punishing those slightly below themselves to keep someone \beneath” them. In laboratory experiments, we find support for “last-place aversion” in the contexts of risk aversion and redistributive preferences.
If you tell him, Tyler will probably boast that he has been saying that folks care more about relative status, particularly vis-a-vis those with whom they interact frequently, than about the overall distribution of income.
If what people care most about is relative status, then you can see why an affluent college professor would be more upset by the higher incomes of executives in business than by poverty elsewhere. Even if high taxes on the “rich” do nothing for the poor, they help the professor’s status relative to the reference group that concerns him.