Achieving Justice

Comparative Public Opinion on Income Distribution


This book gives a systematic and extensive comparative analysis of public beliefs about social justice. Contrary to previous studies it attempts to link public opinion to the philosophical debate on distributive justice, but more importantly it connects the different opinion surveys with the current economic and political situation in the various countries.
What can explain the cross-national variations, and if opinions do change over time, why is this so? Are people’s beliefs influenced by existing welfare practices in the country? Do different policy regimes trigger different pattern of belief among the members of society?
This book should be of interest to researchers and students both in the field of Comparative Opinion Studies, but also those interested in the relationship between public opinion and the political elite.

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Biographical Note

Toril Aalberg, Dr. Polit (2001) in Political Science, NTNU Trondheim, is a Post.Doc Fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. She has published several articles about public opinion. She is co-editor of Challenges to Representative Democracy: Parties, Voters and Public Opinion (Fagbokforlaget, 1999).

Table of contents

List of tables List of figures 1. Public opinion, government policies and distributive justice. An introduction 1.1 The importance of public opinion 1.2 What sort of opinion: ideals, perceptions and policy attitudes 1.3 What can explain cross-national variations? 1.4 What can explain variations across time? 1.5 What can explain individual variations? 1.6 Methods and data 1.6.1 International Social Survey Program (ISSP) 1.6.2 The European Value Surveys/ The World Value Surveys (WVS) 1.6.3 International Social Justice Project (ISJP) 1.6.4 Distributive Justice Perception Project (DJPP) 1.6.5 Experiments on Distributive Justice Norms Across Cultures 1.6.6 The Luxembourg Income Study (LIS) 1.6.7 ILO data on occupational wages and hours of work 1.7 Plan of the study 2. Principles of distributive justice: A theoretical approach 2.1 What is distributive justice? 2.2 The formal and material principles of justice 2.3 Principles of equity 2.4 Principles of utility 2.5 Rawls’ difference principle 2.6 Principles of need 2.7 Principles of equality 2.8 Summary 3. Public support for distributive principles 3.1 Operationalizing the principles of distributive justice 3.2 Public support for distributive principles 3.3 The magnitude of support for need and equality: the ranking of countries 3.4 Structural differences in public support for the various principles 3.4.1 Individual level differences in public support for the various principles 3.5 Summary 4. Opposing principles and trade-offs: Results from an experimental study 4.1 Previous experimental research 4.2 The design of the experiment 4.3 Theoretical predictions: How would the principles interact? 4.4 Support for the individual principles 4.5 Trade-offs and interactions 4.6 Summary 5. Perceived distributions: The public understanding of reality 5.1 Conceptualizing and measuring public perceptions 5.2 The causes and consequences of perception 5.2.1 The relationship between socio-economic background and perceptions 5.2.2 The relationship between values and perceptions 5.3 The data: Measuring perceptions and finding the facts 5.4 Analysing perceptions of inequality 5.4.1 Perception of the proportion of poor 5.4.2 Perception of occupational earnings 5.4.3 Does what you see depend on where you stand? 5.5 Summary 6. Support for egalitarian ideals and policies: Reaction or adjustment? 6.1 Egalitarian values and policies - a conceptual clarification 6.2 The cultural and historical origin of value preferences 6.3 The shift in support for egalitarian values and policies 6.4 Data 6.5 Public preferences for equality - a comparative perspective 6.6 Summary 7. Wages and earning inequalities 7.1 Why some occupations deserve higher earnings then others 7.2 What influences the acceptance of large earning inequalities? 7.3 The data: measuring perceived and ideal occupational earnings 7.4 Occupational earnings differences across countries 7.5 Are the public divided in their view of the fairness of occupational earnings? 7.6 Explaining the dynamic of change over time 7.7 Ideals, perceptions and self interest: the impact of social background. 7.8 Summary 8. Taxes and redistribution of income 8.1 Welfare regimes and tax policies 8.2 Tax loads, progressive taxation and income distribution 8.3 Tax policies and public opinion 8.4 Public perception of tax-load and support for redistributive policies 8.5 Explaining public perception and support for redistribution 8.6 Summary 9. Conclusion 9.1 The public, the political elite and the philosophers 9.2 The structure of public beliefs: ideals, perceptions and policy attitudes 9.3 Cross-national variations, the effect of regimes and social structure 9.4 When public opinion change over time 9.5 The public of different countries and the argument of self interest 9.6 Future research References Appendix 1 Appendix 2 Appendix 3 Appendix 4


All those interested in public opinion, comparative politics and the philosophical discussion of distributive justice.

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