Monday, December 26, 2022

Zero-sum thinking is associated with preferences for progressive economic policies in general (redistribution, affirmative action inter alia)

Zero-Sum Thinking and the Roots of U.S. Political Divides. Shahil Chinoy, Nathan Nunn, Sandra Sequeira, and Stefanie Stantcheva. Dec 2022.

Abstract: We examine the causes and consequences of an important cultural and psychological trait: the extent to which one views the world in zero-sum terms – i.e., that benefits to one person or group tend to come at the cost of others. We implement a survey among approximately 15,000 individuals living in the United States that measures zero-sum thinking, political and policy views, and a rich set of characteristics about their ancestry. We find that a more zero-sum view is strongly correlated with several policy views about the importance of government, the value of redistributive policies, the impact of immigration, and one’s political orientation. We find that zero-sum thinking can be explained by experiences of an individual’s ancestors (parents and grandparents), including the amount of intergenerational upward mobility they experienced, the degree of economic hardship they suffered, whether they immigrated to the United States or were exposed to more immigrants, and whether they had experiences with enslavement. These findings underscore the importance of psychological traits, and how they are transmitted inter-generationally, in explaining current political divides in the United States.


We then study the potential implications of a zero-sum mindset for attitudes and views in the United States. We find that individuals who view the world in more zero-sum terms tend to support policies that redistribute income from the rich to the poor or redistribute access to resources towards disadvantaged groups. This includes redistributive policies like taxation, universal healthcare, and affirmative action for women and African-Americans. Consistent with these specific views, we also find that zero-sum thinking is associated with preferences for liberal economic policies in general and with stronger political alignment with the Democratic Party (and weaker alignment with the Republican Party).


Zero-sum thinking has also been studied in the context of in-groups and out-groups. An#alyzing which factors increase the likelihood of hosting refugees, Piotrowski et al. (2019) find that zero-sum thinking is positively correlated with patriotism (a view in which out-groups are perceived as cooperators) and a willingness to host refugees, and negatively correlated with nationalism (a view in which out-groups are perceived as competitors). On racial attitudes, Norton and Sommers (2011) document that white respondents seem to consider racism a zero#sum game in which decreases in perceived bias against Black people over time translate into higher “reverse racism” against white people. Wilkins et al. (2015) show that high-status groups (white people and men) are more likely to espouse zero-sum beliefs than low-status groups (Black people and women), especially when they feel that their own group is being discriminated against. Stefaniak et al. (2020) also show that zero-sum beliefs are more common among white respondents (the advantaged group) than among Black respondents (the disadvantaged group) and are positively correlated with supporting the status quo, i.e., negatively correlated with their willingness to become “allies” of disadvantaged groups. Our evidence on how historical exposure to enslavement in the U.S. shapes zero-sum thinking among white individuals today is in line with these findings.