Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Last-Place Aversion" Drives Welfare Haters

The most conservative class is normally the petite bourgeoisie. Not the top, not the bottom, but one up from the bottom. The lower-middles are especially opposed to benefits for the bottom class - even if it means giving massive breaks to the rich.

The Economist cites new research on this puzzle. It is not that Joe the Plumber('s assistant) really expects to be in the top tax bracket someday that makes him oppose raising taxes on the rich. It is because he doesn't want there to be any money redistributed to the class below him, which might raise them up to his level.

"Last-place aversion," more than rich envy, makes the petite bourgeoisie so passionately opposed to welfare.


ceemac said...


In the last century wealthy whites in the Segregated US South used this "Last Place Aversion" to keep poor whites on their side when the poor whites actually had more in common with poor blacks.

My own grandmother was as racist as they come. She believed every stereotype about blacks (and that was not the word she would have used)that she had ever heard. George Wallace was her hero.

She grew up in the early 20th century as a child of Alabama sharecroppers. She did not vote until the poll tax ended.

But she was white and so was not at the bottom of the pile in Alabama. And would never have considered collaborating with black folk against the wealthy whites.

Brendan said...

This is one of those broad conclusions about national poverty based on a study of twenty people who kept their appointment with a psych professor, right?

I can admit (with some shame) that, in my younger and more conservative days, I opposed progressive taxing for exactly the usual reason: I considered myself pre-rich. While I don't doubt ceemac's story applies to many people--the Southern Strategy was still in play last decade--I don't think that spite can be substituted for misplaced self-interest quite this easily.

gruntled said...

The research base is a little broader than that :-) - see the links at the bottom of the Economist article.

The other research I have been reading about social closure fits nicely with this finding. Status groups are normally created by the group above closing itself against the group below, and then trying to be included in the group above. The fight for classification should, I expect, be especially intense and emotional to avoid the bottom.

Lakesha H. said...

As a member of the petite bourgoisie I beg to differ. As a member of the lowest class for my first 30 years I experienced firsthand how demeaning and seductive government hand outs are. And I don't consider letting people keep more of what they earn to be a massive break.

Clover Bell Farm said...

Hasn't this existed forever? I see this everywhere. The last one in always wants to shut the door behind them. Whether poor white farmers or country clubbers.
(Love the blog!)