Economy, Regs, & Taxes

Study Finds Unemployed Support Legalized Theft

But people who work think they deserve to keep the fruits of their labor.

Louis DeBroux · Apr. 13, 2016

A “startling” new study published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences takes a deeper look into how employment status impacts people’s views on wealth redistribution. Shockingly (okay, we kid), it finds that people who work for a living prefer to keep more of the money that they’ve earned. In related articles, the science journal discovers other “startling” facts, such as water is wet, and fire is hot.

The only thing startling about these findings is that anyone would be startled by these findings. Human nature, despite the often absurd claims of the intellectual class, has not changed since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden.

In the study, participants were invited to play anonymously in a “redistributive justice” game in which each player is allocated a different sum of money, and each player knows how much the other players have received. Prior to the start of the game, players had to engage in a specific task for which they were rewarded, with the best outcomes producing the higher rewards. Reason’s Ronald Bailey outlines the rules as follows:

Once the play was over, each participant was given a tray divided into four sections. One section belongs to him or her and the other three sections belong to fellow participants. In two-thirds of the cases how the money is divided up in the trays is related to how much work each participant did and in the remaining cases the amounts are allocated more or less randomly. Each participant can decide how to divvy up the money between himself or herself and the other three players. Once all of the participants have made their allocation decisions, the decisions of one, randomly selected, determine the final payoffs.

The goal of the experiment was to see how the employment status of participants who affect how they would choose to divvy up the funds.

What were the results? Players tended to be less likely to redistribute the money if they knew that the money had been earned by those possessing it, but more likely to redistribute the wealth if they thought the wealth had been acquired by luck.

More interesting, and enlightening, were the results when the same players were invited back to play again a year later. Of the 151 European young adults in the control group, 85 were employed and 66 were full-time students during the first “game.” A year later, 59 were still employed, 26 unemployed, 51 were still full-time students, and 15 were former students who were now unemployed. The question now: What impact, if any, did the employment status have on their redistributionist tendencies?

According to researcher Luis Miller, generally speaking, participants who were employed or full-time students tended to believe that people should be able to keep more of what they earn (and that higher productivity should be rewarded with greater earnings). “When people become unemployed, our study indicates that they let go of this belief,” Miller said. “They put a higher value on the redistribution of money, which, in social terms, would mean higher taxes on those earning more in order to fund increased public spending.”

In other words, people who work tend to believe they have a right keep the money they earned, while the unemployed are less likely to agree. Those who live off the work of others not only are significantly more likely to support forced income redistribution, but over time they come to feel entitled to the earnings of others, and to believe that they have a “right” to be supported by the state.

In his book “Economic Sophisms,” French economist Frederic Bastiat explained nearly two centuries ago the underlying truths this study has confirmed. Wrote Bastiat, “Now since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain — and since labor is pain in itself — it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work. History shows this quite clearly. And under these conditions, neither religion nor morality can stop it.”

Or, as stated more succinctly by self-avowed socialist playwright George Bernard Shaw, “A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend upon the support of Paul.” Shaw also put it another: “A socialist is somebody who doesn’t have anything, and is ready to divide it up equally among everybody.” Shaw may have been a socialist, but he was up front about what that meant.

On a larger scale, then, maybe it should be no surprise that the American political party most associated with business and hard work, the Republican Party, advocates policies that allow the worker to keep more of his or her earnings. Nor should it be surprising that the Democrat Party, which advocates ever-growing spending on social welfare programs, and which blames income inequality on a corrupt system rather than on disparities in outcome driven by disparities in educational achievement, work ethic and entrepreneurialism, supports ever greater levels of income redistribution.

Think about these things the next time you hear a politician complaining about “giving” money to the “rich” in the form of tax cuts — an idea that can only be true if one believes the fruit of a man’s labor belongs to government. If this is true, then men are slaves, and government the master. That’s certainly not Liberty; it’s tyranny.

Scottish economist Adam Smith, who had a profound influence on our nation’s Founding Fathers, wrote in his book “The Wealth of Nations,” “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages.”

The converse is that, because man is motivated by self-interest, when you take from him the fruits of his labor there comes a point at which he will no longer work, and at that point, there is no wealth to redistribute.

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