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Why Poor People Hate Helping Other Poor People

Unless you live under a rock, you'd know that government (and yes, even some insanely rich people like Warren Buffett) is calling for an increase in taxation for the rich in effort to save education, social programs, and so on.

You'd think that regular Joes, who makes nowhere near the proposed $250,000 a year threshold for increased taxes, wouldn't be opposed to such thing. After all, they're not being taxed. But many actually do. Why is that?

Economists have usually explained poor people’s counter-intuitive disdain for something that might make them better off by invoking income mobility. Joe the Plumber might not be making enough to be affected by proposed hikes in tax rates on those making more than $250,000 a year, they argue, but he hopes some day to be one of them.

In this theory, it makes sense that people who make $200,000 a year to be opposed to the increased taxation scheme, even if they aren't affected now. After all, $250,000 a year is a reachable goal, so they don't want to set themselves up to get taxed more if they earn more in the future.

But that theory also predicts that the wider the income gap, the more supportive people would be to government efforts to boost their incomes. Someone who makes $15,000 a year would presumably be so far down the ladder that he or she couldn't care if the wealthy got taxed more.

So, you'd think that poor people would be the first in line to defend income redistribution programs (or socialistic hand outs, depending where you are on the political spectrum), but you'd actually be wrong.

Here's the surprising result of an economic study that poor people are actually the most vociferously opposed to programs that increase their own income if such action also help those poorer than themselves:

Instead of opposing redistribution because people expect to make it to the top of the economic ladder, the authors of the new paper argue that people don’t like to be at the bottom. One paradoxical consequence of this “last-place aversion” is that some poor people may be vociferously opposed to the kinds of policies that would actually raise their own income a bit but that might also push those who are poorer than them into comparable or higher positions. The authors ran a series of experiments where students were randomly allotted sums of money, separated by $1, and informed about the “income distribution” that resulted. They were then given another $2, which they could give either to the person directly above or below them in the distribution.

In keeping with the notion of “last-place aversion”, the people who were a spot away from the bottom were the most likely to give the money to the person above them: rewarding the “rich” but ensuring that someone remained poorer than themselves. Those not at risk of becoming the poorest did not seem to mind falling a notch in the distribution of income nearly as much. This idea is backed up by survey data from America collected by Pew, a polling company: those who earned just a bit more than the minimum wage were the most resistant to increasing it.

Poverty may be miserable. But being able to feel a bit better-off than someone else makes it a bit more bearable.

Read more at The Economist: Link

This is not a good test because the $2 just comes from nowhere and has no consequences other than making someone wealthier.

A better test might be this: you need to take $2 from the wealthier person and give it to the poorer one, or take $2 from a poor person and give it to a wealthier one. Which would you do? I hope most people would choose the former, but it doesn't explain why US politicians seems to prefer the latter.
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How about you just don't take money from anyone without their permission?

"Poor" people hate imposing taxes on the rich because they know in a few years they will be in those tax brackets. When the national income tax was first enacted, only the wealthiest 0.01% paid ANYTHING. Now middle income people pay 30-40%.
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@Nick Gisburne - the idea is not to "test" taking from the rich and give to the poor.

The idea behind the study is to show that people take their social standing very seriously: that even poor people have an aversion to last-place.

@Tom2394587 - the income mobility doesn't/shouldn't come into play here, because the gap is so wide.
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The writers of the paper say their idea is backed up by a Pew Survey that concludes “people who make just a bit more than minimum wage are the most resistant to changing it.”

I would argue that this is because those people probably earned pay increases through experience and hard work, then suddenly see everyone else making the exact same thing for nothing.

This is true in any industry. When companies raise salaries for entry level employees, the existing employees that are closest to the entry level wage are upset because they feel the hard work and time they put into getting pay increases was for nothing.

In fact, what if the entry level salary (or minimum wage) was made higher than what those close to it make? You would of course have upset employees as before, but now you have proven the exact theory in question. Most people would rather NOT see their own salary increase if it meant those below them would get an increase too.

The issue is not about compassion, it is about losing what you worked hard for.
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masochists looking up, sadists looking down. its how they feel better about themselves. its the same psychology of the abused who then abuse things weaker then themselves.
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Actually, study after study consistently show that the poorest are
the most generous givers, and donate a much greater proportion of their income, more consistently, than those in higher brackets.

I suspect the authors cited in The Economist have not yet studied their hypothesis to account for fundamental values - moral, ethical, religious, and political - as the true root of opposition to the politically operated tactic of welfare.
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My own life experience is that poor people are the most likely to tip when in restaurants. It is absolutely true that poor people are more generous with their own money than are upper middle income types like economists, lawyers, doctors and other people lurking in well paid bureaucracies.

The Economist is looking at GOVERNMENT re-distribution, which is when the GOVERNMENT takes from the taxpayer and gives to the winners in life's lottery: the dependent folk.
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Even if you were to take EVERY DOLLAR from EVERY PERSON in the US making $250,000 a year or more, you STILL would not have enough money to cover the 1.6 TRILLION dollar debt from JUST THIS YEAR ALONE!!!

The "taxing the rich" meme is fundamental communist propaganda. Its purpose is to keep you angry and thinking that "rich" people are to blame for all your problems, while they loot our treasury and spend us into oblivion as fast as they can...

WAKE UP AMERICA!!! You are being sold into slavery one borrowed dollar at a time... The government is NOT your friend, and "rich" people are not your enemies...
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SO sick of these cynical, condescending explanations for why some who are not rich still oppose the unfair taxing of the rich. Here's what it sounds like to me:

- Oh he's just against date rape because he someday hopes to be an attractive woman.

- Oh he's just against bigotry because he someday hopes to be a minority.

- Oh he's just against exploitation of natural resources because he someday hopes to be a forest.

How about we're against it because it's WRONG?! Occam's Razor, folks.
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Simple, and I explained it before; There is a finite amount of money, and a finite number of people. Wealth is relative to how much money you own compared to your neighbours. If you want to be rich, then you also want other people to be poor. So if you are poor now, but plan on being rich sometime in the future, you don't want the distribution of money evening out. On the other hand if you want it both ways your acting the fool.
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By the way, this author forgot to mention the reasons why Americans are most likely to be against higher taxes. The more racially homologous a given country or city is, the more likely its constituents are to allow their money to be put to social safety nets. Suddenly, looking through the sociological lens, this issue pertains to that of racism in American cities.

Also, do not give me the flawed American mentality of: If you don't like it here, then leave!

America does not heavily tax her citizens when compared to other nations.
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The reason why poor people can't help other poor is obvious. They don't have enough..

We'll of course the Rich should be taxed more.. See Warren Buffets recent article on the subject.

Anyway, The govt will have to soon get its head out of the sand and start understanding the merits of social policies like that of Sweden and Denmark. It would seem that the US mindset thrives on inequality, since 15% of its population now collect food stamps. And we now know the so called rich/corporations don't end up creating jobs, but take away jobs to simply increase their own profits.. Without govt interventions we all know how this adds up -- wealth is not re-distributed in a pure capitalistic system.
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