Redistribution through Taxes and Charity: The Cost of ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ to the Secular Poor

John Huber and Piero Stanig are speaking on this paper:

We [Huber and Stanig] analyze how institutions that establish the level of separation of church and state should influence the political economy of redistribution. Our formal model describes how incentives for charitable giving, coupled with church-state institutions, create opportunities for the rich to form coalitions with the religious poor, at the expense of the secular poor. In our analysis, religion can limit redistribution — not because of the particular faith, belief or risk attitudes of religious individuals (as emphasized by others) — but rather because of simple material greed among the rich and the religious poor. We explore how church-state separation will mediate efforts by the rich to form electoral coalitions with the religious poor, as well as the implications for the size of government, charitable giving, and the welfare of various social groups.

I don’t have any specific comments on the paper, but I do wonder if the model can help explain the pattern that, in recent U.S. elections, income predicts of vote choice among the religious but not among non-church-attenders:


7 thoughts on “Redistribution through Taxes and Charity: The Cost of ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ to the Secular Poor

  1. I have not yet read the paper carefully but take exception to the value laden language employed by the authors in the abstract. It apepars written to get picked up by journalists. For example, the language usage in the phrase "because of simple material greed among the rich and the religious poor" is striking. My quick perusal of the article dis not uncover any reason for such strong value laden language. In addition, the use of the separation of church state is also questionable. The basic hypotheses offered do not appear that controversial. As an economist I would expect religious of various sorts to have different perceptions of value. This doe s not translate into greed as we commonly use it.

  2. I don't think this model can explain the pattern seen above. It holds that the rich will be uniformly opposed to government redistribution; among the poor, views will depend on commitment to religion. The figure shows the opposite: religiosity divides the rich more than the poor. Or to put it another way, if there's a "coalition", it's not between the religious rich and religious poor, but between the non-religious rich and non-religious poor, who are both strongly Democratic.

  3. Huber and Stanig's paper has propositions and lemmas and equations, but I didn't see any actual data in there. (In other words, they are making an argument based on logic rather than empirics, much as Thomas Aquinas might have done in the 13th century when math was more primitive. To put in bluntly, there's a good chance this paper it itself a religious argument dressed up in equations.)

    As Bee wrote, "greed" seems to be used in an inflammatory context. The word occurs in the abstract, and once in the paper itself, on page 32 of 36. Even there it's qualified: "Instead such effects MIGHT be due simply to material greed" (emphasis added).

  4. There's no evidence of collusion between the religious rich and the religious poor. I interpret the graph as showing that the religious poor have a conflict the rich don't. By 2004, it was clear that Bush domestic policies helped the rich. His policies were also likely to be favored by the religious. So poor, religious people were torn between economics and religion. Rich religious people felt no such conflict and voted in much larger numbers for Bush. (non-religious people felt no such conflict.)

    It's what Lazarfeld decades ago called "cross-pressure" (or in this case, what I called in my blog (Nov. 6, 2006) "the old rugged cross-pressure."

  5. Jay,

    Sure, but then why aren't the non-religious poor more strongly supporting the Democrats? Under your story, they don't have any cross-pressure at all.

  6. "why aren't the non-religious poor more strongly supporting the Democrats?" Because the evil Karl Rove, who has the power to cloud men's minds, scared them with Terrorism.

    One or two variables can't explain all voting preferences. Maybe you could view the nonreligious-poor % as a baseline Bush vote. Religiosity increases that %. So does money, but only among the nonreligious.

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