If given the opportunity, would citizens in highly unequal countries choose to soak the rich through redistributive taxes? In this paper, we offer a new conceptualization of preferences for redistribution, which relaxes the assumption that social spending necessitates taxation. We argue that tax preferences are endogenous to the state’s experience with social benefits and progressive taxation, and these experiences result in distinct Perspectives of Fiscal Fairness across countries. We identify three conceptually distinct perspectives - Redistribution, Distribution, and Retribution - and explain why alternative perspectives might have counter-intuitive attitudes towards soaking the rich. We test the emergence of these perspectives through a global analysis merging country-level data with World Values Survey. We then turn to a comparative case study of conjoint experiments in Mexico and Colombia to demonstrate that alternative perspectives will have different ideas of fiscal fairness. We conclude that preferences for redistribution do not fall neatly into a dichotomy between progressive and regressive preferences. Instead, distinct fiscal contexts produce unique conceptualizations about what economic fairness is and the role that taxes should play in its implementation.
David Doyle is Professor of Politics in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of St Hugh’s College. His general research and teaching interests include comparative politics and comparative political economy. He is currently working on a number of projects. These include a project on taxation and tax morale in Latin America and a project on the political effect of migrant remittances.