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Earning our place, more or less: responsibility’s flexible relationship with desert in socioeconomic standing

Jacob S. Bower-Bir ()
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Jacob S. Bower-Bir: J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program, Indiana University Bloomignton

Economia Politica: Journal of Analytical and Institutional Economics, 2021, vol. 38, issue 1, No 6, 170 pages

Abstract: Abstract I use a nationally representative survey to determine whether and which Americans associate personal responsibility with economic desert. Philosophers actively debate this relationship, but social scientists routinely take it for granted, foisting this assumed relationship on the people they study. Respondents, I find, generally want their economic fates to rest on criteria for which they are (or appear) personally responsible, but they express this belief with varying levels of conviction and with two notable exceptions. The first involves specific determinants of economic status. Respondents are divided on whether individuals exert control over their intelligence, creativity, health, and educational pedigree, but they are generally comfortable with the first two affecting peoples’ economic standing. The second concerns who considers personal responsibility morally relevant to economic status. Neoliberals, chiefly concerned with economic growth, are significantly less insistent that individuals be personally responsible for their economic standing. Same for non-white, lower income, and older respondents, and respondents from elite schools, though to a lesser degree. At best, ideal paths to economic success and ruin are moderately associated with personal agency, though many are weakly correlated. So it goes with respondents’ overall correlations between perceived control over economic determinants and the ideal-importance of those factors to economic standing. Researchers must look beyond their preferred philosophical dispositions and investigate justice as it is envisioned and lived by their subjects.

Keywords: Justice; Morals; Social institutions; Responsibility; Desert; Luck; B4; B41; D6; D63; Z1; Z13 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1007/s40888-020-00201-9

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