Economic Individualism and Cross-National Differences in Redistribution

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Authors
Arikan, Gizem
Issue Date
1-May-10
Type
Dissertation
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en_US
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Abstract
Redistributive policies and public support for redistribution vary greatly across countries. Although a large literature on the factors that influence the cross-national variation in redistribution has accumulated, behavioral factors such as cultural influences have received limited attention. In this dissertation, I address the effect of the political culture of economic individualism and shared subjective beliefs regarding the role of government on cross-national differences in the size of government, relative generosity of welfare policies, and support for redistribution. I show that a political culture that emphasizes the values of individual autonomy, self-reliance, pursuit of self-interest and achievement generates stronger support for capitalism and deter the development of strong redistributive policies. On the other hand, rather than being direct, cultural variables' effect on redistributive policy is indirect, and is mediated by existing institutions such as the electoral system and government type. In addition, the effect of political culture is not restricted to redistributive spending at the national level. Shared cultural values of economic individualism, by influencing the context within which political debates take place, the way political issues are framed and limiting the range of options available to societies also affects individual policy preferences, thus creating a cross-national heterogeneity in attitudes towards redistributive policies. Taking the cultural context into account improves our understanding of cross-national variation in both redistributive policies and support for such policies, thus pointing to the often-ignored link between mass attitudes and policy outcomes. In addition, results suggest that the effect of institutions is also conditional upon the cultural context within which they operate. That is, institutions do not have the predicted effects on redistribution in all polities, and their effect on political outcomes depend on the dominance of individualist values in the society. Overall, the findings support the arguments that cultural factors have significant explanatory power on political outcomes and both through their impact on national policies as well as their power to condition individual attitudes and public opinion.
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The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY.
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