Social Mobility and the Demand for Redistribution: The Poum Hypothesis

Centre of Economic Policy Research Discussion Paper Series No. 1955

Posted: 1 Dec 1998

See all articles by Efe A. Ok

Efe A. Ok

Leonard N. Stern School of Business - Department of Economics

Roland Bénabou

Princeton University - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: August 1998

Abstract

Even relatively poor people oppose high rates of redistribution because of the anticipation that they, or their children, may move up the income ladder. This eProspect of Upward Mobilityi (POUM) hypothesis is commonly advanced to explain why democracies do not engage in large-scale progressive redistributions. But is it compatible with rational expectations, given that not everyone can end up richer than average? This paper establishes the formal basis for the POUM hypothesis. There is a range of incomes below average where agents oppose lasting redistributions, provided tomorrowis expected income is increasing and concave in todayis income. The laissez-faire coalition is larger the more concave the transition function and the longer the political horizon. We illustrate the general analysis with an example (calibrated to the United States) where three-quarters of families are always poorer than average, yet a two-thirds majority has expected future incomes above the mean. We also analyse mobility matrices from the Panel Study on Income Dynamics (PSID) and find significant evidence of the POUM effect.

JEL Classification: D31, D72, H20, P16

Suggested Citation

Ok, Efe A. and Bénabou, Roland, Social Mobility and the Demand for Redistribution: The Poum Hypothesis (August 1998). Centre of Economic Policy Research Discussion Paper Series No. 1955, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=139312

Efe A. Ok (Contact Author)

Leonard N. Stern School of Business - Department of Economics ( email )

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Roland Bénabou

Princeton University - Department of Economics ( email )

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