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Hochschild: What's fair

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Hochschild. 1981. What's fair?.

Main Question

Why has there been so little support for socialism in the US? Hochschild wants to know why the poor don't demand more downward redistribution--especially since the median income is below the mean.


Interview 28 people in New Haven: 12 from a wealthy neighborhood, 16 from a poor one (this was merely an exploratory study).

Key Findings

  1. People's views on distributive justice depend on the realm. We favor social egalitarianism (family, friends, school) and political equality, but not economic egalitarianism. We believe that income should represent rewards for your effort, so we are okay with inequality.
  2. Many people do not have consistent beliefs about these issues, which produces anger, confusion, and helplessness.
  3. In sum: The poor do not support downward redistribution for two main reasons: Americans don't support economic egalitarianism, and ambivalence about this makes passivity and acquiescence more likely than action.


Hochschild presents a snapshot without any explanation of where these beliefs come from and what might change them. Hochschild seems to think that values are exogenous, but in reality values and the political system have a feedback loop. It's possible that the causal arrow goes the other way: institutions structure values. For example, if our institutions allowed small parties to have a real role, would we expect more people to support different views? If a socialist/labor party had been able to make a foothold, would more people today have socialist views?

Research on similar subjects


Hochschild, Jennifer (author)American PoliticsCultureAmerican ExceptionalismSocialismCapitalismEqualityRedistributionPublic OpinionPolitical Values

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