Movements like Occupy Wall Street might have brought people to the streets by the thousand, but it turns out there is something inherent in human nature that makes economic equality an unreachable ideal.
A new study out of Germany and the United States shows that given the choice, people would rather have financial inequality than redistribute wealth by taking from the rich and giving to the poor a la Robin Hood.
The study randomly recruited 5,000 participants, and gave them each two Amazon gift cards, either $25, $50, or $75. They were told one of the two cards was theirs, and then they were given the option to transfer money to or from the other card, on a sliding scale.
They found that participants chose to only redistribute about 12 per cent of all the funds available to reduce inequality, even though they knew there was an imbalance.
This shows that people are willing to tolerate quite a bit of inequality, even when there’s no difficulty in redistributing money.
There was also a difference in people’s actions when they were the richer ones versus when they were the poorer ones. Poorer people were less likely to take from richer people to redistribute the wealth, and people who did take from the rich were less likely to give it to someone poorer than themselves.
The researchers suggest this shows why huge economic disparities exist in democratic countries like the United States, saying that it’s more embedded in human nature to tolerate inequality than we might like to think.