Different beliefs about the fairness of social competition and what determines income inequality influence the redistributive policy chosen in a society. But the composition of income in equilibrium depends on tax policies. We show how the interaction between social beliefs and welfare policies may lead to multiple equilibria or multiple steady states. If a society believes that individual effort determines income, and that all have a right to enjoy the fruits of their effort, it will choose low redistribution and low taxes. In equilibrium, effort will be high and the role of luck will be limited, in which case market outcomes will be relatively fair and social beliefs will be self-fulfilled. If instead, a society believes that luck, birth, connections, and/or corruption determine wealth, it will levy high taxes, thus distorting allocations and making these beliefs self-sustained as well. These insights may help explain the cross-country variation in perceptions about income inequality and choices of redistributive policies.
Reprinted in Fairness in Law and Economics, edited by Lee Anne Fennell, Max Pam Professor of Law and Richard H. McAdams, Bernard D. Meltzer Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School, USA