Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Friday, July 22, 2022

Neoliberalism and the Ideological Construction of Equity Beliefs

Goudarzi, S., Badaan, V., & Knowles, E. D. (2022). 
Perspectives on Psychological Science. 


Researchers across disciplines, including psychology, have sought to understand how people evaluate the fairness of resource distributions. Equity, defined as proportionality of rewards to merit, has dominated the conceptualization of distributive justice in psychology; some scholars have cast it as the primary basis on which distributive decisions are made. The present article acts as a corrective to this disproportionate emphasis on equity. Drawing on findings from different subfields, we argue that people possess a range of beliefs about how valued resources should be allocated—beliefs that vary systematically across developmental stages, relationship types, and societies. By reinvigorating notions of distributive justice put forth by the field’s pioneers, we further argue that prescriptive beliefs concerning resource allocation are ideological formations embedded in socioeconomic and historical contexts. Fairness beliefs at the micro level are thus shaped by those beliefs’ macro-level instantiations. In a novel investigation of this process, we consider neoliberalism, the globally dominant socioeconomic model of the past 40 years. Using data from more than 160 countries, we uncover evidence that neoliberal economic structures shape equity-based distributive beliefs at the individual level. We conclude by advocating an integrative approach to the study of distributive justice that bridges micro- and macro-level analyses.

From the Conclusions section

The extant literature in psychology conceptualizes neoliberalism as a belief system that can vary dispositionally and situationally (Beattie et al., 2019; Bettache & Chiu, 2019). Bay-Cheng and colleagues (2015) developed a Neoliberal Beliefs Inventory that taps into four subfacets of neoliberal thinking: System Inequality, conceptualized as views about the existence and the extent of inequality in society; Competition, which measures the extent to which one views competition as natural and beneficial; Personal Wherewithal, defined as attributing outcomes and success to personal dispositions such as hard work and merit; and Government Interference, which gauges the extent to which state intervention is seen to constrain personal freedom and endanger the meritocratic ideal. In another attempt, Grzanka and colleagues (2020) created the single-facet Anti-Neoliberal Attitudes Scale using items from existing inventories. Moreover, the endorsement of neoliberal policies has been shown to predict other orientations and belief systems that legitimize group and system inequalities (Azevedo et al., 2019). Becker (2021) examined the situational effect of neoliberal beliefs and found that exposure to neoliberal messages that prioritize freedom over justice and equality, individual success over public spirit, and distributions according to ability over need induced antielite sentiment and that this was mediated by feelings of threat, unfairness, and hopelessness.

Although the research described above is informative, from a cultural-psychological perspective, the notion of ideology also includes laws, policies, institutions, and practices embodying prescriptive and descriptive ideas about fair socioeconomic arrangements. Therefore, a sociocultural model of neoliberal ideology entails empirically investigating the dynamics of neoliberal belief systems (at an individual level) with neoliberal laws, institutions, and cultural practices and products, as in the present analysis. To our knowledge, the empirical analysis presented in this article is the first illustration within psychology and related fields of how neoliberal macro structures influence distributive preferences and beliefs.