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Showing posts with label Inequality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Inequality. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Why the world cannot afford the rich

R. G. Wilkinson & K. E. Pickett
Originally published 12 March 24

Here is an excerpt:

Inequality also increases consumerism. Perceived links between wealth and self-worth drive people to buy goods associated with high social status and thus enhance how they appear to others — as US economist Thorstein Veblen set out more than a century ago in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Studies show that people who live in more-unequal societies spend more on status goods14.

Our work has shown that the amount spent on advertising as a proportion of gross domestic product is higher in countries with greater inequality. The well-publicized lifestyles of the rich promote standards and ways of living that others seek to emulate, triggering cascades of expenditure for holiday homes, swimming pools, travel, clothes and expensive cars.

Oxfam reports that, on average, each of the richest 1% of people in the world produces 100 times the emissions of the average person in the poorest half of the world’s population15. That is the scale of the injustice. As poorer countries raise their material standards, the rich will have to lower theirs.

Inequality also makes it harder to implement environmental policies. Changes are resisted if people feel that the burden is not being shared fairly. For example, in 2018, the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests erupted across France in response to President Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to implement an ‘eco-tax’ on fuel by adding a few percentage points to pump prices. The proposed tax was seen widely as unfair — particularly for the rural poor, for whom diesel and petrol are necessities. By 2019, the government had dropped the idea. Similarly, Brazilian truck drivers protested against rises in fuel tax in 2018, disrupting roads and supply chains.

Do unequal societies perform worse when it comes to the environment, then? Yes. For rich, developed countries for which data were available, we found a strong correlation between levels of equality and a score on an index we created of performance in five environmental areas: air pollution; recycling of waste materials; the carbon emissions of the rich; progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; and international cooperation (UN treaties ratified and avoidance of unilateral coercive measures).

The article argues that rising economic inequality is a major threat to the world's well-being. Here are the key points:

The rich are capturing a growing share of wealth: The richest 1% are accumulating wealth much faster than everyone else, and their lifestyles contribute heavily to environmental damage.

Inequality harms everyone: High levels of inequality are linked to social problems like crime, mental health issues, and lower social mobility. It also makes it harder to address environmental challenges because people resist policies seen as unfair.

More equal societies perform better: Countries with a more even distribution of wealth tend to have better social and health outcomes, as well as stronger environmental performance.

Policymakers need to take action: The article proposes progressive taxation, closing tax havens, and encouraging more equitable business practices like employee ownership.

The overall message is that reducing inequality is essential for solving a range of environmental, social, and health problems.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Seeing and sanctioning structural unfairness

Flores-Robles, G., & Gantman, A. P. (2023, June 28).


People tend to explain wrongdoing as the result of a bad actor or bad system. In five studies (four U.S. online convenience, one U.S. representative sample), we tested whether the way people understand unfairness affects how they sanction it. In Pilot 1A (N = 40), people interpreted unfair offers in an economic game as the result of a bad actor (vs. unfair rules), unless incentivized (Pilot 1B, N = 40), which, in Study 1 (N = 370), predicted costly punishment of individuals (vs. changing unfair rules). In Studies 2 (N = 500) and 3, (N = 470, representative of age, gender, and ethnicity in the U.S), we found that people paid to change the rules for the final round of the game (vs. punished individuals), when they were randomly assigned a bad system (vs. bad actor) explanation for prior identical unfair offers. Explanations for unfairness affect how people sanction it.

Statement of Relevance

Humans are facing massive problems including economic and social inequality. These problems are often framed in the media, and by friends and experts, as a problem either of individual action (e.g., racist beliefs) or of structures (e.g., discriminatory housing laws). The current research uses a context-free economic game to ask whether these explanations have any effect on what people think should happen next. We find that people tend to explain unfair offers in the game in terms of bad actors (unless incentivized) which is related to punishing individuals over changing the game itself.  When people are told that the unfairness they witnessed was the result of a bad actor, they prefer to punish that actor; when they are told that the same unfair behavior is the result of unfair rules, they prefer to change the rules. Our understanding of the mechanisms of inequality affect how we want to sanction it.

My summary:

The article discusses how people tend to explain wrongdoing as the result of a bad actor or bad system.  In essence, this is a human, decision-making process. The authors conducted five studies to test whether the way people understand unfairness affects how they sanction it. They found that people are more likely to punish individuals for unfair behavior when they believe that the behavior is the result of a bad actor. However, they are more likely to try to change the system (or the rules) when they believe that the behavior is the result of a bad system.

The authors argue that these findings have important implications for ethics, morality, and values. They suggest that we need to be more aware of the way we explain unfairness, because our explanations can influence how we respond to it. How an individual frames the issue is a key to correct possible solutions, as well as biases.  They also suggest that we need to be more critical of the systems that we live in, because these systems can create unfairness.

The article raises a number of ethical, moral, and value-related questions. For example, what is the responsibility of individuals to challenge unfair systems? What is the role of government in addressing structural unfairness? And what are the limits of individual and collective action in addressing unfairness?

The article does not provide easy answers to these questions. However, it does provide a valuable framework for thinking about unfairness and how we can respond to it.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Gender-Affirming Care for Cisgender People

Theodore E. Schall and Jacob D. Moses
Hastings Center Report 53, no. 3 (2023): 15-24.
DOI: 10.1002/hast.1486 


Gender-affirming care is almost exclusively discussed in connection with transgender medicine. However, this article argues that such care predominates among cisgender patients, people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth. To advance this argument, we trace historical shifts in transgender medicine since the 1950s to identify central components of "gender-affirming care" that distinguish it from previous therapeutic models, such as "sex reassignment." Next, we sketch two historical cases-reconstructive mammoplasty and testicular implants-to show how cisgender patients offered justifications grounded in authenticity and gender affirmation that closely mirror rationales supporting gender-affirming care for transgender people. The comparison exposes significant disparities in contemporary health policy regarding care for cis and trans patients. We consider two possible objections to the analogy we draw, but ultimately argue that these disparities are rooted in "trans exceptionalism" that produces demonstrable harm.

Here is my summary:

The authors cite several examples of gender-affirming care for cisgender people, such as breast reconstruction following mastectomy, penile implants following testicular cancer, hormone replacement therapy, and hair removal. They argue that these interventions can be just as important for cisgender people's mental and physical health as they are for transgender people.

The authors also note that gender-affirming care for cisgender people is often less scrutinized and less stigmatized than such care for transgender people. Cisgender people do not need special letters of permission from mental health providers to access care whose primary purpose is to affirm their gender identity. And insurance companies are less likely to exclude gender-affirming care for cisgender people from their coverage.

The authors argue that the differences in the conceptualization and treatment of gender-affirming care for cisgender and transgender people reflect broad anti-trans bias in society and health care. They call for a more inclusive view of gender-affirming care that recognizes the needs of all people, regardless of their gender identity.

Final thoughts:
  1. Gender-affirming care can be lifesaving. It can help reduce anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.  Gender-affirming care can be framed as suicide prevention.
  2. Gender-affirming care is not experimental. It has been studied extensively and is safe and effective. See other posts on this site for more comprehensive examples.
  3. All people deserve access to gender-affirming care, regardless of their gender identity. This is basic equality and fairness in terms of access to medical care.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Mitigating welfare-related prejudice and partisanship among U.S. conservatives with moral reframing of a universal basic income policy

Thomas, C. C., Walton, G. M., et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 105, March 2023, 104424


Inequality and deep poverty have risen sharply in the US since the 1990s. Simultaneously, cash-based welfare policies have frayed, support for public assistance has fallen on the political right, and prejudice against recipients of welfare has remained high. Yet, in recent years Universal Basic Income (UBI) has gained traction, a policy proposing to give all citizens cash sufficient to meet basic needs with no strings attached. We hypothesized that UBI can mitigate the partisanship and prejudice that define the existing welfare paradigm in the US but that this potential depends critically on the narratives attached to it. Indeed, across three online experiments with US adults (total N = 1888), we found that communicating the novel policy features of UBI alone were not sufficient to achieve bipartisan support for UBI or overcome negative stereotyping of its recipients. However, when UBI was described as advancing the more conservative value of financial freedom, conservatives perceived the policy to be more aligned with their values and were less opposed to the policy (meta-analytic effect on policy support: d = 0.36 [95% CI: 0.27 to 0.46]). Extending the literatures on moral reframing and cultural match, we further find that this values-aligned policy narrative mitigated prejudice among conservatives, reducing negative welfare-related stereotyping of policy recipients (meta-analytic effect d = −0.27 [95% CI: −0.38 to −0.16]), while increasing affiliation with them. Together, these findings point to moral reframing as a promising means by which institutional narratives can be used to bridge partisan divides and reduce prejudice.


• Policies like Universal Basic Income (UBI) propose to mitigate poverty and inequality by giving all citizens cash

• A UBI policy narrative based in freedom most increased policy support and reduced prejudice among conservatives

• This narrative also achieved the highest perceived moral fit, or alignment with one’s values, among conservatives

• Moral reframing of policy communications may be an effective institutional lever for mitigating partisanship and prejudice


General discussion

Three experiments revealed that a values-based narrative of UBI, one grounded in the conservative value of economic freedom, can advance bipartisanship in support for UBI and simultaneously mitigate welfare-related prejudice among U.S. conservatives. While policy reforms often focus on changes to objective policy features, these studies suggest that the narratives attached to such features will meaningfully influence public attitudes towards both the policy and its recipients. In other words, the potential of policies like UBI to advance goals such as inequality reduction and prejudice mitigation may be limited if they fail to attend to the narratives that accompany them.

Here, we demonstrate the potential for policy narratives that elevate the moral foundations of those most opposed to the policy, U.S. conservatives in this case. Why might this narrative approach succeed? At a higher-order level, our findings suggests that inclusion begets inclusion: when conservatives felt that the policy recognized and reflected their own values, they were more likely to support the policy and express inclusive attitudes toward its recipients.

Friday, January 13, 2023

How Much (More) Should CEOs Make? A Universal Desire for More Equal Pay

Kiatpongsan, S., & Norton, M. I. (2014).
Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(6), 587–593.


Do people from different countries and different backgrounds have similar preferences for how much more the rich should earn than the poor? Using survey data from 40 countries (N = 55,238), we compare respondents’ estimates of the wages of people in different occupations—chief executive officers, cabinet ministers, and unskilled workers—to their ideals for what those wages should be. We show that ideal pay gaps between skilled and unskilled workers are significantly smaller than estimated pay gaps and that there is consensus across countries, socioeconomic status, and political beliefs. Moreover, data from 16 countries reveals that people dramatically underestimate actual pay inequality. In the United States—where underestimation was particularly pronounced—the actual pay ratio of CEOs to unskilled workers (354:1) far exceeded the estimated ratio (30:1), which in turn far exceeded the ideal ratio (7:1). In sum, respondents underestimate actual pay gaps, and their ideal pay gaps are even further from reality than those underestimates.


These results demonstrate a strikingly consistent belief that the gaps in incomes between
skilled and unskilled workers should be smaller than people believe them to be – and much
smaller than these gaps actually are. The consensus that income gaps between skilled and
unskilled workers should be smaller holds in all subgroups of respondents regardless of their age,
education, socioeconomic status, political affiliation and opinions on inequality and pay. As a
result, they suggest that – in contrast to a belief that only the poor and members of left-wing
political parties desire greater income equality – people all over the world, and from all walks of
life, would prefer smaller pay gaps between the rich and poor.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Wealth redistribution promotes happiness

R. J. Dwyer and E. W. Dunn
PNAS, 119 (46) e2211123119
November 7, 2022


We took advantage of a unique experiment, in which anonymous donors gave US$10,000 to each of 200 recipients in seven countries. By comparing cash recipients with a control group that did not receive money, this preregistered experiment provides causal evidence that cash transfers substantially increase happiness across a diverse global sample. These gains were greatest for recipients who had the least: Those in lower-income countries gained three times more happiness than those in higher-income countries. Our data provide the clearest evidence to date that private citizens can improve net global happiness through voluntary redistribution to those with less.


How much happiness could be gained if the world’s wealth were distributed more equally? Despite decades of research investigating the relationship between money and happiness, no experimental work has quantified this effect for people across the global economic spectrum. We estimated the total gain in happiness generated when a pair of high-net-worth donors redistributed US$2 million of their wealth in $10,000 cash transfers to 200 people. Our preregistered analyses offer causal evidence that cash transfers substantially increase happiness among economically diverse individuals around the world. Recipients in lower-income countries exhibited happiness gains three times larger than those in higher-income countries. Still, the cash provided detectable benefits for people with household incomes up to $123,000.

From the Discussion section

This study provides causal evidence that cash transfers substantially increase happiness across a diverse sample spanning the global socioeconomic spectrum. By redistributing their wealth, two donors generated substantial happiness gains for others. These gains were greatest for recipients who had the least: Those in lower-income countries gained three times more happiness than those in higher-income countries, and those making $10k a year gained twice as much happiness as those making $100k. Still, the cash provided detectable benefits for people with household incomes up to $123k. Given that 99% of individuals earn less than this amount, these findings suggest that cash transfers could benefit the vast majority of the world’s population.

Of course, some caution is necessary in interpreting these findings, given that the study did not include nationally representative samples and focused on a limited time period. Although all participants were English-speaking Twitter users who were relatively liberal-leaning and well-educated, this sample was more economically diverse than any previous cash-transfer studies, enabling us to estimate the happiness benefits across a wide range of incomes. That said, our finding that cash transfers improved SWB—but less so for people with higher incomes—is consistent with the law of diminishing marginal utility in economics and with large-scale studies documenting the concave relationship between income and self-reported happiness.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Violence against women at work

Adams-Prassl, A., Huttunen, K., Nix, E., 
& Zhang, N. (2022). University of Oxford.
Working Paper


Between-colleague conflicts are common. We link every police report in Finland to administrative data to identify assaults between colleagues, and economic outcomes for victims, perpetrators, and firms. We document large, persistent labor market impacts of between colleague violence on victims and perpetrators. Male perpetrators experience substantially weaker consequences after attacking women compared to men. Perpetrators’ economic power in male-female violence partly explains this asymmetry. Male-female violence causes a decline in women at the firm. There is no change in within-network hiring, ruling out supplyside explanations via "whisper networks". Only male-managed firms lose women. Female managers do one important thing differently: fire perpetrators.


Our results have a number of implications. First, female victims of workplace violence have few economic incentives to report violence at work. Even in the relatively severe cases reported to the police in our data, the male perpetrator experiences relatively small labor market costs for his actions. This is consistent with the vast under-reporting of workplace harassment and abuse suggested by survey data. A major, known problem in preventing harassment at work is that victims rarely report the problem to their employer (Magley, 2002). Women under-reporting harassment and violence at the hands of a colleague (and in particular one’s manager) is easily reconciled with the comparative lack of career consequences for perpetrators of male-female violence we have documented.

Second, given that under-reporting is common, we are likely only observing a small fraction of all cases of workplace violence. As described in Section 2, just 10% of physical assaults are reported to the police in Finland, with lower reporting rates for crimes considered less serious by the victim (EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2015; European Institute for Crime Prevention & Control, 2009). Conservatively, this implies that the incidence of workplace violence is at least 10 times larger than can be documented by police reports. At the same time, under-reporting and selective reporting is relevant for the external validity of our results. While we provide the first evidence of the causal impacts of workplace violence on perpetrators, victims, and the broader firm we can only do so for the (likely) more severe cases reported to police. We might not expect to see quite as large of impacts on victims, perpetrators, and the firm from less severe abuse by colleagues.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

If you rise, I fall: Equality is prevented by the misperception that it harms advantaged groups

Brown, N. D., Jacoby-Senghor, D. S., 
& Raymundo, I. (2022). 
Science advances, 8(18)


Nine preregistered studies (n = 4197) demonstrate that advantaged group members misperceive equality as necessarily harming their access to resources and inequality as necessarily benefitting them. Only when equality is increased within their ingroup, instead of between groups, do advantaged group members accurately perceive it as unharmful. Misperceptions persist when equality-enhancing policies offer broad benefits to society or when resources, and resource access, are unlimited. A longitudinal survey of the 2020 U.S. voters reveals that harm perceptions predict voting against actual equality-enhancing policies, more so than voters’ political and egalitarian beliefs. Finally two novel-groups experiments experiments reveal that advantaged participants’ harm misperceptions predict voting for inequality-enhancing policies that financially hurt them and against equality-enhancing policies that financially benefit them. Misperceptions persist even after an intervention to improve decision-making. This misperception that equality is necessarily zero-sum may explain why inequality prevails even as it incurs societal costs that harm everyone.

From the Discussion Section

Across nine studies, we show that advantaged group members misperceive equality-enhancing policies as harming their access to resources, even when the policies do no such thing. We identify this misperception across various inequality contexts (e.g., mortgage lending, salary, and hiring), various group boundaries (e.g., race, gender, disability, and arbitrary group distinctions), and different types of resources (e.g., money and jobs). Advantaged group members also misperceive policies that maintain the status quo or magnify inequality as improving their resource access, even when the policies actually leave them no better off. This tendency for advantaged group members to think that equality necessarily incurs a cost to their group lingered even when equality-enhancing policies mutually benefited disadvantaged and advantaged groups in a win-win fashion. That is, advantaged group members misperceive having greater inequality and fewer resources available to their group as more advantageous than having greater overall resources that were shared more equally.

We also find that these harm perceptions can have profound implications for individuals’ attitudinal and behavioral opposition to policies that promote equality. During the 2020 election, California Proposition 16 proposed relegalizing the use of affirmative action policies in the public sector. We find that the more white and Asian voters perceived that California Proposition 16 would harm their access to resources, the less likely they were to express support or vote for Proposition 16, independent of their political leaning. Moreover, we find that behavioral opposition occurs even when harm perceptions are objectively false and the effects of equality-enhancing policies are unambiguously positive. In an experimental setting, advantaged group participants were just as likely to vote for an inequality-enhancing policy that financially harmed them as they were to vote for an equality-enhancing policy that financially benefitted them. These studies suggest that real-world opposition to equality is likely caused by unduly negative perceptions of policies that could reduce inequality and unduly positive perceptions of policies that exacerbate it.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Global evidence on the selfish rich inequality hypothesis

I. Almås, A. Cappelen, E. Sørensen, & B. Tungodden
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Jan 2022, 119 (3) e2109690119; 
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2109690119


We report on a study of whether people believe that the rich are richer than the poor because they have been more selfish in life, using data from more than 26,000 individuals in 60 countries. The findings show a strong belief in the selfish rich inequality hypothesis at the global level; in the majority of countries, the mode is to strongly agree with it. However, we also identify important between- and within-country variation. We find that the belief in selfish rich inequality is much stronger in countries with extensive corruption and weak institutions and less strong among people who are higher in the income distribution in their society. Finally, we show that the belief in selfish rich inequality is predictive of people’s policy views on inequality and redistribution: It is significantly positively associated with agreeing that inequality in their country is unfair, and it is significantly positively associated with agreeing that the government should aim to reduce inequality. These relationships are highly significant both across and within countries and robust to including country-level or individual-level controls and using Lasso-selected regressors. Thus, the data provide compelling evidence of people believing that the rich are richer because they have been more selfish in life and perceiving selfish behavior as creating unfair inequality and justifying equalizing policies.


People’s beliefs about why the rich are richer than the poor have the potential to affect both policy attitudes and economic development. We provide global evidence showing that where the fortunes of the rich are perceived to be the result of selfish behavior, inequality is viewed as unfair, and there is stronger support for income redistribution. However, we also observe that belief in selfish rich inequality is highly polarized in many countries and thus a source of political disagreement that might be detrimental to economic development. We find systematic country differences in the extent to which people believe that selfishness is a source of inequality, which sheds light on international differences in public morality, civic virtues, and redistributive policies.

From the Discussion

An interesting question is how the belief in selfish rich inequality relates to the actual selfishness of the rich. To shed some light on this relationship, we use self-reported data from the 2018 Gallup World Poll on whether people last month donated money to a charity. In most countries, we find that the rich are more likely to have donated money than the poor, which is not surprising, given that the rich have more money than the poor. However, in SI Appendix, Fig. S8, we show that there is a negative relationship between the belief in selfish rich inequality and the extent to which donating money correlates with the income rank in society (β=−0.055,t57=−2.52, P = 0.014). Hence, the data suggest that the rich are less willing to donate money in countries where people believe there to be selection of selfish people into becoming rich.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Systemic Considerations in Child Development and the Pursuit of Racial Equality in the United States

Perry, S., Skinner-Dorkenoo, A. L., 
Wages, J., & Abaied, J. L. (2021, October 8). 


In this commentary on Lewis’ (2021) article in Psychological Inquiry, we expand on ways that both systemic and interpersonal contexts contribute to and uphold racial inequalities, with a particular focus on research on child development and socialization. We also discuss the potential roadblocks that may undermine the effectiveness of Lewis’ (2021) recommended strategy of relying on experts as a driving force for change. We conclude by proposing additional strategies for pursuing racial equality that may increase the impact of experts, such as starting anti-racist socialization early in development, family-level interventions, and teaching people about racial injustices and their connections to systemic racism.

From the Conclusion

Ultimately, the expert (Myrdal) concluded that the problem was White people and how they think about and structure society. Despite the immense popularity of his book among the American public and the fact that it did motivate some policy change (Brown v. Board of Education, Warren& Supreme Court of The United States, 1953), many of the same issues persist to this day. As such, we argue that, although relying on experts may be an appealing recommendation, history suggests that our efforts to reduce racial inequality in the U.S. will require substantial, widespread investment from White U.S. residents in order for real change to occur. Based on the literature reviewed here, significant barriers to such investment remain, many of which begin in early childhood. Beyond pursuing policies that promote structural equality on the advice of experts in ways that do not trigger backlash, we should support policies that educate the public—with a special emphasis on childhood socialization—on the history of systemic racism and the past and continued intentional efforts to create and maintain racial inequalities. 

Building upon recommendations offered by Lewis, we also argue that we need to move the societal bar from simply being non-racist, to being actively anti-racist. As a society, we need to recalibrate our norms, such that passively going along with systemic racism will no longer be acceptable (Tatum, 2017). In the summer of 2020, after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, many organizations released statements in support of the Black Lives Movement, confronting systemic racism, and increasing social justice (Nguyen, 2020). But one question that many posed was whether these organizations and institutions were genuinely committed to tackling systemic racism, or if their acts were performative (Duarte, 2020). If groups, organizations, and institutions want to claim that they are committed to anti-racism, then they should be held accountable for these claims and provide concrete evidence of their efforts to dismantle the pervasive system of racial oppression. In addition to this, we recommend a greater investment in educating the public on the history of systemic racism (particularly with children; such as the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum implemented in the state of California), prompting White parents to actively be anti-racist and teach their children to do the same, and equitable structural policies that facilitate residential and school racial integration to increase quality interracial contact.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Toward an understanding of structural racism: Implications for criminal justice

Julian M. Rucker and Jennifer A. Richeson
Science, 374 (6565)
DOI: 10.1126/science.abj7779


Racial inequality is a foundational feature of the criminal justice system in the United States. Here we offer a psychological account for how Americans have come to tolerate a system that is so at odds with their professed egalitarian values. We argue that beliefs about the nature of racism—as being solely due to prejudiced individuals rather than structural factors that disadvantage marginalized racial groups—work to uphold racial stratification in the criminal justice system. Although acknowledging structural racism facilitates the perception of and willingness to reduce racial inequality in criminal justice outcomes, many Americans appear willfully ignorant of structural racism in society. We reflect on the role of psychological science in shaping popular understandings of racism and discuss how to contribute more meaningfully to its reduction.

From the Summary and self-reflection

In this Review, we sought to illustrate key social-psychological factors that shape the maintenance and justification of a racially unjust criminal justice system, despite large scale support for racially egalitarian values.  Psychological motives to substantiate the racial hierarchy and protect one’s self-image work against opportunities to increase exposure to critical education on the structural underpinnings of contemporary racial inequality.  In essence, ignorance and denial of structural racism protect against an indictment of the legitimacy of the criminal justice system. By contrast, acknowledgment of structural racism in society motivates efforts to reduce racially disparate outcomes. With this framework, it becomes clear that merely holding egalitarian attitudes is insufficient to reform and dismantle systems that reproduce racial inequality—a structural understanding of racism is integral to these objectives.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Biased Benevolence: The Perceived Morality of Effective Altruism Across Social Distance

Law, K. F., Campbell, D., & Gaesser, B. 
(2019, July 11). 


Is altruism always morally good, or is the morality of altruism fundamentally shaped by the social opportunity costs that often accompany helping decisions? Across five studies, we reveal that, although helping both socially closer and socially distant others is generally perceived favorably (Study 1), in cases of realistic tradeoffs in social distance for gains in welfare where helping socially distant others necessitates not helping socially closer others with the same resources, helping is deemed as less morally acceptable (Studies 2-5). Making helping decisions at a cost to socially closer others also negatively affects judgments of relationship quality (Study 3) and in turn, decreases cooperative behavior with the helper (Study 4). Ruling out an alternative explanation of physical distance accounting for the effects in Studies 1-4, social distance continued to impact moral acceptability when physical distance across social targets was matched (Study 5). These findings reveal that attempts to decrease biases in helping may have previously unconsidered consequences for moral judgments, relationships, and cooperation.

General Discussion

When judging the morality of altruistic tradeoffs in social distance for gains in welfare advocated by the philosophy and social movement of effective altruism, we find that the perceived morality of altruism is graded by social distance. People consistently view socially distant altruism as less morally acceptable as the person not receiving help becomes socially closer to the agent helping. This suggests that whereas altruism is generally evaluated as morally praiseworthy, the moral calculus of altruism flexibly shifts according to the social distance between the person offering aid and the people in need. Such findings highlight the empirical value and theoretical importance of investigating moral judgments situated in real-world social contexts.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Why do inequality and deprivation produce high crime and low trust?

De Courson, B., Nettle, D. 
Sci Rep 11, 1937 (2021). 


Humans sometimes cooperate to mutual advantage, and sometimes exploit one another. In industrialised societies, the prevalence of exploitation, in the form of crime, is related to the distribution of economic resources: more unequal societies tend to have higher crime, as well as lower social trust. We created a model of cooperation and exploitation to explore why this should be. Distinctively, our model features a desperation threshold, a level of resources below which it is extremely damaging to fall. Agents do not belong to fixed types, but condition their behaviour on their current resource level and the behaviour in the population around them. We show that the optimal action for individuals who are close to the desperation threshold is to exploit others. This remains true even in the presence of severe and probable punishment for exploitation, since successful exploitation is the quickest route out of desperation, whereas being punished does not make already desperate states much worse. Simulated populations with a sufficiently unequal distribution of resources rapidly evolve an equilibrium of low trust and zero cooperation: desperate individuals try to exploit, and non-desperate individuals avoid interaction altogether. Making the distribution of resources more equal or increasing social mobility is generally effective in producing a high cooperation, high trust equilibrium; increasing punishment severity is not.

From the Discussion

Within criminology, our prediction of risky exploitative behaviour when in danger of falling below a threshold of desperation is reminiscent of Merton’s strain theory of deviance. Under this theory, deviance results when individuals have a goal (remaining constantly above the threshold of participation in society), but the available legitimate means are insufficient to get them there (neither foraging alone nor cooperation has a large enough one-time payoff). They thus turn to risky alternatives, despite the drawbacks of these (see also Ref.32 for similar arguments). This explanation is not reducible to desperation making individuals discount the future more steeply, which is often invoked as an explanation for criminality. Agents in our model do not face choices between smaller-sooner and larger-later rewards; the payoff for exploitation is immediate, whether successful or unsuccessful. Also note the philosophical differences between our approach and ‘self-control’ styles of explanation. Those approaches see offending as deficient decision-making: it would be in people’s interests not to offend, but some can’t manage it (see Ref.35 for a critical review). Like economic and behavioural-ecological theories of crime more generally, ours assumes instead that there are certain situations or states where offending is the best of a bad set of available options.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Shaking Things Up: Unintended Consequences of Firm Acquisitions on Racial and Gender Inequality

Letian Zhang
Harvard Business School
Originally published 23 Jan20


This paper develops a theory of how disruptive events shape organizational inequality.  Despite various organizational efforts, racial and gender inequality in the workplace remains high. I theorize that because the persistence of such inequality is reinforced by organizational structures and practices, disruptive events that shake up old hierarchies and break down routines and culture should give racial minority and women workers more opportunities to advance. To examine this theory, I explore a critical but seldom analyzed organizational event in the inequality literature - mergers and acquisitions. I propose that post-acquisition restructuring could offer an opportunity for firms to advance diversity initiatives and to objectively re-evaluate workers. Using a difference-in-differences design on a nationally representative sample covering 37,343 acquisitions from 1971 to 2015, I find that although acquisitions lead to occupational reconfiguration that favors higher-skilled workers, they also reduce racial and gender inequality. In particular, I find improved managerial representation of racial minorities and women and reduced racial and gender segregation in the acquired workplace. This post-acquisition effect is stronger when (a) the acquiring firm values race and gender equality more and (b) the acquired workplace had higher racial and gender inequality.  These findings suggest that disruptive events could produce an unintended consequence of increasing racial and gender equality in the workplace.

Managerial Implications

From a managerial perspective, disruptive events offer an opportunity to advance diversity or equality-related goals that might be difficult to pursue during normal times.  As my analyses show, acquisition amplifies the race and gender differences between those acquiring firms that value diversity and those that do not. For managers concerned about race and gender issues, acquisitions and other disruptive events might serve as suitable moments to improve race and gender gaps effectively and at a relatively lower cost. Thus, despite the disruption and uncertainty during these periods, managers should see disruptive events as prime opportunities to make positive changes.

Friday, October 9, 2020

AI ethics groups are repeating one of society’s classic mistakes

Abhishek Gupta aand Victoria Heath
MIT Technology Review
Originally published 14 September 20

Here is an excerpt:

Unfortunately, as it stands today, the entire field of AI ethics is at grave risk of limiting itself to languages, ideas, theories, and challenges from a handful of regions—primarily North America, Western Europe, and East Asia.

This lack of regional diversity reflects the current concentration of AI research (pdf): 86% of papers published at AI conferences in 2018 were attributed to authors in East Asia, North America, or Europe. And fewer than 10% of references listed in AI papers published in these regions are to papers from another region. Patents are also highly concentrated: 51% of AI patents published in 2018 were attributed to North America.

Those of us working in AI ethics will do more harm than good if we allow the field’s lack of geographic diversity to define our own efforts. If we’re not careful, we could wind up codifying AI’s historic biases into guidelines that warp the technology for generations to come. We must start to prioritize voices from low- and middle-income countries (especially those in the “Global South”) and those from historically marginalized communities.

Advances in technology have often benefited the West while exacerbating economic inequality, political oppression, and environmental destruction elsewhere. Including non-Western countries in AI ethics is the best way to avoid repeating this pattern.

The good news is there are many experts and leaders from underrepresented regions to include in such advisory groups. However, many international organizations seem not to be trying very hard to solicit participation from these people. The newly formed Global AI Ethics Consortium, for example, has no founding members representing academic institutions or research centers from the Middle East, Africa, or Latin America. This omission is a stark example of colonial patterns (pdf) repeating themselves.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Don’t ask if artificial intelligence is good or fair, ask how it shifts power

Pratyusha Kalluri
Originally posted 7 July 20

Here is an excerpt:

Researchers in AI overwhelmingly focus on providing highly accurate information to decision makers. Remarkably little research focuses on serving data subjects. What’s needed are ways for these people to investigate AI, to contest it, to influence it or to even dismantle it. For example, the advocacy group Our Data Bodies is putting forward ways to protect personal data when interacting with US fair-housing and child-protection services. Such work gets little attention. Meanwhile, mainstream research is creating systems that are extraordinarily expensive to train, further empowering already powerful institutions, from Amazon, Google and Facebook to domestic surveillance and military programmes.

Many researchers have trouble seeing their intellectual work with AI as furthering inequity. Researchers such as me spend our days working on what are, to us, mathematically beautiful and useful systems, and hearing of AI success stories, such as winning Go championships or showing promise in detecting cancer. It is our responsibility to recognize our skewed perspective and listen to those impacted by AI.

Through the lens of power, it’s possible to see why accurate, generalizable and efficient AI systems are not good for everyone. In the hands of exploitative companies or oppressive law enforcement, a more accurate facial recognition system is harmful. Organizations have responded with pledges to design ‘fair’ and ‘transparent’ systems, but fair and transparent according to whom? These systems sometimes mitigate harm, but are controlled by powerful institutions with their own agendas. At best, they are unreliable; at worst, they masquerade as ‘ethics-washing’ technologies that still perpetuate inequity.

Already, some researchers are exposing hidden limitations and failures of systems. They braid their research findings with advocacy for AI regulation. Their work includes critiquing inadequate technological ‘fixes’. Other researchers are explaining to the public how natural resources, data and human labour are extracted to create AI.

The info is here.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Children’s evaluations of third-party responses to unfairness: Children prefer helping over punishment.

Lee, Y., & Warneken, F. (2020, June 13).


Third-party punishment of selfish individuals is an important mechanism to intervene against unfairness. However, there is another way in which third parties can intervene. Rather than focusing on the unfair individual, third parties can choose to help those who were treated unfairly by reducing inequality. Such third-party helping as an alternative to third-party punishment has received little attention in studies with children. Across four studies, we examined the evaluations of third-party punishment versus third-party helping in N = 322 5- to 9-year-old children. Study 1, 3 and 4 showed that when asked about the agents directly, children evaluated both helpers and punishers positively, but they preferred helpers over punishers overall. When asked about the type of intervention itself, children preferred helping over punishment, suggesting that their preference for the type of intervention corresponds to how children think about the agents performing these interventions. Study 2 showed that children’s preference for third-party helping is driven by distributive justice concerns and not a mere preference for giving or resource maximization as children consider which type of third-party intervention decreases inequality. Together, this series of studies demonstrate that children between 5 and 9 years of age develop a sophisticated understanding of punishment and helping as two adequate forms of intervention but also display a preference for third-party helping. We discuss how these findings and prior work with adults supports the hypothesis of developmental continuity, showing that a preference for helping over punishment is deeply rooted in ontogeny.

From the Discussion:

The current study contributes to the literature by moving beyond the focus on punishment alone and probing children’s thinking about punishment and helping side by side. Prior developmental research focused on comparing punishers with third parties such as onlookers who choose not to intervene after witnessing a transgression (e.g., Vaish et al., 2016) or givers who reward a transgressor(e.g., Hamlin et al., 2011), which might have led to inflating children’s preference for punishers. Instead, the current study compared punishment with helping, a valid and common form of third-party intervention. Additionally, our study assessed children’s evaluations of punishment intervention per se and revealed a subtle but meaningful difference in understanding punishers vs. punishment, which was especially remarkable in young children. With the use of various measures and comparisons, the current study provided a more comprehensive understanding of the development of third-party punishment in children

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Structural Competency Meets Structural Racism: Race, Politics, and the Structure of Medical Knowledge

Jonathan M. Metzl and Dorothy E. Roberts
Virtual Mentor. 2014;16(9):674-690.
doi: 10.1001/virtualmentor.2014.16.9.spec1-1409.

Here is an excerpt:

The Clinical Implications of Addressing Race from a Structural Perspective

These brief case examples illustrate the complex ways that seemingly clinically relevant “cultural” characteristics and attitudes also reflect structural inequities, medical politics, legal codes, invisible discrimination, and socioeconomic disparities. Black men who appeared schizophrenic to medical practitioners did so in part because of the framing of new diagnostic codes. Lower-income persons who “refused” to eat well or exercise lived in neighborhoods without grocery stores or sidewalks. Black women who seemed to be uniquely harming their children by using crack cocaine while pregnant were victims of racial stereotyping, as well as of a selection bias in which decisions about which patients were reported to law enforcement depended on the racial and economic segregation of prenatal care. In this sense, approaches that attempt to address issues—such as the misdiagnosis of schizophrenia in black men, perceived diet “noncompliance” in minority populations, or the punishment of “crack mothers”—through a heuristic aimed solely at enhancing cross-cultural communication between doctors and patients, though surely well intentioned, will overlook the potentially pathologizing impact of structural factors set in motion long before patients or doctors enter exam rooms.

Structural factors impact majority populations as well as minority ones, and structures of privilege or opulence also influence expressions of illness and health. For instance, in the United States, research suggests that pediatricians disproportionately overdiagnose ADHD in white school-aged children. Until recently, medical researchers in many global locales assumed, wrongly, that eating disorders afflicted only affluent persons.

Yet of late, medicine and medical education have struggled most with addressing ways that structural forces impact and disadvantage communities of color. As sociologist Hannah Bradby rightly explains it, hypothesizing mechanisms that include the micro-processes of interactions between patients and professionals and the macro-processes of population-level inequalities is a missing step in our reasoning at present…. [A]s long as we see the solution to racism lying only in educating the individual, we fail to address the complexity of racism and risk alienating patients and physicians alike.

The info is here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Scathing COVID-19 book from Lancet editor — rushed but useful

Stephen Buranyi
Originally posted 18 June 20

Here is an excerpt:

Horton levels the accusation that US President Donald Trump is committing a “crime against humanity” for defunding the very World Health Organization that is trying to help the United States and others. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in Horton’s view, either lied or committed misconduct in telling the public that the government was well prepared for the pandemic. In fact, the UK government abandoned the world-standard advice to test, trace and isolate in March, with no explanation, then scrambled to ramp up testing in April, but repeatedly failed to meet its own targets, lagging weeks behind the rest of the world. A BBC investigation in April showed that the UK government failed to stockpile neccessary personal protective equipment for years before the crisis, and should have been aware that the National Health Service wasn’t adequately prepared.

Politicians are easy targets, though. Horton goes further, to suggest that although scientists in general have performed admirably, many of those advising the government directly contributed to what he calls “the greatest science policy failure for a generation”.

Again using the United Kingdom as an example, he suggests that researchers were insufficiently informed or understanding of the crisis unfolding in China, and were too insular to speak to Chinese scientists directly. The model for action at times seemed to be influenza, a drastic underestimation of the true threat of the new coronavirus. Worse, as the UK government’s response went off the rails in March, ostensibly independent scientists would “speak with one voice in support of government policy”, keeping up the facade that the country was doing well. In Horton’s view, this is a corruption of science policymaking at every level. Individuals failed in their responsibility to procure the best scientific advice, he contends; and the advisory regime was too close to — and in sync with — the political actors who were making decisions. “Advisors became the public relations wing of a government that had failed its people,” he concludes.

The text is here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

13th is now free on YouTube

Combining archival footage with testimony from activists and scholars, director Ava DuVernay's examination of the U.S. prison system looks at how the country's history of racial inequality drives the high rate of incarceration in America.

This piercing, Oscar-nominated film won Best Documentary at the Emmys, the BAFTAs and the NAACP Image Awards.

 US Rating: TV-MA For mature audiences. May not be suitable for ages 17 and under.