Inequality, Punishment, and Redistribution

Investigating inequality aversion, punishment preferences, and redistribution using experimental and ABM methods.

Inequality aversion, or egalitarian motives, explain punishment through individuals' preference for a more equitable distribution of resources. Fehr and Schmidt (1999) define inequity aversion as follows: “people resist inequitable outcomes; i.e., they are willing to give up some material payoff to move in the direction of more equitable outcomes.” (p.819). Fowler, Johnson, and Smirnov (2005) argue that innate human preferences for equality explains punishment better than negative emotions toward non-contributors. The key element in this explanation is that the goal of punishment behavior is to produce a more equitable distribution of resources, not to foster cooperation or satisfy negative emotions towards defectors.This argument has received considerable attention in the literature, which shows that egalitarian motives do matter in driving pro-social punishment (Bone & Raihani, 2015; Dawes, Fowler, Johnson, McElreath, & Smirnov, 2007; Dawes et al., 2012; Johnson, Dawes, Fowler, McElreath, & Smirnov, 2009; Leibbrandt & López-Pérez, 2011; Marczyk, 2017; Raihani & McAuliffe, 2012). Building upon such contributions, we investigate whether a redistributive institutional setting can substitute or prevent the implementation of potentially costly peer-punishment. In particular, this study tests if and how egalitarian motives drive pro-social punishment when institutions exogenously create redistribution. Our expectation is that if a more equitable distribution of resources is achieved through redistributive taxation, pro-social punishment (due to egalitarian motives) will decrease since the goal of the punishing behaviors will have already been satisfied. Also, in line with Johnson et al. (2009), we test whether such a moderating effect holds true under conditions of high inequality by manipulating the subjects’ initial endowments (i.e. Gini coefficient).


Inequality, egalitarian motives, and collective action: an experimental study. Andersson, P., Lo Iacono, S., Testori, M. (to be submitted to Journal of Experimental Political Science)

Inequality and Punishment: a New Dawn. Lo Iacono, S., Testori, M. (to be submitted to Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation)