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Document de travail 2017-34

Obeying vs. resisting unfair laws. A structural analysis of the internalization of collective preferences on redistribution using classification trees and random forests

Sophie Harnay et Élisabeth Tovar

Résumé :

In this paper, we study whether individual normative preferences are affected by the knowledge of collective normative preferences. In a questionnaire-experimental framework, we study whether respondents obey, resist or are indifferent to a very unfair but legal distribution of an inheritance between a minimum wage-earner and a millionaire. In addition to regressions, we use classification trees and random forests to provide a full picture of how asymmetric combinations of self-interest and ideological factors may lead to identical individual redistributive preferences and law internalization attitudes. We find that sensitivity to procedural fairness and responsibility cut opinions are good predictors of individual redistributive preferences. We also find that law internalization is associated with the support of core normative values, but not with the support of fairness as procedures. This echoes Cooter’s hypothesis of ‘meta preferences’ triggering an expressive vs. backlash effects of laws. Lastly, we find that, among the law-sensitive, the social ‘losers’ tend to submit to the unfair but legal collective preference while the social ‘winners’ tend to either be indifferent of voice their disagreement.

Classification JEL : C45, C88, D63, H30, K10, Z13.

Mots-clés : redistribution, law expressivity, self-interest, ideology, classification trees, random forests.


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