Even One Percenters Understand Economics Better Than Republicans

Over at the Huffington Post, Jared Bernstein points us to a recent pilot study examining the ideological and public policy preferences of the super wealthy. The findings might surprise you: the one percent, selfish as they are, endorse some sound economic ideas that Congress is afraid to touch.

The study, conducted by Benjamin Page and Jason Seawright at Northwestern University and Larry Bartels at Vanderbilt University, used a specialized database to identify members of the top one percent of American wealth-holders who might answer some basic questions about economic policy. Some of the results are not all that shocking. Compared to the public at large, the ultra rich are disproportionately conservative and Republican, far more active in politics, more obsessed with deficits and cuts to government programs, and more opposed to specific regulations and tax policies that cut into their bottom line.

Basically, they’re Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan rolled into one.

But unlike the 2012 GOP presidential ticket, the super-wealthy appear to broadly accept Keynesian economic policy ideas and even, in an abstract way, the idea that inequality is a problem (even though they aren’t all that willing to do something about it):

  • Seventy-three percent of the wealthy in this study agreed that, “The government should run a deficit if necessary when the country is in a recession and is at war,” compared to the alternative idea that the “government should balance the budget even when the country is in a recession and is at war.” In contrast, only 31 percent of the general public agreed with this basic Keynesian idea.
  • Sixty-five percent of the wealthy say they are “willing to pay more in taxes in order to reduce federal budget deficits,” compared to less than 4 in 10 regular Americans. However, as the study authors point out, there are limits to this openness to increased taxes: “Despite our wealthy respondents’ great concern about budget deficits, most did not favor increasing rates of the income tax or estate taxes even to the slightly higher levels that held during the Clinton administration.” (Wealthy Americans are much more open to slashing Social Security, Medicare, and other social programs, however.)
  • Roughly similar proportions of the wealthy and the general public agree that “differences in income in America are too large” (62 percent and 63 percent, respectively). But there are wide differences in opinion about government steps to redress this inequality. Americans overall are 3.5 times more likely than the wealthy to believe, “It is the responsibility of the government to reduce the differences in income between people with high incomes and those with low incomes” (46 percent vs. 13 percent). And while a majority of the general public (52 percent) believes, “Our government should redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich,” less than one fifth of the wealthy (17 percent) hold similar views.

These data suggest that even though the wealthiest Americans remain strongly self-interested and averse to many progressive policy ideas, they may have more wisdom about macroeconomic policy and the effects of income stratification than the conservative leaders claiming to represent their interests in Congress.