In a study headlined "Employment Status Affects Our Morals around Money," researchers report that the unemployed come to believe that it is wrong for the employed to keep what they earn.

The study addresses the effects of unemployment in Spain, but I think it has enormous policy implications for the U.S. The authors of the study are economist Luis Miller and researcher Paloma Ubeda. Here is what they found:

As Luis Miller asserts, "in general, both people in employment and those in full-time education believe that people should be allowed to keep most of what they earn and that it is OK for those who work harder or who are more productive to earn more". He went on to say, "When people become unemployed, our study indicates that they let go of this belief. They put a higher value on the redistribution of money, which, in social terms, would mean higher taxes on those earning more in order to fund increased public spending."

"In our study," explained Paloma Úbeda, "we didn't ask the participants about re-distribution, taxes or public spending, as the responses to questions of this type could be biased by the self-interest of the interviewees. So high earners who look after their own interests would prefer lower taxes, while low earners who also have their own interests in mind would want higher taxes. What we were really interested in was understanding how, when becoming unemployed, people change the way they see what is fair in terms of re-distribution, in other words, whether they change their moral values. We found that they do; when becoming unemployed people change the way they think about fairness and re-distribution".

John Sexton at Hot Air comments:

It’s always possible to read too much into a single study, but assuming this can be verified it does seem to say something about how our political system works. The GOP has long been seen as the party of business, while the Democratic party is the party that favors big social programs and wealth re-distribution. This study suggests those viewpoints have a natural constituency in the employed and unemployed respectively.

To be more blunt, this study seem to fit with the worst stereotypes associated with each party, i.e. the GOP as the party of greedy fat cats (those unscrupulous folks who earn a lot and keep a lot) and the Democrats as the party of the needy layabouts (those who earn little and want a handout). Neither stereotype is fair but this study suggests there may be some underlying truth to the mind set that rallies to each side and thus how that mindset might come to view the opposing side. In other words, the GOP may really be the party that appeals to people who work and therefore feel people have a right to keep what they earn and can’t understand those who don’t agree. By contrast, the Democrats may be the party that appeals to those who are out of work and feel re-distribution via government is a good idea and see those who would say otherwise as selfish.

Look at this another way. One of the big complaints Democrats have aimed at the GOP for the last few years is wealth inequality. We saw this erupt with the Occupy movement (“We are the 99%!”) but there has been a real push for more equitable outcomes. Perhaps not coincidentally, all of this comes after a massive recession that put the labor participation rate at a historic low.

Could this study explain the rise of Bernie Sanders on the heels of the sluggish Obama years that have not produced a robust economy? Does this mean that, unless the American economy improves drastically, we will see more and more people calling to confiscate the earnings of others to divide up a shrinking pot?