Sandra Sequeira joins host Steven Davis for a discussion of zero-sum thinking, the idea that one group’s gain is another group’s loss. They draw on Sandra’s research to delve into several questions: How prevalent is zero-sum thinking? What are its roots? How does it shape policy preferences? How does zero-sum thinking relate to the partisan divide?

ABOUT THE SPEAKERS:

Sandra Sequeira is on the faculty at the London School of Economics, where she co-directs the Programme for Economic Policy and International Development.  She holds a PhD in Economics from Harvard, a Master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, and an undergraduate degree from Nova University Lisbon. She is also research affiliate of The Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and the recipient of the 2022 Philip Leverhulme Prize in Economcs.

Steven J. Davis is the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. He is a research associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research, consultant to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, advisor to the Monetary Authority of Singapore, past editor of the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, and an elected fellow of the Society of Labor Economists. He co-founded the Economic Policy Uncertainty project, the US Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes, the Global Survey of Working Arrangements, the Survey of Business Uncertainty, and the Stock Market Jumps project. He co-organizes the Asian Monetary Policy Forum, held annually in Singapore. Previously, Davis was on the faculty at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, serving as both distinguished service professor and deputy dean of the faculty.

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Steven Davis:

Zero-sum thinking is the idea that your gain is my loss, or that one group's gain is another group's loss. Three questions in this regard, first, how prevalent is zero-sum thinking? Second, what are its roots, where does it come from? And third, how does zero-sum thinking influence views about income redistribution and other government policies? We'll take up these questions in today's episode of Economics Applied.

Help us think about these issues as our guest Sandra Sequeira. She is a professor at the London School of Economics, with research interests in development, political economy, and consumer behavior. She holds a PhD in economics from Harvard, a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and an undergraduate degree from Nova University Lisbon. Thanks so much for joining us, Sandra. It's great to have you.

Sandra Sequeira:

Thanks for having me, Steven.

Steven Davis:

So you co-authored a recent paper title Zero-Sum Thinking and the Roots of the US Political Divide. So maybe you can just start out by telling us, well, what led you to this topic, why this paper? Might not be obvious to everyone.

Sandra Sequeira:

Right. So we were primarily interested in trying to understand how people perceive the nature of what we think are fundamental economic and social interactions in the world around them, and how this could shape then, the types of policies that people tend to support. There's been some previous research in social sciences, particularly in anthropology, highlighting how in environments when resources are particularly scarce, or are perceived to be scarce, that people tend to enter into a more competitive mindset, believing that if someone's getting ahead and has more resources, it must be that it's at the expense of others. So what in economics, we term a zero-sum gain. So if this is the way you view the world, then it is likely to have important implications on how you think society, or in particular, the government, should try to deal with the outcome of all these zero-sum games.

So for example, if you believe that Bill Gates, or Jeff Bezos being rich came at the cost of making everyone else poor. So perhaps what you're thinking about, is that Amazon and Microsoft has stifled competition, destroyed small businesses, maybe they increased prices for us all, or maybe they exploit their workers, or dodge taxes, then perhaps then you are more likely to also think that the government should step in and try to intervene, and tax Bill Gates and the rich more broadly, to try to redistribute to the poor, and try to level the playing field, and correct this unfairness of markets. So the first question that we wanted to ask, is to what extent do people in the US see the world in zero-sum terms, can then, that help explain their policy preferences?

So we identified what we thought were key domains of preferences that could be driven by zero-sum thinking, so how you feel about redistribution between the rich and the poor, whether you support affirmative action across racial groups, whether you support affirmative action across men and women, and how you feel about immigrants. So at the core of all these issues, there's a potential zero-sum gain, so the rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor. Men are getting jobs, and are getting ahead at the expense of women. Whites are getting jobs and have more resources at the expense of other ethnic groups. And immigrants are getting ahead at the expense of natives. Our first task was really to try to understand in these four key domains, do people have a more zero-sum outlook or not?

And then as you were saying earlier, the second question that we wanted to ask, is once we've documented the prevalence of zero-sum thinking across the US, is to try to understand where does all this variation come from? So why there are some people more zero-sum in their outlook, and why are some people less zero-sum, and tend to view the world in more positive-sum ways?

Steven Davis:

Okay, so you go about this, as I understand it, largely through a survey of your own design, that elicits data that's designed to quantify whether, and to what extent people see the world in zero-sum versus positive-sum terms, then you get into well, what underlies that, and also how does it relate to policy preferences. So maybe you want to tell us a little bit about the survey approach, and also tell us a little bit about your key questions that you use to try to quantify the extent to which an individual has a zero-sum mindset.

Sandra Sequeira:

Right. So we ran an online survey that we designed. It was implemented by a third-party, but it was implemented amongst a representative sample of over 20,000 individuals in the US, so well represented across gender, across income groups, and across ethnic groups as well. We ran this survey between 2020 and 2023, in multiple ways. There was a lot happening during this period, so we wanted to make sure that we were capturing a more stable set of beliefs, despite multiple shocks that were taking place. And we asked our respondents to answer questions about, again, potential zero-sum interactions across important groups in the economy.

So the first question that we ask related to ethnicity. So we asked a question of in the United States, there are many different ethnic groups. If one ethnic group becomes richer, this generally comes at the expense of other groups in the country. So to what extent do you agree with this statement? We ask a similar question about Americans. So American citizens, natives versus immigrants. We asked a question also, about trade. So if two countries engage in trade, if one country makes more money, does it have to come at the expense of the other country making less money? And then finally, we asked a question about income. If one group becomes wealthier, does it have to come at the expense of another group?

What we're trying to do, is across these four very different domains, we're trying to capture what is common in people's answers to it. So if you're more zero-sum with regards to ethnicity, perhaps you're also more zero-sum when it comes to nativism, so natives versus immigrants, or when it comes to trade. We don't want our measure, or we didn't want our measure of zero-sum thinking to be anchored in having very strong beliefs in one particular domain. Maybe you feel very strongly about immigrants, but you're less zero-sum when it comes to other interactions, and so that's why we wanted to design an index that would capture zero-sum thinking across many fundamental economic domains, and so that's how we went about capturing this measure.

Steven Davis:

And I take it we can think of this index as essentially, a particular average of the responses across these four domains, is that right?

Sandra Sequeira:

That's correct.

Steven Davis:

So I read your questions, and I had one concern about them, in how they feed into the downstream analysis, so let me state that. So what your questions don't do the following, and I think this is a deliberate choice in your part. They don't distinguish in when they elicit these, the extent of zero-sum thinking, the type of exchange that is at issue, that is left up for the respondent to decide. So why I think that's important, is because let's distinguish between market exchange on the one hand, and government redistribution. So absent fraud or coercion, voluntary market exchanges are almost by definition, positive-sum, because otherwise the parties would not have engaged in them. So if that's what comes to mind when you ask your question, then somebody's going to tend to say, "Yeah, I'm on the positive-sum side of thinking," but we don't know whether that's what comes to mind.

Something else that could come to mind, and this isn't an exhaustive list, is they're thinking about income redistribution, and that's used through the course of powers of the state. It's by definition, zero-sum, maybe even negative-sum when you think about the dead weight costs, the efficiency, economic efficiency costs of taxation. So as you ask these questions, you don't know whether something like voluntary market exchange is coming to mind, or redistribution, or even something else, we'll get into enslavement and so on. Which obviously, is coercive and zero-sum, or negative-sum. Now the extent to which voluntary market exchange is salient, or government redistribution is salient to someone, is likely to vary with their individual circumstances, and possibly, with their ancestral history, something you do get into. And so I just want to get your thinking, why did you pose the questions that way, rather than asking them specifically about a particular type of exchange, and eliciting their views about that?

Sandra Sequeira:

That's a good question. I think we purposely left it high level, or more vague, because we were trying to precisely capture what comes to mind when you are confronted with an interaction between two groups.

So if what comes to mind is market exchange, then fine. That's probably what comes to mind when you're thinking about policies as well, right? So they're going to be spillovers from the way you think about the world and what comes to mind when you see this interaction, and we wanted again, for it to be purposefully vague because that's more likely to be what also predicts your policy preferences. So if our questions were a bit more detailed, again, we would be picking up something in a very specific wording with a very specific framing, how people are thinking about the issues, but that was not our goal with this paper. What we wanted with this paper, is to capture, we're giving you an interaction between two groups, how do you think about this interaction at a very high level? How does then, that correlate with the way you think about policies that allocate resources across these two groups? So I think that was the original intent of the study.

Steven Davis:

Thanks for that, I appreciate that. But you could have also asked about preferences, or thinking along these lines domain by domain, it would've had to ask more questions in your survey of course, to do that. The reason that I'm stressing this is because it's possible that different groups actually have identical views once you specify the domain, but the salience of different domains of exchange differ across the groups in ways that affect the answer to your overarching, umbrella question. And at least I found it important to keep that in mind, is that as we go through and we think about your results, your results could come about, as I understand it, because these groups actually have fundamentally different views about the zero-sum-ness of exchanges in different domains, or it could come about because the most salient domain differs systematically across groups. And as I read your paper, I'm kind of struggling to think "Well, which is it?" And I'm not sure you can answer that, maybe you disagree.

Sandra Sequeira:

No, I think precisely... Again, that's a fair point. So we can't get into the black box of what are people thinking when they see the question, so what comes to mind? But I think again, that is precisely what we want to capture, is we want to see what are the correlations here, between... We have the same question for everyone. So everyone has multiple experiences, different ways of interpreting the question. It's affecting everyone the same way. So if everyone is interpreting in a particular way, then we shouldn't see the correlations that we find later on in the data with people's experiences. So I think for the purposes of this more proof of concept paper, where we wanted to introduce this as a core belief of zero-sum thinking, we wanted to make sure that we were not anchoring our analysis to very detailed framings and wordings of what a particular setting might be. We really want to capture just a general mindset, a general outlook when you think about how natives interact with immigrants, or how whites interact with Blacks.

Steven Davis:

Okay. And you made an important point there, an important point about the innovative character of your paper, which I just want to underscore, that your paper is novel in trying to isolate and quantify the zero-sum-ness as it relates to ancestral history, policy preferences, and so on. It's not that this idea itself is novel, but methodologically, your paper is novel in trying to bring these policy issues to historical experience in a quantitative way based on survey elicitation. So I think you weren't tooting your horn too loudly there on that, so I'm doing it for you.

Sandra Sequeira:

No, thanks. Thanks. But we also wanted the questions to be understandable to a broader audience. So the more complexity, and the more layers, and the more conditions you impose, the more likely outcome would be that people would misinterpret, or focus on one dimension of the problem and not the other. So again, having this broader, more general question, I think, was more suitable for this type of exercise.

Steven Davis:

Okay, understood. So what did you find in terms of the prevalence of zero-sum thinking, and its correlates with observable characteristics? Give us the basic story there.

Sandra Sequeira:

So we found that there was substantial variation in the tendency to think in zero-sum terms across our sample. So some of this variation comes down to partisanship. So it's true that on average, democrats tend to be more zero-sum in their outlook, and Republicans tend to be less so. But a good part of the variation exists within political party as well. So democrats who are more zero-sum in their thinking, are more likely to also be more anti-immigrant, or may be more supportive of anti-immigration policies.

Republicans on the other hand, who are more zero-sum in their thinking, are more likely to be in favor of taxing the rich. They're more likely to also be in favor of universal healthcare. So there's a lot of within-party variation that we think that zero-sum can help explain. Second, there are some demographic characteristics that may matter. So we did find that older respondents tended to be less zero-sum than younger respondents. That on average, poor individuals, or individuals with lower levels of education, tend to view the world more in zero-sum terms. So the relationship with income is interesting because it's U-shaped. So we also found that those who are much richer, so at the top, on the right tail of the distribution, that they're also more zero-sum.

Steven Davis:

Okay, interesting, interesting. Is it at all related to the source of someone's income? This is going back to something I was asking before. If your main source of income is government, social transfers from the government, then that's very salient to you. And so I don't know if you looked at that, or you had the capacity to look at that.

Sandra Sequeira:

No, unfortunately, we don't. I think that's a great question, but we don't have any indication on the survey. The surveys obviously... The survey was quite long because we were trying to capture in particular, people's past experiences and the experience of ancestors. So we're limited to surveys of 20 to 30 minutes, to avoid survey fatigue. And so we had to make some difficult choices, so we don't know really the source of income.

Steven Davis:

Yes, I've done lots of survey work myself, and so that's always on your mind, to keep the cognitive and time load of the survey as limited as possible. What about whether someone has worked? If you're 20 years old and you've never worked, then the concept of mutual beneficial exchange in the labor market at least, might be a bit abstract for you. Is that in play here?

Sandra Sequeira:

Right, so there could be. So for the age effects, well there are two possibilities. So one is that it's just, as you say, it's just age. So some people have never worked, they don't have life experience, and therefore, that's why they're more zero-sum. The other possibility with age, is that it's a cohort effect, and this we explore then, when we try to get at what are the roots of this variation in zero-sum thinking. So we try to understand why are the older cohorts less zero-sum in the thinking compared to the young, and we try to match that to the economic conditions in which they were growing up.

So in particular, we match it to changes in the bottom 50% of the income distribution in the US, which is trying to get just a measure of economic growth, or a proxy for it. And what we find is quite interesting, is that when we look at the different cohorts, so if you grew up in say, earlier decades, when economic mobility and economic growth was higher in the US, so the older cohorts that grew up in that period, are today, less zero-sum. Those who are younger, so the younger cohorts are growing up in a period of economic stagnation, or less economic growth, and so that tends to correlate with being more zero-sum in their thinking.

Now this exercise still doesn't allow us to distinguish between what is cohort experience, and what is simply age, as you were asking earlier. But we do turn to another survey, a world value survey that is run across many countries, across many years, so we have a sample of over 72 countries, over 190,000 respondents, and then we can actually distinguish between these two elements. So we look for each respondent in all these different countries, when they were growing up, what was the economic environment in their country? So were they experiencing economic growth, were they experiencing economic stagnation? And so what we find there, in that larger sample, is that respondents who grew up during periods of economic growth tend to be less zero-sum today. And so not only does this give us a flavor of the patterns that we may encounter even outside of the US, but it also allows us to disentangle this issue of is it just age in the life cycle, or is it the experience of each of the cohorts?

Steven Davis:

Just so I understand, when you say growing up, what age range do you count as growing up?

Sandra Sequeira:

We can look at between one and 20, so we're thinking about these formative earlier years.

Steven Davis:

Okay, I got it. Okay, so if you grow up in good times, defined as you're 20 or younger, you tend to have more of a positive-sum outlook.

Sandra Sequeira:

That's right.

Steven Davis:

You're making that point, you're drawing that conclusion. The US data suggests that, but the more informative data for this particular question is the world value survey, which covers 70-some countries or something?

Sandra Sequeira:

Exactly.

Steven Davis:

Okay, great. So some of the most interesting parts of your paper, are really about trying to understand the roots of zero-sum or positive-sum thinking. So tell us what you did in that regard, and what you found.

Sandra Sequeira:

Right, so we focused on what we thought were three key factors that we think explained much of the American economic, political, and social history in the last 150 years or so. So the first factor is this notion of the American dream and economic mobility. So the idea that anyone who exerts any effort, can help enlarge the pie, so in a very positive-sum way. And so the question that we ask is could it be that those who benefited from the American dream, and who experienced upward economic mobility, that they tend to see the world in a more positive-sum way.

The second factor that we look at is the US as a land of immigrants. So immigrants who came to the US in general, were a success story for the most part. They experienced significant upward economic mobility. They were often associated with higher levels of growth in the counties where they settled into. And so the question that we ask is could it be that the experience of being an immigrant, or growing up surrounded by immigrants, could that also change the way you view the world, and lead you to think less in zero-sum terms. So again, focusing on immigrants as contributing to enlarging the pie.

And lastly, perhaps, and avoidably for the case of the US history, is the legacy of slavery. So as you mentioned earlier, slavery is a very zero-sum game, perhaps even a negative-sum. And so the question that we ask is whether people whose ancestors were impacted by slavery, either directly or indirectly, because they were growing up in counties where the share of slaves was quite high, do they tend to also feel that legacy of slavery and think in more zero-sum terms today, 160 years later? So we try to investigate the impact of each of these three factors on-

Steven Davis:

Why don't we take them one at a time, whatever order you prefer.

Sandra Sequeira:

So when we look at economic mobility, we ask respondents directly, about their perceived economic mobility for themselves relative to their parents, from their parents relative to the grandparents, and the grandparents relative to the great-grandparents. And so what we find is that across the board, if any of these generations has experienced upward economic mobility, that you tend to be less zero-sum in your thinking today. So economic mobility, again, this echoes the results that we were discussing earlier about growing up in a period of economic growth, that people, when they have that experience of economic growth and mobility, that that shapes their outlook.

Steven Davis:

Just correct me if I'm wrong, but upward mobility in your setting, means an improvement from one generation to the next in your family's relative standing in the income distribution?

Sandra Sequeira:

That's right.

Steven Davis:

So it's not if everybody, if all boats rise, then not everybody has upward mobility by your definition, as I understand it.

Sandra Sequeira:

So it's in relative terms, it's a relative definition. We try to take it one step further, and we look at the educational level, so educational attainment across different generations as a different measure of economic mobility. And we also look at occupations. So we have the occupations of parents and grandparents, and we try to look at occupational scores and wages that tend to be associated with each of these occupations. And we have these alternative measures of upward mobility, and the results are all quite similar when we use the different measures. We stick to the perceived economic mobility because we think these are the types of narratives that are likely to shape the way you think about the world, is how you perceive in relative terms, your experience.

Steven Davis:

Yeah, that's not obvious to me. I would think if you grow up in a society where almost every family is getting better off from one generation to the next, you would tend to think in positive-sum terms.

Sandra Sequeira:

Essentially, yes.

Steven Davis:

So that's not what your preferred measure picks up?

Sandra Sequeira:

No, we wouldn't be picking that up. We would be picking just in relative terms, so how is your household, and how did your parents fare relative to other American households at the time? But again, the results are quite consistent when we use these alternative measures as well, which I think-

Steven Davis:

Yeah, understood, but then the interpretation's different. Do the data have enough power to distinguish between these two, or is it just there's just not enough variation there?

Sandra Sequeira:

We don't.

Steven Davis:

We don't, okay.

Sandra Sequeira:

We don't have enough. No, because we don't have-

Steven Davis:

So we don't really know-

Sandra Sequeira:

Measure of absolute.

Steven Davis:

We know there's a connection to upward mobility, but we don't really know, as I understand from your study, whether the key aspect of mobility that matters is the all boats rising, versus just where you fit in the relative distribution.

Sandra Sequeira:

That's right. So this measure is about relative standing, so what we know is relative standing matters. What we know don't know is how it compares to absolute standing.

Steven Davis:

Okay, understood. Okay. But at some level, it makes sense if your own personal family history has been one of positive upward movement, you tend to see the world more positive-sum terms. Again, I remember that there was this relationship wasn't linear in your data. In fact, I thought if I remember correctly, it wasn't coming from downward mobility at all, it was all coming from the upward mobility side of things, which that's interesting. I'm not quite sure what to make of that, maybe you have a thought.

Sandra Sequeira:

Right. So no, that's a great point. We do find that the effect is driven by upward mobility, so it's an asymmetric shock. If you have downward mobility, it doesn't seem to affect your zero-sum outlook. I think that's something that again, it's not we don't have enough data. We weren't designed to try to understand that, but it's an interesting fact that we tried to highlight in the paper.

Steven Davis:

Okay, so for future research?

Sandra Sequeira:

Yes, exactly.

Steven Davis:

All right, so there's two other factors you talked about, let's go onto those.

Sandra Sequeira:

Yes, so with immigration we had two interesting results. So we found that if you're a first generation immigrant, you tend to be less zero-sum. So consistent with this idea that as an immigrant, you see yourself as enlarging the pie and contributing to economic growth, and not necessarily trying to steal part of the pie, part of a fixed pie from the natives, so that was a pretty strong result. We do find that even if you're a second generation, or up to a third generation immigrant, that you also tend to be less zero-sum than natives, so the effect is somewhat attenuated. So it's really loading on being a first generation immigrant in your personal experience.

When it comes to what we call vertical transmission of culture and world views, we do find that if your grandparents grew up in counties that historically had a higher share of European immigrants to the US during the age of mass migration, which was approximately between 1850 and 1920, when over 30 million Europeans moved to the US. So if your grandparents grew up in these counties that had a higher share of immigrants, that you, today, are also less zero-sum in your thinking. So this is just highlighting this intergenerational transmission of beliefs, of ways of looking at the world, of general outlooks.

Steven Davis:

Okay, so that is interesting. Two questions come to mind. One is does it matter what the motivation for the immigration was? Economic motivations versus political refugees would be one obvious way to cut things, does that matter?

Sandra Sequeira:

So we don't have data to be able to answer that question. I think it's a very important one, but we don't know. So we only know if the person was an immigrant or not, so we don't know if they were refugees and what was their status when-

Steven Davis:

Okay, so do you know where they came from and when?

Sandra Sequeira:

No, exactly. So we can't dig deeper into that question, but I think again, that would be incredibly interesting to look at in the future.

Steven Davis:

What about, let's take natives, or Americans today who are not descended from recent immigrants, and who are not themselves immigrants, are they more or less likely to have a zero-sum outlook as a function of whether they live in a part of the country that has recently had a lot of immigrants? That, I think, is answerable in your dataset as I understand it.

Sandra Sequeira:

It is, and we don't find a significant correlation there. So if you are currently living in a county with more immigrants, we don't find that you're necessarily more zero-sum in your thinking.

Steven Davis:

That's interesting in light of the perception, maybe a wrong perception, but the perception that large numbers of recent immigrants to your local community generates a political backlash.

Sandra Sequeira:

That's right. But it's also consistent with research, recent research, namely closer to home, here in the UK, where the places that voted for Brexit and against immigration tended to be the places with fewer immigrants. So I think there are a lot of puzzling facts here that we don't fully understand.

Steven Davis:

So how do you put all this together then? Because again, one of my recent podcast guests was Marco Tabellini, surveying the recent literature on the political reactions to immigration. And I think one of the headlines I took away from our discussion and his underlying paper, is that on average, by no means always, but on average there tends to be a political backlash against large immigration waves. And yet you're telling me something which is not contradictory, but it's cutting in the other direction, which is immigrants themselves, and people who are descended from recent immigrants, are more likely to have a positive-sum outlook on the world. Do you have some way to wrap all this together, or is it just too much-

Sandra Sequeira:

Not quite. Right. So this would be a different question which we don't ask in the paper, which would be to try to dig deeper into, for natives, if they're exposed to different shares of immigrants in the current county of residents. So again, there's this question of is it the current county of residents that matters, or is it the county where you were growing up, and in your formative years, where you were forming a lot of your worldviews and these beliefs? And to try to get that variation, and try to understand is it the share of immigrants, is it the type of immigrants? It's not something that we have done in the paper. I don't think our data would lend itself to it, given that we have a relatively small sample. So I think again, that's another one that I would try to pursue in the future.

Steven Davis:

So I'm going to push one more question on it, because I think that these immigration results are really interesting. As I understand it, you could take your results at face value, and conduct the following counterfactual. Suppose immigration in the last century in the United States had only been half as much as it actually was, how much would that move the needle on the average zero-sum of the American populace, or electorate's outlook? I'm trying to get a sense of whether this is really a big differentiator as to why people in the United States tend to have at least historically, a more positive-sum outlook than in many European countries, or we should look elsewhere for that explanation.

Sandra Sequeira:

I think it's probably what we try to do in this paper, is to show that it's a combination of all these different factors. They're by no means exhaustive. I mean, there may be many other experiences that we're not capturing. But even when we put them all together and try to understand, run a horse race between them, we see that each individual factor still has good predictive power of who's more zero-sum in their thinking and who's not, and that the effects can range anything between seven to 15% of the variation in zero-sum thinking. So again, it's hard to think about this counterfactual, because everything was happening at the same time. But I think it's an exercise that suggests that even with less immigration, it was likely to still have had some impact on people's views in the long run.

Steven Davis:

Okay. And then the third factor you mentioned was the legacy effects of slavery, so tell us what you found in that regard.

Sandra Sequeira:

Right. So with slavery, what we found is that if any of your ancestors experienced any type of enslavement, so when we asked the question of "Was any of your ancestors ever enslaved," we were in particular, thinking about chattel slavery in the US, but respondents interpreted in many different ways. And that was again, one of the advantages of keeping a question quite broad. So people were reporting ancestors experiencing the Holocaust, indentured Irish labor, they were reporting participation in Japanese internment camps. And so across the board, again, if your ancestor experienced any of these types of events, or situations, that you tend to be more zero-sum in your thinking today.

Similarly, we found that if you grew up, or your parents, or your grandparents grew up in counties in the US with a significant presence of slaves up until 1860, that you tend to be more zero-sum in your thinking today. So these effects do persist even 160 years later. So both of them suggest that again, there is a legacy of slavery that is still shaping the way people view the world, even if you lived in northern counties. But that experienced, or are hosting a higher share of southern migrants, so people who came from the South between the 1900s and the 1940s, where there was a big migration of southerners to northern counties. So if you grew up with people who migrated from the South, that you were still exposed to this mindset, this zero-sum mindset, and that you, yourself, are more likely to be zero-sum today.

Steven Davis:

Okay. So immigration, slavery, and other forms of enslavement, I guess, was the term you used. So this would include people who were in concentration camps during the Holocaust, Japanese-American citizens who were interned, some of them during World War II, and so on. So it's broader than chattel slavery, but they both have long historical tales, so to speak, in terms of their impact. And then you made another point here, which is that just being surrounded by, or exposed to people who came from regions where there was a lot of chattel slavery, that seems to have some spillover effects to views of other people who didn't have the direct exposure. Have I got it right?

Sandra Sequeira:

Exactly. So what this is suggesting, is that it's not just your own experiences. There's a lot of variation in people's experiences across all these different factors, so your experience seems to matter, but in many cases the experiences of your ancestors as well. And so this is the part where this intergenerational transmission of narratives, and culture, and ways of viewing the world, is quite relevant, and I think it comes across in all these three factors.

Steven Davis:

Right, so I think that's really interesting. It reminds me another guest that we had on this podcast, Sergei [inaudible 00:36:12], talking about Russian economic history. And we did chat briefly in that conversation, about very long... It reminds me of your point here, that I think it was, if I remember right, I may get the details wrong, I think it involved the forcible relocation of some of the Ukrainians to other parts of the Soviet Empire at the time. And those people were eventually allowed to return to their homeland, so to speak, but they left a mark, a long-lasting mark on the communities where they resided for some 10, 20 years or more. I don't remember the details again, but it's along the same lines as you are finding, that there's this indirect effect of who you're exposed to in the area where you grew up, where you live and work.

And it does suggest that there's very long-lasting effects that work through intergenerational links, but also just communal links, who you come into contact with. And these things affect attitudes for a long time to come, including towards economic policy. So we chatted a little bit about this before, but why don't you give us the larger picture of what you found. So we talked about the prevalence and the correlates of zero-sum thinking. We've talked some about where it seems to arise from, not necessarily exhaustively, as you pointed out. But how does it then translate into policy preferences?

Sandra Sequeira:

Right. So then to tackle that important part of the equation, of how does all of this then translate into people's policy preferences? So we asked the participants in our survey, how they felt about some key policies. So one is taxation, so do you think the rich pay too much tax or too little tax? Do you think the poor pay too much tax? Do you support universal healthcare or not? Do you think we should allow for wealth accumulation? Do you think the government should spend more on income support for the poor? So several questions about taxation to try to gauge how people stand on this important policy issue. On affirmative action we asked questions related to racial divides, so how aware are you of discrimination against different racial groups? Do you think slavery still makes it hard for African-Americans to get ahead in life and escape poverty.

When it came to affirmative action with regards to gender, so we ask specific questions about do you think that women should have preferential treatment when it comes to hiring? Do you think women still experience discrimination today? And lastly, to capture people's views on immigration, we asked whether they thought the US should let more immigrants come in, and whether you think it's important to have been born in the US to be considered a US citizen. So again, all these questions are trying to, in different ways, trying to capture how people stand on these important issues, so that then we could see how much a variation on these policy preferences can be driven by zero-sum thinking.

Steven Davis:

Okay. Can you give a sense of then, how big these effects are? Like if you take somebody who's kind of the typical person in the bottom third of the distribution, you think there's a lot of zero-sum, the world's a very zero-sum place, and you compare that to somebody in, I don't know, the top third, so they think it's a positive-sum place. Take an average person in those two groups, how does that translate into their support for tax-based income redistribution? Can you put some numbers around it for us?

Sandra Sequeira:

Right, exactly. So we try to benchmark these figures, precisely to give people a better sense of the magnitude. So we try to benchmark it against what is the partisan gap, so where Democrats stand on these issues relative to Republicans. So these are all issues where both, I mean, there's a lot of polarization, so think about the spread between these two, and how much of that can be explained by zero-sum thinking. So when it comes to redistribution, the zero-sum thinking explains up to 50%, so the effect of zero-sum is actually statistically-

Steven Davis:

50% percent of the partisan gap?

Sandra Sequeira:

Of the partisan gap, exactly. When it comes to gender issues, it explains about 90%. When it comes to immigration, it explains about 37%. So this is giving you a sense of how much of the measured against something that we are well aware of, which is this gap between Democrats and Republicans, of how much can zero-sum help explain it, so quite sizable effects.

Steven Davis:

Yes, they have big effects. But it's interesting, the immigration piece was much smaller than the other two, which is indicative of, I think, of the fact that even within each party, there's a lot of variation in views about immigration policy.

Sandra Sequeira:

Exactly.

Steven Davis:

Exactly. Okay, so what's next on this research agenda?

Sandra Sequeira:

I think what's next in this research agenda, is for us to try to understand... So people have a multitude of experiences in life. So some of them are, you can dig deeper into the past, into their ancestors, others are more recent. So if you have gone through a spell of unemployment... And so what we try to understand is how do these two experiences interact? So what will be top-of-mind, which experiences are more likely to drive the way you think about the world? And again, how that can affect your policy preferences. So that's definitely an area where I think a lot more work needs to be done, because we have this reservoir of experiences, and we need to understand when do we resort to one more than the other? And what factors in your environment, or cues in your environment, can push one experience to be more top-of-mind than the other one. So I think that would be a fascinating area for future research.

The other area would be, I mean, picking up on one of the points that you made earlier, particularly in terms of what are the roots of zero-sum thinking. So our results show a mixed picture when it comes to the importance of people versus place. So when it comes to slavery, we find that if you're growing up in a place that still feels the legacy of slavery, that you're more likely to be zero-sum today. We don't find something similar with immigration. So we find that the long tail of immigration, as you were saying, is felt via the experiences of your ancestors in this intergenerational transmission of a narrative. So it's interesting to see this juxtaposition of two different scenarios, where in one place matters a lot, in part because a lot of the legacy of slavery has been institutionalized at the community level and these economies in general. And the other one where we don't see these effects operating via the effect of place, and it operates more via the effect of families and the transmission of narratives.

So unpacking that a bit more, and understanding these differences across experiences, I think is another fascinating area for future research.

Steven Davis:

Yeah, it is. I agree with that. It'd be great, I look forward to seeing what you find in those respects.

In listening to this, replaying this conversation in my head, there's a tension between one aspect of your results and a popular perception out there. And I'm not saying that your results are wrong at all, I'm more concerned about the perception. The perception is that large waves of immigration are good for the Democrats, that they're going to support the Democratic party. But one of the strongest results in your paper, as I understand it, is that, A, there's two parts to it. A, recent immigrants are more likely to have a positive-sum outlook on the world, and that means they're less likely to favor redistributive government policies, which are definitely more associated with Democrats than Republicans, although I'm not sure that's as true as it was once in the past. But how do you think about that, is the popular perception wrong?

Sandra Sequeira:

I think the popular perception is probably wrong. So when we think about Democrats versus Republicans, again, we tend to think about these average positions. But when you start digging deeper into how they're positioning themselves, and also it depends on issue salience. So for certain elections, some issues will be more salient, and will be more discussed in the media, and others will not. So immigration has fallen out of favor in a lot of the upcoming elections for this year in particular, even though again, looking here at the UK, immigration levels are the highest that they've ever been. So I think we have this general perception that it's all driven by partisanship, but recent scholarship and political scientists have been highlighting the fact that there's a lot of within-party variation. And again, we're trying to try to understand where is this within-party variation coming from? Perhaps it comes from these individual experiences, but I think it's going to reflect on some of these puzzles that no longer fit the old molds of partisan divides. And so I think that's again, something that we need to understand better, but things are shifting quite quickly.

Steven Davis:

Okay. Anything else you want to add to our discussion today, anything we left out that's really important?

Sandra Sequeira:

No, I think it's really just maybe stressing this issue of trying to understand which experiences and which issues tying into this brief discussion about the evolution of policy and political platforms, is which issues become more relevant for particular periods, and then how that can interact with people's past experiences, and to shape people's views about the world, and people's policy preferences. So I think there's a lot that we still need to understand about the role of the media, and issue salience, and how it interacts with these more cultural factors, and cultural experiences, to truly understand how people are thinking about the world, and are forming opinions about important policies.

Steven Davis:

Okay, great. So lots of work to be done.

Sandra Sequeira:

Lots of work on my desk, yes. And hopefully, on others as well.

Steven Davis:

Okay. Thanks, Sandra. I really enjoyed the conversation, take care.

Sandra Sequeira:

Thank you so much. It was great fun, thanks.

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