What Money Can’t Buy: Wealth, Inequality, and Economic Satisfaction in the Rentier State
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How do perceived inequalities in allocation impact citizen satisfaction with state-distributed benefits in rentier societies? Resource-rich rentier regimes are widely theorized to maintain the economic and political satisfaction of subjects through wealth distribution. Yet, while qualitative research in the rentier states of the Arabian Peninsula has identified unequal distribution as a source of discontent, the relative importance of objective versus subjective factors in shaping satisfaction at the individual level has never been systematically evaluated. Here we assess the impacts of inequality on the nexus between wealth and satisfaction among citizens of the richest rentier regime in the world: the state of Qatar. Using original, nationally representative survey data, we test the effects of two separate mechanisms of unequal distribution previously identified in the literature: group-based discrimination, and variation in individual access owing to informal influence. Results show that perceptions of both group- and individual-based inequality dampen satisfaction with state-distributed benefits, irrespective of objective socioeconomic well-being. The findings demonstrate that even in the most affluent of rentier states, economic satisfaction derives not only from absolute quantities of benefits but also from subjective impressions of fairness in the distribution process.
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