As the United States continues to hurtle toward the "fiscal cliff" deadline, Majority Leader Harry Reid called on House Republicans to back a Senate bill to extend tax cuts for all except those households earning more than $250,000 a year.

Meanwhile, Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said “Senator Reid should talk less and legislate more."

 (AP Photo/The Herald Leader, David Stephenson)
(David Stephenson/The Herald Leader via Associated Press)

The bitter debate over the fiscal cliff is centered around an age-old American political truth: Most liberals are fine with raising taxes on the wealthy — in this case, Americans making more than $250,000 a year —  to pay for social programs, and most conservatives would prefer to cut spending instead. But while the fiscal cliff can sometimes seem like a uniquely American crisis, a new multinational study from a Swedish economic institute shows the same partisan spending preferences exist in other countries as well.

In a paper called, "Generosity and Political Preferences," Sweden's Research Institute of Industrial Economics found that left-wing voters in several countries are far more likely to support redistributing money, regardless of whether it benefits them personally.

Here's how it worked: First, researchers asked participants to self-identify as left- or right-wing and rate their ideas about income inequality on a scale from one to 10. Researchers then gave them an imaginary sum of money in that country's currency and asked them to either keep it all to themselves or share it with other, imaginary citizens, some of whom were labeled as being from their same political party.

The researchers surveyed 5,000 respondents in the United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden and the United States using this so-called "dictator game" and found that individuals across the nations who identify as left-wing gave away more of the money, particularly to people who agree with them politically. The authors conclude that this most likely means that liberals favor that sort of spending because they think it benefits society, but not necessarily themselves.

Our first main finding is that generosity in the dictator game is positively related to political preferences for typical left-wing policies, in particular to preferences for spending on public goods ... Respondents thus seem to be willing to give up private consumption in order to behave consistently with their political ideals, i.e. they "put their money where their mouth is."

The only outlying country was the U.K., where Tory, or conservative, participants were more generous than Labour ones, which the authors hypothesize might be related to the fact that Tories might not embody traditional right-wing values as much as conservative parties in the other countries do.

So as Americans wring their hands over Congress' inaction, they can take heart in knowing that deep-rooted disagreement over how best to distribute society's resources isn't a uniquely American phenomenon.