Income Inequality (23): U.S. Public Opinion on Income Inequality

Despite what foreigners usually believe about the U.S., and despite the confused ramblings of a tiny group of anti-“socialist” loudmouths high on tea, U.S. public opinion is actually very egalitarian:

Americans are in broad agreement on the need for a more equal distribution of wealth. … that’s what a forthcoming study by two psychologists, Dan Ariely of Duke University and Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School, has concluded. First, Ariely and Norton asked thousands of Americans what they thought the nation’s actual wealth distribution looks like: how much is owned by the wealthiest 20 percent of the population, the next-wealthiest 20 percent, and on down. The researchers then asked people what, in an ideal world, they would like the nation’s wealth distribution to be.

Ariely and Norton found that Americans think they live in a far more equal country than they in fact do. On average, those surveyed estimated that the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans own 59 percent of the nation’s wealth; in reality the top quintile owns around 84 percent. The respondents further estimated that the poorest 20 percent own 3.7 percent, when in reality they own 0.1 percent.

And when asked to give their ideal distribution, they described, on average, a nation where the wealth distribution looks not like the U.S. but like Sweden, only more so—the wealthiest quintile would control just 32 percent of the wealth, the poorest just over 10 percent. “People dramatically underestimated the extent of wealth inequality in the U.S.,” says Ariely. “And they wanted it to be even more equal.” (source)

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4 thoughts on “Income Inequality (23): U.S. Public Opinion on Income Inequality

  1. This is the real world! I’ve been out of a job since April and living off my 401(k) and consolidated retirement account. I haven’t taken a penny from the government in unemployment insurance or in any other way. Do I believe in the government taking from someone else to give to me? Not on your life. Never will I assign the ability (there is no such right) to extort to a stranger, and government will ALWAYS be a stranger. But I’m willing to give a lot of my wealth to my extended family and my church. Those aren’t strangers and highjackers. The family and the church are the original Social Security System. Anything other than the family and church are derivatives. Let’s go back that direction before we wake up one morning without anything.

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