Americans' internal conflict and confusion, and it shows
“Americans are in broad agreement on the need for a more equal distribution of wealth”
Jake Silver was my political science professor at The Ohio State University who lectured that “self-knowledge leads to self-control and with that one can have self-respect.” We Americans are so busy doing and attending essentials that we don’t have time to think; or don’t take as much time to know what we are thinking. We are full of conflict and contradictions and that is indicated by the representation that we produce when we vote. If you think government is a mess, look in the mirror.
Here are some quotations from an article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. By the way, I think BusinessWeek has ratcheted up its quality since under Bloomberg ownership.
“Americans think they live in a far more equal country than they in fact do.”
“The United States, according to this study, is a nation of people who would like to spread the wealth around. They just don't know it.”
“Commentary: The Inequality Delusion
Americans think the U.S. has far more income equality than it has. They want it to be even fairer. Yet they hate the policies that would make it so
"I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." So said Barack Obama almost exactly two years ago to an opinionated plumbing company employee named Joe Wurzelbacher. The comment, captured on video, was one that then-candidate Obama would have reason to regret: Joe the Plumber's celebrity has waned, and a defeated John McCain has gone back to the Senate, but the quote has lived on among the President's critics as evidence of his unabashed liberalism—even, to many, his secret socialism. "That is what change means for Barack the Redistributor: It means taking your money and giving it to someone else," McCain said at the time. "He believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that grow our economy and create jobs."
Political equality is a sacred idea to Americans; economic equality, however, is not. Spreading the wealth is what Marx wanted to do, and Mao. One rallying cry of the Tea Party has been that health-care reform, the stimulus, and the proposed climate change legislation all amount to stealthy ways to redistribute billions of dollars downward. The impending elections are expected to sweep into Congress a crop of Republicans vehemently opposed to the leveling effects of activist liberal government.
Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, founder of the Tea Party Caucus, attacked the BP (BP) oil spill victims fund as "a redistribution of wealth," and Pat Toomey, the Tea Party-backed U.S. Senate front-runner in Pennsylvania, decries all governments for "confiscating the wealth they choose to transfer." Even Robin Hood, as portrayed by Russell Crowe in last spring's film, wasn't robbing from the rich to give to the poor but fending off the predations of greedy tax collectors.
So it might be surprising to learn that Americans are in broad agreement on the need for a more equal distribution of wealth. Yet 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 20percent 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 0.1percent.
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."
The United States, according to this study, is a nation of people who would like to spread the wealth around. They just don't know it.
Can it really be that simple? In part, this work fits into a proud tradition of social science research demonstrating the basic ignorance of the average American. (Ariely and Norton conducted a small follow-up survey of economists and found that though their estimates were better than average, they also got it wrong.)”
Most Recommended Comment
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States