Moral Low Ground


Study: Most Americans Want Sweden’s Wealth Distribution

April 28, 2011 by Brett Wilkins in Rich & Poor with 0 Comments

A new study by prominent economists has found that most Americans, regardless of income level or political affiliation, underestimate the degree of income inequality in the United States and want a more equitable distribution of wealth more in line with Scandinavian nations, Alternet reports.

The research, conducted by Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University and reported by Dr. Paul Kedrosky, concluded that fully 92% of Americans want to live in a society with “far less income disparity than the US.”

The economists surveyed 5,522 people in 47 different states and found that Americans usually underestimate the nation’s wealth gap. When asked, people guessed that the top 20% had 59% of the nation’s wealth. In reality, the top 20% have 84%. When queried about how much the top 20% should have, respondents, on average, answered 32%. That just happens to be a snapshot of Sweden’s wealth spread.

Interestingly, respondents of all political stripes and income levels– poor and rich, Democrat and Republican– all equally chose the Swedish level of inequality. “What is most striking,” the study’s authors wrote, is that the results show “more consensus than disagreement among… different demographic groups. All groups– even the wealthiest respondents– desired a more equal distribution of wealth than what they estimated the current United States level to be, while all groups also desired some inequality– even the poorest respondents.”

Indeed, survey respondents preferred the Swedish level of inequality over perfect equality, “suggesting that Americans prefer some inequality to perfect equality, but not to the degree currently present in the United States.”

Income inequality in the US is now at its most disparate level ever, exceeding even 1920s levels. The 1% of wealthiest Americans now control 50% of the nation’s wealth; the richest 20% hold 84%.

According to Alternet, the reason why Americans don’t raise hell over this absurd level of inequality is that they’re just not that aware of it. This study’s results back up that assertion. Also, “just as people have erroneous beliefs about the level of wealth inequality, they may also hold overly optimistic beliefs about opportunities for social mobility in the United States, beliefs which in turn may drive support for unequal distributions of wealth… Americans exhibit a general disconnect between their attitudes towards economic inequality and their self-interest and public policy preferences, suggesting that even given increased awareness of the gap between ideal and actual wealth distributions, Americans may remain unlikely to advocate for policies that would narrow this gap.”


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