Americans Are Thick
Here are some pretty pictures for you to look over:
The chart [above] conveys the central point: people think the distribution of wealth is more equal than it actually is; and they think it should be much more equal than their already unrealistically-equal notion of its current state. Eg: the top 20% of the US wealth distribution actually controls nearly 85% of total wealth; people think the top 20% controls under 60%; and they think it should control just over 30%.
Similarly: people feel that the bottom 20% of the economic pyramid "should" have about 10% of the total pie; they think it actually has about 3% or 4%; in fact, its share appears to be too small to show up on the chart.
Another chart, showing estimates of what that wealth distribution is, and what it should be, among people in three income groups (under $50,000, $50,000 to $100,000, and above $100,000.) Main variation: the more money people make, the larger the share they think should go to the top 20%.
In essence, what people want is to live like the Swedes do in their democratic-socialist society with plenty of wealth redistribution but enough room for capitalism to still prevail. Americans, however, are blind to this desire because of the demonization of “socialism” and “redistribution” as un-American ideas. In fact, the US is very socialist and there is plenty of redistribution to go around and has since the beginning of this great nation of knuckleheads.
[I]ncreases in inequality are associated with a conservative shift in mood and increasing opposition to welfare… Their second main finding: increases in inequality are associated with a conservative shift among both the wealthy and the poor… One natural objection: perhaps some citizens, and especially poorer citizens, just do not realize that inequality has increased. But the third main finding contradicts this: over time, the poor are actually more likely to perceive increased inequality than do the wealthy.
There are plenty of reasons why this happens as the paper explains – a lot of it has to do with how the media has framed inequality and income since the 70s when income gains have gone to the upper tiers; this leads to the hypothesis that “media frames over this period may have increasingly emphasized stories of individualism, thus generating a negative link between rising inequality and public opinion liberalism. The decline in inequality prior to the 1970s, by contrast, was driven primarily by increasing incomes at the bottom of the income distribution and may have generated stories emphasizing government’s role in education and job creation.”
I’ve said it time and time again that the wealth and income gaps will lead to the destabilization of our democracy. A quick and easy example is non-profit groups putting out attack ads during this election; many of these groups are being funded by only a few ultra-wealthy individuals such as the Koch brothers and Murdoch. Whereas Democrats are relying on millions of small donations, much of the money going into the campaign season for Republican candidates is coming from ever-larger donations from just a few donors. In essence, their opulence is leading to an influence that overwhelms the political election process. Not only has the media been perpetuating individualism and anti-middle class and lower class rhetoric – and has begun demonizing the great majority of the American public (the public forgets who they are and don’t realize they’re being equated to waste) – but the ultra-wealthy are shifting the entire political process to their benefit and away from the welfare of the majority.
Americans sense a great deal of wealth and income inequality “[a]nd yet, Americans, studies have shown, are more opposed to having the government do anything about this inequality than are citizens of other western nations.” Here are plenty more reasons Americans are so backwards on making this country what they wish it to be.
Update: Here’s another pretty picture: