Most Americans agree. In a recent newsletter, Jeremy Grantham of GMO, a global investment management firm, discussed research on wealth inequality conducted by Duke University Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics, Dan Ariely, and Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, Michael Norton. Grantham wrote:
“The title of the article pretty much says it all: “Americans want to live in a much more equal country (they just don’t realize it)”. The guts of the data is a survey of over 5,000 Americans, carefully selected to be a balanced representation of the population. They were first asked how equal they believed a society should be in income and capital, and then asked how equal they believed it was in real life… Self-identification as Republican or Democrat made surprisingly little difference. The exhibit’s real shocker is the actual distribution of wealth, which is far worse than the participants believed and far, far worse than they believed to be fair.”
Study participants were given a choice of three wealth distribution models and the directive to “imagine that if you joined this nation, you would be randomly assigned to a place in the distribution, so you could end up anywhere in this distribution, from the very richest to the very poorest.”
So, what did Americans want?
Overall, study participants chose imperfect wealth distribution over perfect wealth distribution. However, more than 90 percent of Republicans and more than 90 percent of Democrats preferred a model with more equal distribution of wealth (11 percent in the poorest quintile, 21 percent in the second poorest, 15 percent in the next, 36 percent in the second richest, and 18 percent in the richest quintile) than the actual wealth distribution in the U.S. at the time (84 percent in the poorest quintile, 11 percent in the second poorest, 4 percent in the next, 0.2 percent in the second richest, and 0.1 percent in the richest quintile). Estimates of ideal wealth distribution were relatively similar across gender and income levels, as well.
Think About It
“I think the American Dream used to be achieving one's goals in your field of choice – and from that, all other things would follow. Now, I think the dream has morphed into the pursuit of money: Accumulate enough of it, and the rest will follow.”
--Buzz Aldrin, American engineer and former astronaut