Economic inequality is at an all-time high in the United States. The gap between the rich and poor has been growing for years. How do most Americans feel about it?
You might be surprised.
Today, try answering this question—which was posed by pollsters exploring American attitudes toward inequality:
Picture the distribution of wealth in three different countries:
- A country that shows perfect equality—everyone is equally wealthy.
- A country that shows moderate inequality—the richest one-fifth of the population control 36% of the nation’s wealth, with the poorest one-fifth controlling 11% of the wealth.
- A country that shows extreme inequality—the richest one-fifth controls 84% of the wealth, and the poorest one-fifth with 4%.
Now, suppose you could join any of these countries—but you would be randomly assigned to one of the wealth groups. So, for example, in the third country you were just as likely to end up in the super-rich group (84% of the wealth) or the super-poor group (4% of the wealth). Obviously, your life would be a bit different if you landed in one compared to the other.
What’s your choice?
How do you think Americans responded?
Two economists conducted a national survey. What do you suppose they learned? Almost all (92%) Americans chose No. 2 with a preference for moderate inequality over extreme inequality.
What this meant is that they preferred Sweden over the U.S. The choices numbered 2 and 3 above represent the distribution of wealth in Sweden and the U.S.
The really surprising finding is that the Swedish distribution was preferred by just about everyone—men and women, rich and poor, Republicans and Democrats. Of course, this hypothetical choice is open to many interpretations. Yet it is instructive that so many Americans across the board chose a wealth distribution that is so much more equitable than what actually exists in America.
What’s your reaction?
Which would you choose and why?
Please, leave a “Comment” below.