Turns out Americans are radically misinformed about the distribution of wealth in their own society, thinking it is much more equal than it actually is. Turns out the distribution of wealth Americans think would be ideal is far more equal still than that, and is basically Scandinavian:
Slate commentator Timothy Noah, who blogs about the research showing the above, observes:
I noted that in 1915, when the richest 1 percent accounted for about 18 percent of the nation’s income, the prospect of class warfare was imminent. Today, the richest 1 percent account for 24 percent of the nation’s income, yet the prospect of class warfare is utterly remote. Indeed, the political question foremost in Washington’s mind is how thoroughly the political party more closely associated with the working class (that would be the Democrats) will get clobbered in the next election. Why aren’t the bottom 99 percent marching in the streets?
One possible answer is sheer ignorance. People know we’re living in a time of growing income inequality, Krugman told me, but “the ordinary person is not really aware of how big it is.” The ignorance hypothesis gets a strong assist from a new paper for the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science: “Building a Better America—One Wealth Quintile at a Time.” The authors are Michael I. Norton, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard Business School, and Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist (and blogger) at Duke. Norton and Ariely focus on the distribution of wealth, which is even more top-heavy than the distribution of income. The richest 1 percent account for 35 percent of the nation’s net worth; subtract housing, and their share rises to 43 percent. The richest 20 percent (or “top quintile”) account for 85 percent; subtract housing and their share rises to 93 percent. But when Norton and Ariely surveyed a group whose incomes, voting patterns, and geographic distribution approximated that of the U.S. population, the respondents guessed that the top quintile accounted for only 59 percent of the nation’s wealth.
Of course, sheer ignorance is indeed one reason for this fundamental failure of American democracy. But what, pray tell, is the cause of that sheer ignorance?
Answer: Our capitalist media, which would lose corporate sponsors and incur rightist flak attacks if they reported coherently and often on the distribution of income and wealth.
That, plus the Business Party, with its Republican and Democratic factions, which similarly steer clear of the topic, refusing to mention, let alone politicize, it.
Market totalitarianism, in other words.