Archive for October 17th, 2010

David Ruccio regularly comments on inequality and its myriad effects on economics, politics, and society (most recently, here and here), and he maintains a page on unequal representations which is a collection of graphic representations of inequality. These efforts are especially important today, because Americans are horribly misinformed about who has money. [ht:cr]

This chart is from a paper called “Building a Better America One Wealth Quintile at a Time” by Dan Ariely and Michael I. Norton.

The top row shows the actual distribution of wealth in America. The richest 20 percent, represented by that blue line, has about 85 percent of the wealth. The next richest 20 percent, represented by that red line, has about 10 percent of the wealth. And the remaining three-fifths of America shares a tiny sliver of the country’s wealth.

Below that, the “Estimated” rows show how different groups think wealth is distributed. As you can see, in people’s misinformed minds things are much more equitable.

Undoubtedly, this has a enormous implications for politics and public discourse surrounding economic issues. And I’m not just talking about the Bush tax cut debate. Realizing that society is so unequal must raise questions about whether our economy is undermining democracy itself in the United States. Realizing that people are far needier than we think should raise questions about conventional notions of freedom, and whether the definition of freedom as the “freedom to choose” is adequate. And hopefully, with papers and writing that spread good information, we can have more informed and more meaningful debates in the public sphere.


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