The context is the previous discussion, here and here, about the capacity for feeling short-changed and ill-treated, even among some of the most materially-fortunate people ever to live on Earth. No doubt it's a primal human trait, but for various reasons (as explained here) the ever-polarizing distribution of wealth and income in America has allowed more people to feel bad about their own situation by looking at the handful who are stratospherically better off.
To some extent this is an "information" problem: people don't know where they really stand. A creative way to demonstrate that is with a forthcoming paper by Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and Daniel Ariely of Duke, which compares: (a) how wealth actually is distributed in America; (b) how people think it's distributed; and (c) how they think it should be distributed. The paper is available in PDF here.
The chart below 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.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Perceived vs. Actual Income Distribution
James Fallows points out an interesting study (h/t to Jonathan Chait):
Posted by Mark at 5:08 PM