Americans prefer Sweden, want rich/non-rich wealth ratio of 2 (it's currently 21)

The average American wants the average rich person to own 1.9 times what the average non-rich person owns. In fact, the average rich person owns 21 times what the average non-rich person owns! (Details below.)

This clever survey asked Americans about America’s income distribution and about their ideal income distribution under a Rawlsian “veil of ignorance” (i.e., assuming you don’t know which individual you would be, which society would you want to live in?).

Almost all Americans prefer Sweden’s relative equality to America’s staggering inequality:

92% of Americans preferring the Sweden distribution to the United States.

Few Americans appreciate just how concentrated wealth is at the top of the U.S. wealth distribution:

respondents vastly underestimated the actual level of wealth inequality in the United States, believing that the wealthiest quintile [20%] held about 59% of the wealth when the actual number is closer to 84%.

The average American wants the average wealthy American to have 1.88 times the average non-wealthy American’s wealth (the richest 20% owning 32% of wealth and the other 80% owning the other 68%). In reality, the average wealthy American actually has 21.0 times the wealth of the average non-wealthy American (the richest 20% owning 84% and the other 80% owning just 16% of wealth):

respondents constructed ideal wealth distributions that were far more equitable than even their erroneously low estimates of the actual distribution, reporting a desire for the top quintile to own just 32% of the wealth. These desires for more equal distributions of wealth took the form of moving money from the top quintile to the bottom three quintiles, while leaving the second quintile unchanged, evidencing a greater concern for the less fortunate than the more fortunate.

Posted by James on Friday, September 24, 2010