MONEY: It’s The Wealth Inequality, Stupid!


[Illustration by ROGELIO NARANJO]

MICHAEL NORTON, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL: In a recent survey of Americans, my colleague Dan Ariely and I found that Americans drastically underestimated the level of wealth inequality in the United States. While recent data indicates that the richest 20 percent of Americans own 84 percent of all wealth, people estimated that this group owned just 59 percent – believing that total wealth in this country is far more evenly divided among poorer Americans. Easy consumer credit and a belief in social mobility have reduced the clamor for wealth redistribution. What’s more, when we asked them how they thought wealth should be distributed, they told us they wanted an even more equitable distribution, with the richest 20 percent owning just 32 percent of the wealth. This was true of Democrats and Republicans, rich and poor – all groups we surveyed approved of some inequality, but their ideal was far more equal than the current level. Why then, given the consensus on this more equal America, are Americans not clamoring for redistribution? MORE

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