Americans Have No Idea About Wealth Inequality in America

Provocative work from Dan Ariely, et al. in new paper trying to capture Americans’ screwy notions about wealth inequality in the U.S. [-]

Building a Better America—One Wealth Quintile at a Time

Disagreements about the optimal level of wealth inequality underlie policy debates ranging from taxation to welfare. We attempt to insert the desires of “regular” Americans into these debates by asking a nationally representative online panel to estimate the current distribution of wealth in the United States and to “build a better America” by constructing distributions with their ideal level of inequality. First, respondents dramatically underestimated the current level of wealth inequality. Second, respondents constructed ideal wealth distributions that were far more equitable than even their erroneously low estimates of the actual distribution. Most important from a policy perspective, we observed a surprising level of consensus: all demographic groups—even those not usually associated with wealth redistribution such as Republicans and the wealthy—desired a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo. [Emphasis mine]



  1. If we inserted "black people" or "woman" or "gays" or "obese people" for "rich people"…would we attack them so much? Is it OK to discriminate against "rich people" because they are "rich"?

  2. The big problem with this is that you assume there is cause and effect between working hard and getting rich. There are plenty of people working their asses off to scrap by, and plenty of people who inherited their wealth or have got to a point where "there money makes money"…

  3. most people that are "well off" are so because it has been passed down to them.

  4. If you inserted those demographics in for rich people, the income ratios would drastically change; you can't compare them that way on this scale. Nobody's discriminating against rich people in this study; it's simply showing American's perceptions of wealth distribution, the reality, and their ideals. Obviously their ideals far exceed what they think and drastically exceed the reality.

    The rich and powerful have funneled the money more and more to themselves from the common man, and it's created the two-income household and has been drawing us closer and closer to a slave state. We really have been getting the wool pulled over our eyes for the last several decades and we need to fight for our incomes and make the rich give back to the community that feeds them.