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There is no political divide in wanting financial equality in America

Wednesday, August 8, 2012
posted by Rita Handrich

Seriously. Despite all the nasty ads we are seeing as the election season ramps up–what we can tell you is that Americans want to live in a country that is much more financially equitable. We want wealth distributed more equally. We want a fairer nation. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we have no idea that’s what we want and we have no idea just how bad things are!

We try hard to stay on top of all the research but there are many times it slips by unnoticed. So it’s good of the Atlantic to send us back to the literature from time to time to see what we’ve missed.

Dan Ariely is on faculty at MIT and does research in behavioral economics which we’ve written about before here. He is often provocative and challenging to our preconceived ideas and thus deserving of a bookmark on your internet browser. In this case, he is writing about American fantasies of how things “should” be. And those fantasies would put us in a much better place as a nation than we are right now! It’s a refreshingly positive perspective on who “those people” different than us are in this time of heightened political polarization.

Ariely describes the study listed at the bottom of this post–wherein researchers asked Americans to consider wealth in this country divided up into 5 buckets or pots. The bottom 20% goes in the first bucket, the second 20% goes in the second bucket, and so on.

Most of their participants guessed that the bottom 2 buckets (the poorest 40% of the population) had about 9% of the wealth while the top bucket (the wealthiest 20%) had about 59% of the wealth. You can see their estimates in the graphic illustrating this post. You can also see the reality which is wildly disparate from the guesses–the bottom 40% has only 0.3% of the wealth while the top 20% has 84% of America’s wealth.

Then they asked what the research participants thought would be an “ideal” wealth distribution and you can also see that in the post graphic. What is most interesting in these findings is the researchers found no differences by political affiliation, income or gender. We want the same things. But we don’t know it.

It comes down to ideology and the trouble we have separating our world view from our current state of wealth. But when the questions are asked in ways that don’t raise our defenses–what we want for our country is much more the same than it is different–regardless of politics, wealth, gender, and likely other descriptors that describe and divide us. Ariely closes out his Atlantic article this way:

“So whatever you think the current state of wealth distribution is, and whatever you believe the ideal level of wealth distribution to be under the veil of ignorance, there probably is a gap, and a large one, between the two. Awareness of the disparity between what we have and what we want implies that, ultimately, we as a society need to face the problem and find a solution.” 

In the midst of all the hostilities and shared insults tossed back and forth by both sides of the political debate right now–it’s a good reminder that we are more similar than we are different. When we are not defensive and responding from our specific ideology–we want what is right and fair and equitable.

And in our experience, so do jurors. So it’s time to again pull out one of our favorite litigation strategies–designed to come in behind your defenses and get you to respond from the best you there is. Thanks Dan, for reminding us!

Norton, MJ, & Ariely, D (2011). Building a better America–One wealth quintile at a time. Perspectives on Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/1745691610393524

 

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