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Study: Most Americans want wealth distribution similar to Sweden

By Daniel Tencer
Saturday, September 25, 2010 19:28 EDT
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92 percent prefer Swedish model to US model when given a choice

Americans generally underestimate the degree of income inequality in the United States, and if given a choice, would distribute wealth in a similar way to the social democracies of Scandinavia, a new study finds.

For decades, polls have shown that a plurality of Americans — around 40 percent — consider themselves conservative, while only around 20 percent self-identify as liberals. But a new study from two noted economists casts doubt on what values lie beneath those political labels.

According to research (PDF) carried out by Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University, and flagged by Paul Kedrosky at the Infectious Greed blog, 92 percent of Americans would choose to live in a society with far less income disparity than the US, choosing Sweden’s model over that of the US.

What’s more, the study’s authors say that this applies to people of all income levels and all political leanings: The poor and the rich, Democrats and Republicans are all equally likely to choose the Swedish model.

But the study also found that respondents preferred Sweden’s model over a model of perfect income equality for everyone, “suggesting that Americans prefer some inequality to perfect equality, but not to the degree currently present in the United States,” the authors state.

Recent analyses have shown that income inequality in the US has grown steadily for the past three decades and reached its highest level on record, exceeding even the large disparities seen in the 1920s, before the Great Depression. Norton and Ariely estimate that the one percent wealthiest Americans hold nearly 50 percent of the country’s wealth, while the richest 20 percent hold 84 percent of the wealth.

But in their study, the authors found Americans generally underestimate the income disparity. When asked to estimate, respondents on average estimated that the top 20 percent have 59 percent of the wealth (as opposed to the real number, 84 percent). And when asked to choose how much the top 20 percent should have, on average respondents said 32 percent — a number similar to the wealth distribution seen in Sweden.

“What is most striking” about the results, argue the authors, is that they show “more consensus than disagreement among … different demographic groups. All groups – even the wealthiest respondents – desired a more equal distribution of wealth than what they estimated the current United States level to be, while all groups also desired some inequality – even the poorest respondents.”

The authors suggest the reason that American voters have not made more of an issue of the growing income gap is that they may simply not be aware of it. “Second, just as people have erroneous beliefs about the actual level of wealth inequality, they may also hold overly optimistic beliefs about opportunities for social mobility in the United States, beliefs which in turn may drive support for unequal distributions of wealth,” they write.

The authors also note that, though there may be widespread agreement about income inequality, there is no agreement on what caused it or what should be done about it.

“Americans exhibit a general disconnect between their attitudes towards economic inequality and their self-interest and public policy preferences, suggesting that even given increased awareness of the gap between ideal and actual wealth distributions, Americans may remain unlikely to advocate for policies that would narrow this gap,” the authors argue.

Norton and Ariely’s survey was carried out on 5,522 respondents in 47 states in December of 2005. The results are to be published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

 
 
 
 
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  • Anonymous

    Democratic socialism is a joke for the ignorants who would like to see a powerful state to solve their problems.

    “Socialism and democracy are incompatible” -Ludwig von Mises

  • Anonymous

    “with a Government snooping on its citizens and with a population force fed a biased and selective news and information flow of the state of the nation and occasionaly, but only occasionaly, also some twisted and spun story about the world outside the Fortress, but then only desinged to keep the state of delusion, ignorance and self-glorification intact.”

    Sounds you are talking about Sweden

    “With the sad result that so many Americans have surrendered their own capacity to think, reflect and form their own opinions with a critical mindset. America is increasingly becoming a nation of devoid of reason, logic, pragmatism, common sense and individial drive and aspirations mentally enslaved under the delusion that despite overwhelming evidence of the contrary the American model has failed”

    This mental masturbation and whining serves no purpose, if anything it proves your own ignorance generalizing an entire nation based on your ideological bias.

    “and need some fine tuning – and there are other countries out there that could teach some lessons how to organise open, free, democratic, prosperous, healthy and happy societies.”

    America is wealthier and more prosperous than any scandinavian country……. and about that “happy society” of Sweden all I can say is that IGNORANCE IS BLISS

    “Or are you arguing that the better economic model is one which can not afford to provide millions of its citizens with basic health care, quality education and equal and just opprtunities to earn/make a decent living and live a dignified and happy life?”

    No, you are arguing against your own strawman.

    Capitalism and economic freedom lead to more prosperous societies but people like you are simply scared to death of economic and social freedom

    “And you clearly have no clue whatsoever what you are talking about, in regards to socialism (have you heard of social democracy and do you understand the difference?) or free markets (like a state owned banking and automotive sector and a heavily state subsidised energy and transportation sectors?).”

    Socialism is mental retardation, social democracy is mild retardation.
    Free market capitalism is common sense…….. did I get it right?

    “The Swedish economic model is one where free markets play a dominant role in all sectors of the economy where the size of the market is large enough promote fair compeition that benefits the consumers”

    Im glad you understand that only a free market can bring wealth and prosperity

    “You, James Weatherford, are just one of those dumb asses that gives Americans a bad name overseas. But keep forcefeeding yourself oranges and Fox “news”. And enjoy your Tea Party and keep your ignoranceand delusion well and alive! ”

    Do you even understand the concept behind the Tea Parties? perhaps the idea of rebellion against the government and taxes are anathema for a sheep like you.

  • Anonymous

    Most socialists live their lives in neverland

  • Anonymous

    A more honest poll would have been if american prefer the true free market capitalism vs what exist today and then compare it against the swedish model.

  • Anonymous

    You are arguing that America doesnt have freedom then you argue that capitalism is “bad”……. you are confused my friend.

  • Anonymous

    “Most Americans don’t understand just how little they have and how much the richest 20 percent have”.

    Wealth inequality is not really an issue, the false perception of injustice is.

    “In the last thirty years, productivity has risen much more 55 percent yet the people in the bottom half of the income scale have actually seen their incomes drop and those just above them have seen little or no gain.”

    Perhaps mere productivity doesn account for the creation of value and therefore wealth. After all the labor theory of value was disproved 150 years ago.

    “It is only those in the top twenty percent who have seen any gain in income from the gigantic productivity increases and they have gotten almost all of it and more. Their incomes on average have increased over 250 percent.”

    Those who create wealth have the right to keep it.
    Merely been involved in the productive process doesnt make you the creator of value, this a basic economic concept.

    “The second aspect of this problem is what to do about it. We can talk about taxes or government regulations that might make a difference, but the only mechanism historically that we have had for a more equitable distribution of wealth at the point of the paychecks were the unions.”

    LOL

    “when it comes to the task of explaining how America might institute not just a more equitable income distribution but a manufacturing sector that gives workers 50% of the composition on corporate boards and voting rights on business decisions including access to business files and business plans, like the Germans have.”

    Perhaps you are unware that in a free society under free market capitalism workers can invest and manage their property and wealth anyway they like, all it takes is the will to do it. Believe me no “capitalist death squad” is going to prevent them from forming their own business.

    “we need a complete revision of the American capitalist system and more importantly, we need a complete revision of our ideology regarding taxes”

    I agree less taxes, more freedom

    “We pay less in taxes than nearly all industrialized nations and we get much, much less for it. The Germans and French pay about 2 to 4 percent more on average in taxation but they get a massive amount of social products for their money, including, maternity leave even for husbands, nanny care, health care, free education, long term unemployment, welfare and much more generous retirement benefits.”

    They also have lower incomes, less economic freedom and more strict regulation.

    “In addition, they have much more say in their government generally and are much more interested because they have much greater participation in politics generall”

    This is nonsense.

    “The health care debate shows how hard any changes in America can be. Single payer health care reform as originally envisioned during Obama’s campaign might have been a step in the appropriate direction”

    I disagree, a general deregulation of the healthcare industry would lower the costs much more effectively

    “That’s because they want to pretend that big government is the tool of business not the people in any discernible way.”

    LOL

    “You won’t see the Tea Party… doing anything that actually empowers people at the point of their paycheck. Instead of getting a bigger share of the pie, they want to lower taxes while shifting more of the burden of living to the individual and shifting more of the profit to the rich”.

    Your entire argument can be summrized to this nonsense “lower taxes, more profit for the rich”
    Again there is nothing in free market capitalism that prevents the creation of co-ops.

    “Perhaps the first thing that needs to be changed is the mindset that says “I refuse to be taxed to help anyone else, even if it will help me just as much.”

    Because the government knows how to spend the people’s money better than they know it themselves?
    You know I agree, please donate all your income to the government.

    “This resistance to government at the individual level prevents government, from making social programs affordable because economies of scale”

    If only government were left alone to growth on its own it could solve all our problems…… please

    “The American ideology is killing us”

    Calm down and breathe.

    “and until people agree to adopt a different ideology and stop being influenced by the fear of “socialism”

    I dont think socialism is something to be fear as much as laughed about

  • Anonymous

    “Sounds you are talking about Sweden”

    No. Obviously not, about the US, which is obvious for anyone who has extensive experience both of the US and Sweden. Which you clearly haven’t, which should lead you conclude yourself that you are not fit making any relative statements about these two countries. But as you said yourself, IGNORANCE IS BLISS!

    “This mental masturbation and whining serves no purpose, if anything it proves your own ignorance generalizing an entire nation based on your ideological bias.”

    I was not generalizing an entire nation. That is why specifically said “many Americans” as opposed to “all Americans” or just “Americans. That would have been to generalize an entire nation. Oups, you misfired again! Don’t you have the capacity to have a grown up discussion and provide some real arguments instead of all this misguided attempted sniping? But I guess being glued to Fox you probably mistake sniping, shouting, ridiculing, hostility, made up “facts” and aggression for being tools for constructive conversation and discussion. I’m guessing the lack of substance and your emotive reactivity in your comment only shows how much you actually know about this topic….

    “America is wealthier and more prosperous than any scandinavian country……. and about that “happy society” of Sweden all I can say is that IGNORANCE IS BLISS”

    Again, you have no clue what you are talking about. Just walk into an average American household and an average Swedish household and it is a striking difference of the higher quality of life, affluence, lifestyle and sophistication of the Swedish family: happier, healthier, better educated, MUCH higher quality of life and affluence. But it is perfectly fine with me that you are happy with your lot and have no higher aspirations with your life.

    “”Or are you arguing that the better economic model is one which can not afford to provide millions of its citizens with basic health care, quality education and equal and just opprtunities to earn/make a decent living and live a dignified and happy life?”

    No, you are arguing against your own strawman.”

    What a lame attempt to dodge this obvious (perhaps uncomfortable) truth that America as a country/society has not yes solved how to generate and allocate wealth and resources to provide its population with these basics (for a developed, sophisticated, free and affluent society/country.

    “Socialism is mental retardation, social democracy is mild retardation.
    Free market capitalism is common sense…….. did I get it right?”

    Well, well, well… That’s what I call a solid argument………in the sandpit or kindergarten. Bet it felt really good to share that little platitude. Unfortunately it has no substance or meaning.

    Apart from that, I agree with the sentiment. Free markets, capitalism and democracy is an unbeatable model. But it need to also be executed with a social awareness that a society will crumble (like the US has done) if it also doesn’t also provide equal opportunities to things like education, health care and a few safety nets for when times are rough. You simply don’t understand the Swedish model, but I realize it wont stop you from comment on it, however stupid it make you look.

    “Im glad you understand that only a free market can bring wealth and prosperity”

    I’m glad that you are glad. I’m not quite sure why however? Has anyone argued against the benefits of free markets in regards to wealth generation and prosperity? Again, you don’t understand the Swedish model, thus you cannot contextualize the arguments in this discussion – which is not about the pros or cons of a free market model.

    “Do you even understand the concept behind the Tea Parties?”

    Yes I do. Else I wouldn’t comment on it. Unlike you I know what I’m talking about, thus providing arguments and not just the type of bitchy one-liners you resort to.

    “perhaps the idea of rebellion against the government and taxes are anathema for a sheep like you.”

    I’m glad you have an outlet for your rebellious and frustrated relations with the US Government, but don’t really understand why you spent 99% of your post to champion it if what you really want to do is to overthrow it? This is not an intellectual or reasoned discussion for you but some emotive outburst to get a little bit of relief from this frustration? Funny you throw yourself in a debate about a country you have no knowledge about to satisfy this urge….

  • Anonymous

    “No. Obviously not, about the US, which is obvious for anyone who has extensive experience both of the US and Sweden. Which you clearly haven’t, which should lead you conclude yourself that you are not fit making any relative statements about these two countries”

    You didnt advance your point in any way, in fact you just proved my point, you are so desperately misguided by the statist media you cant even see the hipocrisy and bias in your speech.

    “But as you said yourself, IGNORANCE IS BLISS!”

    Now you are talking about yourself

    “I was not generalizing an entire nation. That is why specifically said “many Americans”"

    Many is still a generalization fallacy

    “Oups, you misfired again!”

    I just proved to you your intellectual inadequacy

    “Don’t you have the capacity to have a grown up discussion and provide some real arguments instead of all this misguided attempted sniping?”

    Im just responding to your stupid rant, make arguments that are worth my time

    “But I guess being glued to Fox you probably mistake sniping, shouting, ridiculing, hostility, made up “facts” and aggression for being tools for constructive conversation and discussion. I’m guessing the lack of substance and your emotive reactivity in your comment only shows how much you actually know about this topic….”

    I dont watch Fox news so your attemp to poison the well just failed, you need to take debate classes.

    “Again, you have no clue what you are talking about. Just walk into an average American household and an average Swedish household and it is a striking difference of the higher quality of life, affluence, lifestyle and sophistication of the Swedish family”

    This is a just an absurd myth propagated by ignorants like you, the USA has a higher position in the HDI (2010) than Sweden.

    “happier”

    As I said IGNORANCE IS BLISS

    “healthier, better educated, MUCH higher quality of life and affluence. But it is perfectly fine with me that you are happy with your lot and have no higher aspirations with your life.”

    Not only americanas are higher than you in the HDI (2010), we also have considerably higher average income.

    “What a lame attempt to dodge this obvious (perhaps uncomfortable) truth that America as a country/society has not yes solved how to generate and allocate wealth and resources to provide its population with these basics (for a developed, sophisticated, free and affluent society/country.”

    Im not dodging anything, Im stating the obvious you dont know anything about a free market economy so you just created a position and then tried to refute it, therefore a straw man.

    The only real statistic that matters is income and the US has higher average income than Sweden, much higher actually, and thats without a state that takes half your paycheck and then gives you “free stuff”

    For your information America doesnt have a free market in healthcare, only a fool would think that problems generated by state regulation can be solved with more state regulation

    “Well, well, well… That’s what I call a solid argument………in the sandpit or kindergarten. Bet it felt really good to share that little platitude. Unfortunately it has no substance or meaning.”

    I keep it simple for a you.

    “Apart from that, I agree with the sentiment. Free markets, capitalism and democracy is an unbeatable model. But it need to also be executed with a social awareness that a society will crumble (like the US has done) if it also doesn’t also provide equal opportunities to things like education, health care and a few safety nets for when times are rough. You simply don’t understand the Swedish model, but I realize it wont stop you from comment on it, however stupid it make you look.”

    Only a slave accepts that the state takes his money by force then gives it back, and it even expects a “thank you sir.”

    A free society is either free or it isnt.

    “Yes I do. Else I wouldn’t comment on it. Unlike you I know what I’m talking about, thus providing arguments and not just the type of bitchy one-liners you resort to.”

    Arguments? I havent read anything besides “the state is great!” XD

    “I’m glad you have an outlet for your rebellious and frustrated relations with the US Government, but don’t really understand why you spent 99% of your post to champion it if what you really want to do is to overthrow it?”

    The desire for freedom from tyranny and bad government is at the heart of every american

    “This is not an intellectual or reasoned discussion for you but some emotive outburst to get a little bit of relief from this frustration? Funny you throw yourself in a debate about a country you have no knowledge about to satisfy this urge…. ”

    Now that you mention it, hasnt Sweden just elected a Libertarian pro-free market government in 2005 under the promise of fixing the broken welfare state, lowering the taxes and promoting economic and social freedom?

    Maybe you need to look at your own democraticaly elected government in your own country before trying to sell your model to the rest of the world.

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