I recently came across this video that some talented person made of a study I conducted on wealth inequality a few years back with Mike Norton. It does a great job covering the main findings regarding the differences between what Americans think the distribution of wealth is (somewhat even), what they would prefer (more even than socialist Sweden), and how wealth is actually distributed (the bottom 40% of Americans possessing less than 0.3% of total wealth, the top 20% possessing 84%). The graphs, and a longer explanation, are also available here.
The only thing I wish he emphasized a little more is how similar the results were for Democrats and Republicans, which I found very hopeful. Even with all the ideological polarization in Washington, the moment we ask the question of ideal wealth distribution in a general and less self-interested way, we seem to be a country that cares a lot about each other.
Call for Artists to respond to research on inequality
Hosted by Dan Ariely and the Center for Advanced Hindsight
Artists from around the world are invited to attend a discussion on social and economic inequality (from the lab that hosted the “Creative Dishonesty” project), on Wednesday, February 22nd at 7 PM EST. (Artists who do not live within driving distance of Durham, NC will watch the forum streaming live online.)
Interested artists are to RSVP to the curator, Catherine Howard, at email@example.com by Tuesday, February 21st at 9 PM.
After the forum, artists interested in creating artwork in response to the research will complete an online application, including a 1-page explanation of the artist’s creative process and 2-3 digital images of past work. To be considered, applications must be submitted by Monday, February 27th at 9 PM.
Artists will be notified if they are selected to participate by February 29th and will receive a $100 stipend to complete their piece. There is no limitation to the style or media of pieces created for “PoorQuality,” but all work must be completed by May 5th.
Artwork created for “PoorQuality” will be on display at the Center for Advanced Hindsight from June 1st to August 31st with a reception on June 22nd. An exhibit catalog, including responses and reflections by the artists and the researchers, will be published. Each artist will receive a copy.
Artists will retain all rights to their piece. Works will be returned to artists after the exhibit by September 15th, 2012. If the piece is purchased, the $100 stipend will be deducted from the purchase price.
Feb 22, 7 PM – “PoorQuality: Inequality” forum at the Center for Advanced Hindsight
Feb 27, 9 PM – Deadline to apply for participation
Feb 29, 9 AM – Selected artists will be notified
May 5, 9 PM – Drop-off deadline
Jun 22, 6 PM – 10 PM – Opening reception at the Center for Advanced Hindsight
For more information about the “PoorQuality” project, contact curator Catherine Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wealth Inequality in America
Perform the following thought experiment. Remove yourself for a moment from your present socioeconomic circumstances and imagine that you are to be replaced randomly into society at any class level.
Now, before you know your particular place in society you are told that it is within your powers to redistribute the wealth of that society in any way that you choose. What distribution would you choose? This famous thought experiment is the basis of political philosopher John Rawls, as outlined in his highly influential 1971 work, “A Theory Of Justice,” in which he argues that the lowest class should be made as well off as possible. But this of course assumes that we all come to the same conclusion when we perform the thought experiment ourselves. To test this, Mike Norton and I recently conducted a study in which we asked Americans to first guess at the distribution of wealth in the United States, and then we asked them to perform the thought experiment and lay out what they think would be the ideal distribution of wealth if they were to enter society and be placed randomly in a class.
Here is what we found:
As you can see from the figure, participants rather badly estimated the current state of wealth disparity! Furthermore, they offered an ideal wealth distribution (under a “veil of ignorance”) that was even more different (and more equal) relative to the current state of affairs.
What this tells me is that Americans don’t understand the extent of disparity in the US, and that they (we) desire a more equitable society. It is also interesting to note that the differences between people who make more money and less money, republicans and democrats, men and women — were relatively small in magnitude, and that in general people who fall into these different categories seem to agree about the ideal wealth distribution under the veil of ignorance.
Maybe this suggests that when there are no labels, and we think about the core of our morality in abstract terms (and under the veil of ignorance), we are actually very similar?