Thursday, October 7, 2010

Harvard Survey: Would you like to confiscate wealth?

I was shocked listening to NPR this morning. Michael Norton of Harvard Business School conducted research on wealth distribution. Norton, Michael I., and Dan Ariely, "Building a Better America - One Wealth Quintile at a Time." Perspectives on Psychological Science (forthcoming). Note that this is wealth distributions, not income distributions.

He asked what people would like to see wealth distribution be in the US. The abstract says they did so, to "...insert the desires of 'regular' Americans into these debates." Such debates being the "Disagreements about the optimal level of wealth inequality...[that]...underlie[s] policy debates ranging from taxation to welfare."

Not surprisingly, everyone underestimated the current wealth distribution in the US. These are, after all, the same people 40% of whom have accumulated no net worth in their lifetime.

When asked to "Build a Better America" by specifying the optimal level of wealth distribution across the population in the US, the survey results suggested that a vast majority - 92% - believe that there should be less wealth held at the upper end.

To gather responses, they framed the question with the lead in indicating that they were using the, "“Rawls constraint” for determining a just society (Rawls, 1971): “In considering this question, imagine that if you joined this nation, you would be randomly assigned to a place in the distribution, so you could end up anywhere in this distribution, from the very richest to the very poorest.”"

So, on the assumption that you're going to be dumped into a place in the wealth spectrum and live there evermore. And the assumption that this dumping will be via a random lot and not through the result of your hard work and your sensible management of your finances and that of your family. Then would you chose to have the pool you're about to land in be of even depth throughout, or would you choose to have a shallow end and a deep end?

No surprise that the answer is even depth.

Then these guys go on to ask, " Given the consensus...[on]...wealth inequality, why don't more Americans - especially those with low income - advocate for greater redistribution of wealth?"

Their answer: 1) they're ignorant about the actual state of wealth and who has it, 2) they think they can achieve wealth (even though the authors of the study don't think they can), 3) debate on the causes drowns out a potential consensus on doing something about it, and 4) there is a disconnect between self-interest, inequality and public policy.

It is simpler than that. Americans believe that they deserve to enjoy the fruits of their own labor and benefit from the actions they take in managing their own lives. Americans believe that wealth is property. Taking property is stealing. Americans signed up for a limited government that doesn't have the fundamental right to steal - only take with permission.

Accurate Reality: Never in my reading have I run across such a blatant set up for confiscating wealth from those - broadly defined as including their family - who have earned it.

1 comment:

  1. And, of course, this was from NPR. Just one for redistribution use of your tax dollars.