Blog

The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

Monday, February 7, 2011, 2:32 PM

Nearly a month ago, friend-of-the-site and renowned behavioral economics researcher Dan Ariely invited our readers to take part in one of his experiments. Readers were asked to fill out a survey that asked questions about a hypothetical country and the manner in which they would prefer to see wealth distributed within it.

Nearly one thousand of you completed the survey and the ensuing discussion on the site was animated, to say the least. Many railed against the injustice of confiscatory tax codes and the lack of social mobility proposed within the study.

Well, the results are in, and Dan explains below what he was testing for, how the survey was structured (Surprise! Many of you saw different versions than your peers), and the conclusions you helped his team reach regarding people's perception of wealth inequality. Suffice it to say, you're an admirably fair-minded bunch.  Here are the results:


Thanks to all who took part in our survey a few weeks ago about wealth inequality. We received 937 complete responses, and from the discussion board it looks like many of you had strong opinions on this important topic. Now, as promised, here are the results.

The Premise

As you recall, this survey was based on philosopher John Rawls’ concept of justice. Rawls famously defined “justice as fairness,” and proposed the “veil of ignorance” thought experiment to help determine what constitutes true social justice. The thought experiment goes like this:

Instead of trying to consider what society should look like in an abstract sense (i.e., for everyone else), you will decide what kind of society you personally would want to live in. 

Here’s the catch: before you decide, you must don a veil of ignorance that hides from you all information about your personal characteristics and situation. That is, you might be wealthy beyond your wildest dreams or in complete poverty, predisposed to good health or have a severe disability, but you won’t find out until after you design your society.

Think of it like this -- the stork is about to randomly drop you somewhere in the world, and you have to choose, mid-flight, what kind of a world you want to be dropped into.

What this means to you is this:  You must decide on a world that you will be happy to live in no matter where you end up. 

The Experimental Design (What You Knew)

Rawls’ theory can be used to consider almost any type of moral issue, but we were primarily interested in your opinions of wealth inequality. We gave nine different pie charts, each split into a maximum of five slices to represent quintile distributions of wealth. The pie charts ranged from very equal to very unequal. We can’t precisely say perfectly unequal or perfectly equal since we’re dealing with quintiles, but that’s the idea. 

The first pie chart had five equal slices, meaning that each 20% of the population has exactly 20% of the total wealth. The next seven charts had increasingly unequal slices. In the second chart, for example, the top 20% of people had 30% of the wealth, and the bottom quintile had 15%. The ninth pie chart was as unequal as possible -- the top 20% had 100% of the wealth, and the other 80% had nothing. 

Most of these charts were made up so that we could gather opinions about the full range of possible wealth distributions, but a few were based on real data from different countries. The most equal wealth distribution data from any country belongs to Spain, which resembles distribution #5 in this study. Wealth distribution data is incredibly hard to measure and to obtain, so Spain may or may not really be the most equal country in the world. Distribution #6 below looks like the wealth distribution in Norway, and Distribution #7 resembles that in the United States. 

You rated each distribution on a sliding scale from 0 – 100, indicating how much you would or wouldn’t want your country’s wealth distribution to look similar to each example.  A rating of 0 meant “I don’t want it to look like this,” and a rating of 100 meant “I want it to look like this.”

The Experimental Design Continued (What You Didn’t Know)

All of you rated the same nine distributions, based on the prompt that you were about to join a new country and would be randomly assigned to some place in the country’s wealth distribution. 

For some of you, this is all you were told about the new country. This was the control group. Now the other 5/6ths of you received a little bit more information about the new country.

We manipulated two variables between subjects: 1) the degree of social mobility in the new country, and 2) the effects of redistribution on taxes. 

Variable #1: Social Mobility

This variable had three different levels, so you received one of these three variations:

Variation 1: There is Social Mobility

In the social mobility condition, we said this about the new country:

There is social mobility, so wherever you start after being randomly assigned is not necessarily where you will stay for the rest of your life.  Based on your skills, abilities, and opportunities, your situation can change.

Variation 2:  There is No Social Mobility

In the no-mobility condition, we said this instead:

There is no social mobility, so wherever you start after being randomly assigned is where you will stay for the rest of your life.  

Variation 3: Control

The control condition did not mention social mobility at all. We assume that this led people to assume some degree of mobility, since responses resemble those in the social mobility condition (Variation 1).

Variable #2: Taxes

In addition to these three variations on social mobility, there were two conditions regarding the presence of tax information:

Variation 1: Tax Information is Provided

In the taxes condition, we said:

You may have to pay taxes. The wealthier you are, the more money you will pay. 

In this country, taxes are the only way to achieve a more equal wealth distribution.  That is, if you see a distribution that of wealth that is very equal, then the government of that country collects more money from the wealthy to redistribute to the poor.  What this means to you is that if you are wealthy, a more equal distribution means that you are paying more in taxes, and if you are poor, a more equal distribution means that you are getting more.  

Variation 2: No Tax Information Provided/Control

In this condition, we did not include any information about taxes at all.

Hypothesis

The tax information was intended to remind people that equality isn’t necessarily fair, and that the cost of redistributing money to the poor is often higher taxes on the rich. We predicted that the conditions with tax information provided would favor more inequality than those without the tax prime.

We also predicted that inequality is perceived to be more permissible when social mobility is high. This led us to expect the no social mobility conditions to rate the more equal distributions higher than people in the conditions with social mobility.

Based on past studies, we expected that social mobility would affect the results more than the tax information, but we did expect that the tax information would lead to somewhat lower ratings for equal distributions,

Results

 

We had 849 people rate pie charts, excluding those that gave a rating of zero for everything (this would mean that either they disliked everything equally, or that they didn’t answer the question since zero was the default answer – and either reason wouldn’t provide meaningful results).

Here’s a brief summary of the interesting results, followed by a chart of average ratings for each distribution:

  • Surprisingly, in all 6 conditions, the equal distribution had the highest average rating.
  • The middle-range of distributions received similar ratings from all conditions; the manipulations seemed to primarily affect ratings at the extremes (very equal and very unequal).

Regarding Social Mobility

  • With no social mobility, the more equal distributions are rated higher, which makes sense.
  • With no social mobility, the perfectly unequal distribution is rated higher, which is the opposite of what we predicted. We’re interested to hear readers’ ideas about this – what might explain why, without social mobility, ratings for the most unequal distribution increased?
  • On the whole, the control group, which did not mention social mobility at all, and the condition that explicitly mentioned social mobility had similar average ratings for all nine charts. This makes sense, since the control group most likely assumed some degree of social mobility existed.

Regarding Taxes

  • In the condition with social mobility, the information about taxes lowered ratings of the three most equal distributions. In the control condition, we see the same result, but the differences are smaller. This is consistent with our hypothesis that taxes would make equality less desirable.
  • Taxes had the greatest effect on ratings for those in the control group with an annual household income of $100,000-250,000. For the most equal distribution, the average rating without taxes was 54; with taxes this decreased to 24. On the other end of the spectrum, ratings for the two most unequal distributions more than doubled, from an average of 6 without taxes to 12 (2nd most unequal) and 16 (most unequal) with taxes.

Rankings

Next, we looked at the ranking of distributions, not the actual rating values to get an indication of which distribution people liked best without the potentially confounding effects of differences in people’s individual ranges of rating values. The table shows the percentage of people in each group who ranked each distribution first. To be conservative since the results were skewed to the equal end, any ties went to the less equal distribution (so if charts #3 and #4 were both ranked 100, we coded this as distribution #4). In all six conditions, more than 40% of people liked the perfectly equal distribution best, and we found this very surprising. We’ll be interested to see what readers think about this – would you expect such stable preferences across the conditions?

Demographics

We also asked several demographic questions, and we appreciate that most people responded to all of these questions. The most significant demographic variables were household income and fiscal conservatism. The fiscal policy question was answered on a sliding scale from 0 (very liberal) to 10 (very conservative). 780 people answered this question, with a mean response of 4.9 and a median of 4.5. We split the responses at the median into two groups so that we could compare the more liberal half of our sample with the more conservative half of the sample. Here, we see a large difference in rankings – 58% of liberals rated the perfectly equal distribution the highest, compared with 30% of conservatives. However, liberals and conservatives alike favored the more equal distributions.  

Conclusions

Taken as a whole, the results suggest to us that there is much more agreement than disagreement about wealth inequality. Across differences in wealth, income, education, political affiliation and fiscal conservatism, the vast majority of people (89%) preferred distributions of wealth significantly more equal than the current wealth spread in the United States. In fact, only 12 people out of 849 favored the US distribution. The media portrays huge policy divisions about redistribution and inequality – no doubt differences in ideology exist, but we think there may be more of a consensus on what’s fair than people realize.

- Dan Ariely


If you haven't yet heard Chris' interview with Dan, you're missing out on an excellent and fascinating exploration of the emerging and increasingly influential field of behavioral economics. If you find yourself with a free 40 minutes at some point this week, we highly recommend listening to the podcast.

Endorsed Financial Adviser Endorsed Financial Adviser

Looking for a financial adviser who sees the world through a similar lens as we do? Free consultation available.

Learn More »
Read Our New Book "Prosper!"Read Our New Book

Prosper! is a "how to" guide for living well no matter what the future brings.

Learn More »

 

Related content

58 Comments

Poet's picture
Poet
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 21 2009
Posts: 1889
Pie Chart #1 Selected Most?!?

Wow, this certainly is very interesting information!

I was surprised to see Pie Chart #1 selected most often, because it seemed to me that following that chart, the top 20% of income earners only had 20% of the wealth: meaning much of of their earnings were taxed in order to bring the lower quintiles up to equal wealth.

Pie Charts

Since so many people selected the #1 chart, I would love to know whether people deliberately selected it because of the Rawls concept - not knowing which quintile of society they'd be dropped in - or because they had a different understanding of what Pie Chart #1 meant than I have. If any of you selected Pie Chart #1 the most, would you care to share your thoughts? Thank you!

Personally, I think Pie Chart #7 is a really pathetic situation. It is somewhat tolerable right now because even the poor in the United States are relatively better off, with access to food stamps, social welfare, mindless entertainment, etc.

When there is no money for that (less for government largess), or when there are not enough jobs paying living wages - i.e. when everyone's wealth drops lower in relation to the cost of basic necessities - I think we will descend into social instability met with further authoritarian responses, like what the people in the Middle East are living under...

Poet

ken325's picture
ken325
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 29 2009
Posts: 18
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

What a flawed experiment!

  This is like one of those surveys where they are trying to push you towards one outcome.  If communism worked as predicted then it would be a wonderful system.  Unfortunatly we know know from history that it never works and always leads to dictatorships and tolitarian governments.  The key factor is human nature.  If we are in a "eat what you kill" world, then people will work harder, protect their property, inovate, and risk capitol to gain more wealth. If the government tries to 'make things equal" or promote 'social justice" then people will do the minimum needed to exist.  Pure capitolism can be cruel, but the poor in a capitolist country will live beter than the average in a comunist country. 

Anouther problem with this experiment is the concept of dividing the pie.  In truth the only way we have enough is if we make more pie.  If bill gates makes billions dollars by creating software that people want, did he take that money from someone?  Did he redistribute the money from poor to rich?  No he made more pie by making wealth.  Along the way he employed tens of thousands of people and made thouands of them wealthy as well.  He paid bilions of dollars in taxes. Then he gives billions of dollars to charity.  Everyone benifits from Bill Gates wealth in this scenario.  Do I need to explain how this would not work if someone tried to redistribute Bill gates wealth as his company was growing?  He would not have started his company and we would use software produced in anouther country or we would'nt have it at all.

  I wish this site would avoid far left or far right politics.  Rather than try to design a perfict socialist utopia where we all share equally, you should discuss real world answers for preparing for a future with limited resources. 

Poet's picture
Poet
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 21 2009
Posts: 1889
Ken325 Delurking?
ken325 wrote:

What a flawed experiment!

I think you don't get the experiment. It's to gauge people's reactions and choices based on the information provided.

You remind me a little of those people who are so far to one side, they think anyone in the center is an extremist in the opposite direction - and if everyone gives in to your definitions, you end up skewing the entire base of the conversation in your favor.

Please, tell me: If you were to be dropped into this world and wouldn't get to choose what station in life you were born in, and there would be limited or no social mobility and you wouldn't even know what merits that mobility would be based on nor whether you would have those traits (looks, facility with math, social skills, fashion sense), what kind of society would you want, knowing you could be at the very top or also at the very bottom?

If it seems to push towards one outcome, think about this: What kind of society would you work towards if you had a hand in shaping it  for all not in it, to want to join that society?

(Personally, I liked #5 the most, although I probably wouldn't consider Spain an ideal place to live - it doesn't fit my set of circumstances. The rich clearly have 3 times more, but not overwhelmingly more as to squeeze out and completely crush the poorest. By choice I live in the United States.)

Poet

A. M.'s picture
A. M.
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 22 2008
Posts: 2367
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

Ken,

Keep in mind that this experiment wasn't about pressing anyone in any particular direction - it was measuring peoples "instinctive" judgment of what constitutes a fair distribution of wealth within a society. 

This is an awkward place for your first post - the vast majority of the dialog here is geared towards "problem solving", and the political debates/diatribes are kept fairly localised within a few threads. 

To the actual experiment,

I'd submit that monetary wealth is an easy thing to measure and project. Spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical wealth are significantly more difficult to track, and in my opinion, are worth drastically more than monetary well-being. I'd further suggest that our standards of living give us a marked bias towards more equal distribution. This *may* be evidenced by the fiscally conservative vote trending more towards the "middle", favoring a less drastic wealth gradient but also provisioning for a proportional relationship between work and wealth.

I'd submit that Hobbs's experiments and observations are flawed, and that while humans tend to "rationalize" an even distribution superficially, when faced with the presence of divying up their possessions, their responses would change drastically. Jungian duality, I suppose - we can be naturally disposed towards sharing and hording without it compromising our moral well-being. 

I don't think anyone in their right mind thinks that the top 10% holding 80% of the wealth is favorable. 
It might be historically consistent, however, which is worth interrogating further.

Hobbsian philosophy is contextually confused - that's to say, given a certain set of circumstances, those examined might display a certain tendency which is absent under a different set of circumstances. It's also worth noting that in an experiment like this (which was followed by a significant amount of comments regarding it's "vague" nature) that the results can be seen as a representation of peoples "feelings", or emotional beliefs, rather than their true socio-political philosophies. 

When examining other dimensions than money and tax, especially in tandem, I think the results would be markedly more centralised, but I could be wrong =)

Cheers,

Aaron

 

ken325's picture
ken325
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 29 2009
Posts: 18
Re: Ken325 Delurking?

@ Poet

I understand the premise. it is just that i understand the code words also. Phrases like 'social justice' and ' redistribution of wealth" are code words for socialism. What you have here is an experiment designed to prove that socialism is the ideal system. The experiment was skewed to produce a consensus that we need income redistribution. I addressed two variables of the variables that lead to the downfall of socialist systems. One is human nature and another is the assumption that we are playing a zero sum game where wealth has to be taken, and is not created.

If I was dropped into this world, unprepared and unequipped to succeed, then I would probably want the state to make me equal to the stronger, more intelligent, and harder working people. If I was one of these productive people I would resent that fact that my income was given away and I would sit on my butt and do nothing to make another person richer. The answer is capitalism with a safety net. The size of the safety net is determined by society. It is also determined by your competition because if you redistribute to much you drive the productive away. Name a State that has successfully redistributed income to make everyone equal without becoming a totalitarian nightmare if you can.

JAG's picture
JAG
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 26 2008
Posts: 2492
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

I was in the control group...no tax and no social mobility variables....once a sheeple always a sheeple I guessLaughing

Pretty cool study...thanks

Poet's picture
Poet
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 21 2009
Posts: 1889
Re: Ken325 Delurking?
ken325 wrote:

Name a State that has successfully redistributed income to make everyone equal without becoming a totalitarian nightmare if you can.

I agree. I don't favor equal distribution. If it's all equal, then that takes away the incentive to work hard for one's betterment. And if life is too comfortable for the poorest, they won't strive to better themselves. This is why I was surprised so many chose that "perfectly equal" distribution.

That said, the only successfully redistributed income occurs within a family, or amongst close friends, or those faced with outside dangers or where collective action is needed (kibbutz). That's about it.

Poet

ken325's picture
ken325
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 29 2009
Posts: 18
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

Sorry if my original post was not in line with this blog.

 I believe that we are headed toward economic collapse. One of my big fears is that we will try to find a strong man after the collapse (example Hitler, Putin) that will push us toward a totalitarian, socialist, global government. I think that would be a disaster. I am a libertarian who wants government to be as small as it can be and still provide basic services. I also want government to be more local. The original post set off alarms for me and I wanted to point out that this has never worked. I also wanted to crack the code for people who don’t know the code words for socialism.

 I also want to state that charity is a better answer. We have needy in society, but money should come from individuals not the state. People feel entitled when money comes from the state. People are grateful when it comes from an individual. It is better spiritually for the giver and the receiver if it is charity.  In the challenging times ahead we need to focus on what we can do, not what the state can do.  I liked your last post Poet.

mooselick7's picture
mooselick7
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 22 2009
Posts: 192
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

This is such a soup sandwich, I dont even know where to start. But, I just gotta give it a try.

1st, Social mobility.  I had to wiki this phrase.  I simply dont get it.  Im not stupid.  I have traveled all over but I'm sorry - I dont give a rip whether you (or I) are in one social class or another.  It is just labels and classifications that empower a few at the expense of someone else.   Sounds like another manmade illusion just like freedom in America and fiat currency.  How are those working out for you?

In my little Rocky Mtn town of 800, my kid goes to school with dirt poor kids off the Indian reservation and kids of millionaires.  Yeah, there is differences between the kids and families  but I dont see where one could label those differences in social class.   BTW I have met quite a few folks visiting or new to the West (usually) from the East Coast who talk about social class.   So maybe this is a cultural thing.   You might as well be talk to me about pocket lint.  I dont care.  Shut up, save your breath and help me split wood.

2nd, since when does social class correlate with happiness?

Think of it like this -- the stork is about to randomly drop you somewhere in the world, and you have to choose, mid-flight, what kind of a world you want to be dropped into.

What this means to you is you must decide on a world that you will be happy to live in no matter where you end up.

How about happiness without conditions?  So, when the stork randomly drops me into the world, how about if I decide to be happy with whatever that world has to offer.  Isnt that what happens in the REAL world?

3rd, distribution of taxes.  Two words: FLAT TAX.  It is fair.  It is equitable. It is easy. It is the right thing to do.  Everyone know this.   But, some folks feel that they are entitled to get a break.    I guarenfriggingtee ya that someone talking about social class out of one side of their mouth is or will be talking about distribution of taxes out the other.  Tax equity is sick and wrong - but as ubiquitous through history as prostitution.  If you are unhappy about that, get over it - pay it, dont pay it or cheat. 

Im sorry but all thumbs down on this one.

crazy horse's picture
crazy horse
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: May 17 2009
Posts: 13
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

I agree with Ken.

It is the nature of this type of utopian style research that allows politicians in partnership with big business to mount disastrous public policy. Big business like state intervention because it thwarts new entrants and hence innovation and creativity in the market. With this in mind I find the results both unsurprising and yet disturbing.

The unintended consequences of following through with working towards an equal distribution of wealth would be capital destruction and wide scale poverty. You haven't got to look too hard to find the evidence.

In the absence of strong property rights, which this very model works against, lies a decivilising process that we are now starting to witness.

derekrawson's picture
derekrawson
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 9 2010
Posts: 22
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

Wow, so much effort and so many words, all thinking inside the box.

The box is crumbling and none of this sticky tape is going to keep it together - the monopoly game is nearly over and we really need to evolve and come up with something more mature than this pillaging, acquisitive system that has millions of us literally starving to death while a few have wealth that seems obscene to most.

Technology has replaced far too much human labour now for workable employment levels to ever return. Many resources are depleted beyond the faintest hope that there is enough to provide reasonable living standards for all within the current economic model.

Please watch the just released movie, Zeitgeist Moving Forward. Please try and watch with an open mind and not cheat your experience of it with labels of Communism/Utopianism of which it represents nothing of the sort.

We cannot solve problems using the same thinking that created them. Let's direct all this effort toward designing something new outside the box.

SagerXX's picture
SagerXX
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 11 2009
Posts: 2210
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In
derekrawson wrote:

Wow, so much effort and so many words, all thinking inside the box.

[snip]

Please watch the just released movie, Zeitgeist Moving Forward. Please try and watch with an open mind and not cheat your experience of it with labels of Communism/Utopianism of which it represents nothing of the sort.

Hey man -- there's an ever-so-lively thread about ZGMF here -- http://www.peakprosperity.com/forum/zeitgeist-moving-forward/51608 -- and folks are 158 posts into it.  Have fun!

Viva -- Sager

macro2682's picture
macro2682
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 3 2009
Posts: 538
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

"With no social mobility, the perfectly unequal distribution is rated higher, which is the opposite of what we predicted. We’re interested to hear readers’ ideas about this – what might explain why, without social mobility, ratings for the most unequal distribution increased?"

.... Some people have a gambling problem, that's my explanation.

A. M.'s picture
A. M.
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 22 2008
Posts: 2367
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In
Quote:

1. Please watch the just released movie, Zeitgeist Moving Forward. Please try and watch with an open mind and not cheat your experience of it with labels of Communism/Utopianism of which it represents nothing of the sort.

2. We cannot solve problems using the same thinking that created them. Let's direct all this effort toward designing something new outside the box.

*cringe*

1. Only true if we re-define "communism/Utopianism" to mean something other than:
a. Redistributive
b. Centrally Planned
c. Capitol-free
d. Conjectural
e. Incalculatable
f.  Implausible

...Ad Nauseum.

2. "the Box" is a fairly loosely defined term. Outside the box would be a colonized asteroid to me.
To someone else, it might simply be Communism/Utopianism.

Cheers,

Aaron 

RNcarl's picture
RNcarl
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: May 13 2008
Posts: 382
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

"With no social mobility, the perfectly unequal distribution is rated higher, which is the opposite of what we predicted. We’re interested to hear readers’ ideas about this – what might explain why, without social mobility, ratings for the most unequal distribution increased?"

 

Pretty simple I think.

Simple law of percentages. Most  people, or as the "pie" was wedged, would fall into the same "group".

Not much of a gamble if it's 98-99% that you will be in the large group.

So, either, everyone is wicked rich..... or wicked poor.... either way, we are all in the same boat. For American's, we have been programed that way.

I cant speak to whether the survey was good or bad. The best exercise was in finding the "group's" opinion.

 

What I really, really dislike, is "behavioral economics". It is all about "control". Control the behavior, control the person. Ask any religion.

 

 

earthwise's picture
earthwise
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 10 2009
Posts: 846
Re: Ken325 Delurking?
ken325 wrote:

I understand the premise. it is just that i understand the code words also. Phrases like 'social justice' and ' redistribution of wealth" are code words for socialism. What you have here is an experiment designed to prove that socialism is the ideal system. The experiment was skewed to produce a consensus that we need income redistribution. I addressed two variables of the variables that lead to the downfall of socialist systems. One is human nature and another is the assumption that we are playing a zero sum game where wealth has to be taken, and is not created.

Touche!

I've always been uncorfortable with these terms 'social justice' and 'wealth distribution'. Who determines what is "socially just"? A self-serving government? And on what basis? Is equal opportunity 'just' if it results in unequal outcomes? Or is it only an equal outcome that is considered "social justice"?

And the term 'wealth distribution' definitely has it's origins in socialism.

Wealth is earned, not distributed, in a free enterprise system. It is earned by serving one's fellow man, with a profit motive as the driving force.

Socialism redistributes wealth and by necessity must violate private property rights to do so, thereby diminishing motivation proportionately. The result is equal impoverishment.

Poet's picture
Poet
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 21 2009
Posts: 1889
Property Rights - The Two-Sided Coin
crazy horse wrote:

In the absence of strong property rights, which this very model works against, lies a decivilising process that we are now starting to witness.

I agree. In the absence of strong property rights, lies chaos and destability and violence. People also need to know their property is safe and protected by law, or they won't invest in improving it or growing their business for themselves or their family. Society suffers as a result.

Be aware, the other side of the coin is that, in the presence of strong property rights, lies the end game of Monopoly as one person or group eventually controls the vast majority of a sector and uses their power to continue to accrue more rights and privileges. Everyone who's ever played the board game knows what happens in the end. Depending on the dominant player to maybe give you a little charity (like free rent or reduced rent) is an iffy proposition at that.

I believe society should avoid the excesses of both sides. It's why anti-trust and anti-competitive enforcement is so important.

(Aside: I think breaking up Ma Bell did a world of good for lowering the cost of telecommunications. Unfortunately, AT&T (SBC) is now back due to deregulation. And as we all know, the few carriers in the U.S. operate as an oligopoly to levy a huge cost on telecommunications. (Some things to think about: 350 text messages per minute can be sent at the same data rate as a voice call - so why the charge if it's not within a "plan"? Calls are so cheap that calls between people in a network - like AT&T or Verizon - are free. AT&T and Verizon each have more retirees in their pension systems than they have current employees: they would suffer like GM if they didn't have the kind of network and monopolistic/oligopolistic pricing power that they do.)

Poet

rhare's picture
rhare
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 30 2009
Posts: 1323
Re: Property Rights - The Two-Sided Coin
Poet wrote:

Be aware, the other side of the coin is that, in the presence of strong property rights, lies the end game of Monopoly as one person or group eventually controls the vast majority of a sector and uses their power to continue to accrue more rights and privileges.

I believe most of the time a monopoly is NOT the outcome.  Just look at the companies that make up the Dow thoughout history.  Many times companies that dominate are reduced to a fraction of their size just a few years later.  I'm not saying it can't happen but AT&T is not a good example of this occuring (see this paper). As long as we have reasonable patent/copyright laws that balance inovation and property rights we can end up with good competition in most fields.  Just look at IBM and Microsoft.  Two companies that dominated their areas in the tech field now considerable less influential than they once were. You can also see this in media and communication.  Even look at Google, dropping from the top Internet company to #2 behind Facebook.

A monopoly often forms out of government involvement in an industry.  They restrict competition and pass regulation that keeps the established players in power.  Communications and utilites are a prime example of this involvement with the FCC and all the state regulatory agencies granting monopolies in exchange for taxes.

 

DavidLachman's picture
DavidLachman
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 4 2008
Posts: 153
Income Distribution versus Wealth Distribution

It would be interesting if this study addressed more directly Income Distribution versus Wealth Distribution, and the process of how the distribution was created.

Proponets of capitalism often promote its benefits based on the idea that the best innovators and hardest workers are the ones that get ahead, and they create the wealth that makes the pie bigger for everyone.  There is some evidence for this, but only when you remove from view all the people of wealth who have inherited their wealth.  Capitalism is a good model if you assume everyone is starting out equally, but once intergenerational transfers of wealth are allowed, it is easy to see how social mobility is impaired.  

So what would be interesting in a study of fairness of wealth distribution would be to include how that distribution is created and maintained.  A model where everyone gets born to equal circumstances, but is allowed to create as much wealth as they like, I suspect would get different support than a model of taxing income every year to even out the wealth distribution.  Income taxes versus inheritance taxes might be an angle to get at that, and stating whether or not the young get the same nutrition, educational, cultural, and recreational inputs.

concernedcitizenx5's picture
concernedcitizenx5
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 15 2011
Posts: 26
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

Ken, I have to disagree with you completely. Yes, it is true that communism is corrupt just as capitalism is corrupt. But have you ever been to a communist country? The so called poor in those countries have access to food, housing and medical care. Everything in America costs. The sad part is, America, because of capitalism has the wealth to bring up the living standards of our poor. But because of the lust for more wealth or the gain of more wealth, as you say, we have some of the most horrible conditions that our poor live under. For example, corporations just spent multiple millions putting on the Super Bowl. Yet, there are poor families who live on the streets in places in Philadelphia where I grew up who turn have to live in fear of rape, murder, drug/alcohol addiction. Pure capitalism can be cruel? The system is based on continual growth. Which is a Utopian concept for capitalists. It is unsustainable and very cruel. Unfortunately there are not a lot of capitalists like Bill Gates. There are more like the Coke brothers. There are more who would use their wealth to bribe and cheat their way to hold or gain power. If our sole purpose of living is gain more wealth than we are doomed before we start. Our sole purpose should be raising a more equal society. Utopia? Good idea to strive for. We are human, we make mistakes. Moving towards Utopia would be compensating for our mistakes. And by that I mean that when we develop a plan to improve society and find that there is a flaw we improve the flaw. Not leave the flaw or intentionally create a flaw that gives power to one over another. Which is what we have today. Not everyone can be a Bill Gates. There are some among us who have limited capabilities. Does that mean that they do not deserve a living wage or decent health care? The rich today are status seekers and they like the system the way it is. Sorry to put the politics in there but this is something that has to be addressed because it needs to be eliminated or changed. And that does not happen by ignoring it. I don't want communism or capitalism personally. A better system does exist. But here in America that is not allowed to be discussed on the radio or tv because it upsets the status quo. Unfortunately, Americans were lulled to sleep with cheap/mindless entertainment and a QUEST for wealth. While the greediest truly wealthy, not all wealthy, used our hard earned money that we payed for that mindless entertainment, fancy car, bigger house, higher interest loans, etc. for tilting the system in their favor World wide.

ken325's picture
ken325
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 29 2009
Posts: 18
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

If all men were angles then communism would work. We are not and that is the problem. What you get with socialism and communism is a transfer of power from the individual to the state. History has shown that the state is not capable of using this power in a fair manor. History has shown that the result is often a nightmare like North Korea. We have a safety net. How many have starved to death in communist countries? In China alone you’re talking about tens of millions.

One thing about the monopoly analogy Poet used is that the game will end eventually because we are all mortal. Bill Gates is not alone in donating the bulk of his wealth to charity. Look at Warren Buffet, and the so called robber barons like the Carnegie and Rockefeller who gave the bulk of their wealth to charity. Without capitalism we do not have that wealth. Without our system we would not have the wealth to redistribute.
A small amount of socialism is good and we have a safety net. In some countries you have a bigger safety net. In a few of these moderately socialist countries you have a very nice standard of living. It is also true in these countries that the economy grows slowly and the debt situation looks bad in the future. These countries are most likely on a path to decline.

My opinion is we need to keep the state weak and government small. Anything else leads to tyranny.

derekrawson's picture
derekrawson
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 9 2010
Posts: 22
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In
SagerXX wrote:
derekrawson wrote:

Wow, so much effort and so many words, all thinking inside the box.

[snip]

Please watch the just released movie, Zeitgeist Moving Forward. Please try and watch with an open mind and not cheat your experience of it with labels of Communism/Utopianism of which it represents nothing of the sort.

Hey man -- there's an ever-so-lively thread about ZGMF here -- http://www.peakprosperity.com/forum/zeitgeist-moving-forward/51608 -- and folks are 158 posts into it.  Have fun!

Viva -- Sager

I feel like I've been redirected to the back room where the looney fringe hangs out. But thanks, it IS lively and I AM enjoying it.

I'd have thought that a movement that looks at the ethics of distribution of resources, and aims to address the conclusion that apparently most CM followers have come to, would have been right on topic here.

If you should find yourself in one of those tent cities, and the food stamps system has broken, and you're railing against the injustice of it all, you'll know where to find the people who are working at knocking the rough edges off a 'centrally planned' system aimed at providing for all.

guardia's picture
guardia
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 26 2009
Posts: 592
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In
ken325 wrote:

What a flawed experiment!

  This is like one of those surveys where they are trying to push you towards one outcome.  If communism worked as predicted then it would be a wonderful system.  Unfortunatly we know know from history that it never works and always leads to dictatorships and tolitarian governments.  The key factor is human nature.  If we are in a "eat what you kill" world, then people will work harder, protect their property, inovate, and risk capitol to gain more wealth. If the government tries to 'make things equal" or promote 'social justice" then people will do the minimum needed to exist.  Pure capitolism can be cruel, but the poor in a capitolist country will live beter than the average in a comunist country. 

You're missing the point.. he showed that people want equality regardless of communism or any other -ism. That's why some people got the tax data, while others didn't, to control this very variable.

ken325 wrote:

Anouther problem with this experiment is the concept of dividing the pie.  In truth the only way we have enough is if we make more pie.  If bill gates makes billions dollars by creating software that people want, did he take that money from someone?  Did he redistribute the money from poor to rich?  No he made more pie by making wealth.  Along the way he employed tens of thousands of people and made thouands of them wealthy as well.  He paid bilions of dollars in taxes. Then he gives billions of dollars to charity.  Everyone benifits from Bill Gates wealth in this scenario.  Do I need to explain how this would not work if someone tried to redistribute Bill gates wealth as his company was growing?  He would not have started his company and we would use software produced in anouther country or we would'nt have it at all.

Oh my god, that would have been such a wonderful world... no Bill Gates, paradise Cool

ken325 wrote:

  I wish this site would avoid far left or far right politics.  Rather than try to design a perfict socialist utopia where we all share equally, you should discuss real world answers for preparing for a future with limited resources. 

limited resources? You mean like humans and such? Do you understand humans? I certainly don't. I appreciate that someone like Dan is doing work in that direction.

Thank you very much Dan! Keep up the good work

ken325 wrote:

... that the economy grows slowly ... 

Who was just talking about "limited resources" here?

Samuel

Dragline's picture
Dragline
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 10 2008
Posts: 54
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

It's interesting how this little thought experiment/survey has raised the hackles of so many.  I don't think it was intended to put anyone's personal belief system on the line.

But I think the more interesting question is not "what would you choose if you got to be Plato's philospher-king", but whether there is any natural order to the distribution of wealth to begin with.  Pareto (the Italian economist) thought that there was and came up with the famous 80/20 rule.  It became part of Fascist dogma.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vilfredo_Pareto

Benoit Mandelbrot observed that Pareto's rule was an example of a power law that are found in many places in nature (and he certainly was no Fascist!)

In our society, the trend has been to concentrate more wealth in fewer people.  The question remains whether government or some other force has been "causing" that or whether it's actually just a natural condition.

RNcarl's picture
RNcarl
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: May 13 2008
Posts: 382
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In
Dragline wrote:

It's interesting how this little thought experiment/survey has raised the hackles of so many.  I don't think it was intended to put anyone's personal belief system on the line.

But I think the more interesting question is not "what would you choose if you got to be Plato's philospher-king", but whether there is any natural order to the distribution of wealth to begin with.  Pareto (the Italian economist) thought that there was and came up with the famous 80/20 rule.  It became part of Fascist dogma.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vilfredo_Pareto

Benoit Mandelbrot observed that Pareto's rule was an example of a power law that are found in many places in nature (and he certainly was no Fascist!)

In our society, the trend has been to concentrate more wealth in fewer people.  The question remains whether government or some other force has been "causing" that or whether it's actually just a natural condition.

 

Very Interesting,

I reference the "80/20 rule"  a lot! There does seem to be a "natural" order about it. Sometimes it works out 90/10 or 75/25 or 83/17..... Look at a fraternal organization.... about 20% of the people do (about) 80% of the work of the group. However, the "power" is confined to less than 1% of the group. ie. The leaders of the group.

I am just not sure of the validity of the data presented because I do not understand the controls that were used behind the scenes.

rhare's picture
rhare
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 30 2009
Posts: 1323
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In
concernedcitizenx5 wrote:

The sad part is, America, because of capitalism has the wealth to bring up the living standards of our poor. But because of the lust for more wealth or the gain of more wealth, as you say, we have some of the most horrible conditions that our poor live under.

Really?   I suggest you look at this and this.  There are problems in the US, don't take it that I'm saying there is not, but claiming that the poor in the US live in some of the "most horrible conditions" seems a bit unreasonable.

 

 

A. M.'s picture
A. M.
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 22 2008
Posts: 2367
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In
Quote:

Really?   I suggest you look at this and this.  There are problems in the US, don't take it that I'm saying there is not, but claiming that the poor in the US live in some of the "most horrible conditions" seems a bit unreasonable.

+1.

Never in my life have I seen an American look like this:
 

While we do have our problems, I'd submit that our homeless are largely a byproduct of a society that has a "take 'em or leave 'em" approach to drug addiction and lack of work ethic. If you don't want to work, you can still live pretty good as a dumpstertarian here.
I've dealt with a lot of homeless people - the common theme with almost all of them is:
a. Drug Addiction
b. Mental Illness

Either could be treated, but more often than not, they're set up pretty good by needle exchanges, soup kitchens, half-way houses and DSHS. 

Not the case in the rest of the world. 

What to blame for this great excess?
Capitalism.

It might be bad, but it's better than the other options.
In fact, I'd venture to say that the Poor here live in a manner more closely associated with the Super-Rich than the Super-impoverished. The child above doesn't have DSHS, paved streets with dumpsters full of refuse, warm clothes or a bottle of malt liquor. The domestic wealth gradient is extremely narrow, and if you put our aggregate wealth against the global wealth - we'd be so far ahead of the truly poor that it's startling.

A moment of silence for those out there who're suffering through social ills we can't even begin to imagine...

Aaron

deehay's picture
deehay
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 8 2011
Posts: 5
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

This is my first post. Great site, valuable data, and invaluable information. I've been reading peak oil experts for years.

This survey is really smart, but the conclusions scare me. You can say that people don't want, or even like, the wealth distribution of the USA. But you can't say that means they want equal distribution of all wealth. Given the choices, the outcome seems almost common sense to me -- least of all evils.

Personally I would choose none of the above (maybe I'm one of those who would rank all 9 pie charts a "0"...)  What we need to survive is fresh water, food, and shelter. What we need to live is family/friends, recreation, and common defense. Given all these, money is just a convenient substitute for bartering.

What I'm trying to say is, for me, I'd want the stork to drop me on some fertile chunk of land with its own waterfall in a near-tropical climate. In this case I'd be rich because I wouldn't need money.

I have an idea of why some subjects chose a non-equal pie without social mobility -- it simply shows that segment of the population who are real gamblers, and consider the wealth pie chart a wheel of fortune they would just take a spin.

Cheers.  -D

Jager06's picture
Jager06
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 2 2009
Posts: 395
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

Well said Aaron.

I would add that while in South Korea I visited an orphanage. Now SK has a lot in common with the United States as far as wealth production and distribution go, at least to my untrained eye.

Has anyone here ever been in a room full of infants and not heard a peep? Not a cry, not a wimper? It is disturbing. THe children in the orphanage were so unsused to human contact that they did not cry in the absence of it. They were laid out on the floor in rows, and the backs of most of their heads had become flattened due to the negligence. We had brought candies and cookies, thinking we would bearers of treats, since we thought most likely the children would be well nourished with staples. The Oreos and candies were promptly taken from us and thrown into blenders. A little milk and banana were added to the mix and blended. Then the pitcher was taken from the blender and each child's head was raised and a little more than a tea spoon full was distributed into the mouth of each child. Little did we know we were providing the meals for the day.

To say America's poor are in "the most horrble" condition is naiety. The system which is so destructive in your mind may in fact be the best thing going on this planet. I suggest you take the blinders off, travel a little and get some experience in such things. If I were to ever find an American in such a pitiful condition as the child pictured above, I would be shocked beyond belief. I can guarantee you that the most generous nation in the history of the world would not tolerate such ciscumstances. I can also guarantee you that yourself and many others like us would have that person hospitalized, nursed back to health and delivered to a caring environment regardless of the cost. It is a cultural norm for us to to be charitable, and a burden on the soul of those who are without compassion.

It is the inability to overcome a set of circumstances that I think you are railing against. I have no use for the perpetual beggar either, but I do not demand that a government take from some to empower that situation either. Perhaps therein lies the difference.

If you feel that there is not enough being done to change the lives of those less fortunate than yourself, then be the change you are looking for. Forcibly redistributing what is not yours to begin with is bad for everyone involved, as has been mentioned in an earlier post.

This survey is very enlightening, but also very discouraging in it's failure to take into account the eventual costs of the human condition. By that I mean the norm for those in power is to become corrupted. Giving another human being the power to take from many and give back as they see fit is the ultimate temptation. It has proven to be the downfall and death of many a nation and her citizens. That fact seems painfully absent from the calculations and suppositions gained from this experiment. Giving a group of humans unlimited redistributive powers always ends badly, no matter how noble the intentions originally may have been.

Today we see demands in America that those powers be granted. Pressure in the form of attemps to silence anyone who might differ in opinion from those who want a consolidation and re distribution is evidence of the corruption in my mind. If I simply choose to voice my opinion that may be different than yours, you would have me silenced? To what end? It will only lead to a consolidation of power from those who dissent, to those who promote the idea. If the idea is to surrender oneself to another human's decisions about wealth and rights to one's own productivity, then those that promote that ideaology are to be resisted at all costs. The results are too predictable, and history is littered with the dead and underdeveloped human potential that results from this type of sinister good intentions.

Best wishes,

Jager06

nickbert's picture
nickbert
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 14 2009
Posts: 1206
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

I guess I may not have read as much into the survey as some.  I didn't make any assumptions about how the societies in question may have achieved their present condition (redistribution, taxation, etc) or any other attributes I 'think' may exist in them, so I only answered in terms of simply which seemed the most pleasant to live in.  Maybe that's a little naive, but that's how I approached it (I don't remember any tax questions so maybe that's part of how I approached it).  Personally, one of my biggest criteria for rating was focused on how much overall control/wealth the richest quintile had, as opposed to just measuring it by overall "equality" amongst all quintiles.  (Dipping into belief territory here:) IMO it appears the largest abuses of power occur with very large concentrations of power and wealth, no matter what type of government exists (capitalism, communism, fascism, feudalism, etc), so I tended to rate higher the charts where the richest didn't have overwhelming amounts of wealth.  Again I didn't make any assumptions about 'how' this would come about, only that I would prefer less rather than more centralization of power.  I may be opposed to most of the typical methods often used to try to remedy this (or more often, pretend to remedy) like forcible redistribution of wealth, 'social justice', excessive taxation, etc., but that doesn't change the fact that I do see the value in having a society with less centralization of power.  I just happen to think most of the previous 'answers' to this have been largely flawed.

As for the survey results, I'm still trying wrap my mind around it and the implications.  I guess one thing I can think of is In relation to mooselick's comments about "social mobility".  Perhaps the term social mobility is not best suited for Americans, where clearly defined social classes aren't as common as in some cultures and where one's "social status" and privilege is more often than not a function of one's degree of wealth (as opposed to the other way around).  Maybe Mr. Ariely would like to consider just using the term "mobility" and drop the "social" aspect of it when repeating this survey for Americans.  Because while there ARE social classes of a sort here, most Americans tend not to think of it as such and more in terms of dollars.

- Nickbert

concernedcitizenx5's picture
concernedcitizenx5
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 15 2011
Posts: 26
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

There are children in this country who go without food. For some the only meal they get is at school and most times they don't eat it all. They actually save some because they know they won't eat when they get home. Where I grew up in Philadelphia was called the Badlands section of West Kensington. Which has now spread to all of Kensington. Kids kill each other there. If anyone doesn't think that is a "horrible condition" then they need to visit it sometime. Having been to other countries while in the service I saw similar conditions, some worse than what I grew up in. Still, where I lived was none the less horrible. Seventh grade for me was when I found out that a knife to the stomach really hurts.  I also found out that a person can get hit in the chest with a .45 slug and survive (it was not me, but a person that I knew). Try visiting East St. Louis and see what people call life there. You will see that these places all fit into the horrible category. Try visiting any of the now dead coal mining regions. There are many places in America where children don't even know what being a child is. And their life expectancy is no different than those in Africa or any other Third World nation. Try watching someone you know die a slow death from cancer that was a result of working for one of the many chemical plants in our cities. There are varying degrees to all conditions. Having been around the block I can assure you that there are plenty and some more horrible than I have listed. I won't even go into the child molesters that frequented my neighborhood. Just something to think about.

RNcarl's picture
RNcarl
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: May 13 2008
Posts: 382
Re: The Survey Results Are In - Humanity is relative

Interesting debate...

If I have lost a finger, am I better off than one who has lost a hand?

And, better to have lost a hand.... than an arm or leg?

If I have heart disease, is it better than cancer?

If I am homeless, and my children go to bed hungry... does it matter where they are starving?

.

.

When did our humanity become relative?

concernedcitizenx5's picture
concernedcitizenx5
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 15 2011
Posts: 26
Re: The Survey Results Are In - Humanity is relative

Some good questions, Carl. Humanity and compassion has mostly been lost. When did we stop caring? Did we ever really care? I am beginning to think that most people feel that things are hopeless. Like we are at the smaller end of vortex and it is out of control. A lot of people I talk to are waiting for Superman to show up and solve the worlds' problem. I personally believe that the power is in us. But that is just me. When did we abdicate our responsibility towards one another? Towards the Earth? Unfortunately, in my own view, our future does not look bright. I am looking toward the aftermath for people to regain their humanity. Like an alcoholic, in order to beat alcoholism, has to  first have to admit he is an alcoholic. We have not hit our lowest point yet.

Vanityfox451's picture
Vanityfox451
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 28 2008
Posts: 1636
To Kill A Mockingbird

~ VF ~

rhare's picture
rhare
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 30 2009
Posts: 1323
Re: The Survey Results Are In - Humanity is relative
concernedcitizenx5 wrote:

When did we abdicate our responsibility towards one another? Towards the Earth?

I think there are a number of factors:

I think the large growth of government is a large cause.  "Should I be concerned about the starving child? Nah, the government will take care of it - they have programs for that."  Government drives many to not take responsibility because were told we don't have to anymore and it causes rot in our moral character.  If you don't have to be responsible for your own life why would you take responsibility for others?

Same goes for the Earth.  If you want something to be taken care of you need lots of private ownership.  An individual will be protective of their possessions, when you privatize land/resources you get the same behavior - someone else will take care of it, or it's someone elses problem.

Loss of "local living" has been a huge factor.  We have had such abundance (cheap energy a huge factor) that we have not had to rely on one another for survival.  It's quite possible to live your life in the developed countries once your an adult with very little direct and personal reliance on another person.

I believe we will begin to see community and personal responsibility reemerge as things become tougher.  When you have a hard time surviving without banding together with others, or you just simply need help or have to rely on local resources it will become necessary.  I think we will also see family life become more important out of necessity.

concernedcitizenx5 wrote:

Humanity and compassion has mostly been lost.

I also believe we still have strong communities in many parts of the country, many focused around church, it's just not the message you get bombarded with everyday from MSM.

 

 

johngoes's picture
johngoes
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 18 2010
Posts: 1
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

My choices were counter to the results because of confusioin, which lead to an odd train of thought for me. I don't recall statements regarding social mobility in my question set, so that wasn't a factor in my choices. What was a factor was that the selection page with the pie charts didn't repeat which color was rich-middle-poor. So when I looked at the choices, I thought what if the perfectly inequal was everyone equally rich with only the invisible minority poor. In that world I, and everyone would have meaningful employment sufficient to meet their and their extended family needs, with plenty of time and resources to pursue liesurely activities. Yep, utopian, but awesome outcome. Unfortunately, getting there is the problem.

On the flat tax comment. Fair is in the eyes of the beholder. If your flat tax hit an impoverished person eeking out a living to to point of reducing his/her ability to care for their family, they'd be damned sure to say that tax was unfair. Under the true flat tax proposition, poor be damned! Why are people in Egypt, et al rioting? because the "flat tax" of global rise in food prices impact their ability to care for their families in greater proportion to their income than it does ours. The result is the same for a flat tax.

That said, taxes for the purpose of "redistruibiting wealth" turns my stomach. Taxes should only be for safety, infrastructure that encourages commerce, and defense (only a heck of a lot less of the latter than we have now.) I don't mind paying my fair share of taxes, in proportion to my ability to pay, if the taxes were put to uses that benefitted society as a whole. Right now though I see my taxes wasted on a bunch of crap like wars of choice, and bailing out TBTF businesses, and statisticians pumping out pure BS about the state of our nation.

Reuben Bailey's picture
Reuben Bailey
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 138
Re: The Survey Results Are In - Humanity is relative
rhare wrote:

Same goes for the Earth.  If you want something to be taken care of you need lots of private ownership.  An individual will be protective of their possessions, when you privatize land/resources you get the same behavior - someone else will take care of it, or it's someone elses problem.

Hmm. Are you saying that private ownership of land and resources leads to good stewardship? Or are you saying with private ownership, everyone will say "stewardship of the land is someone else' problem"?

I can't tell which you mean.

All the best,

Reuben

xkguy's picture
xkguy
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 13 2011
Posts: 46
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

I took the survey and had a few reservations about the design, I felt like it was indeed pointing towards a 'socialism is good' solution. I would not mind living in a 'justly distributed' world if I was doing the 'just distribution'. I am fortunate in that I have the confidence to believe that I could make it in almost any society in which labors efforts are rewarded. I believe taxes are almost evil and certainly as we see how this American government has squandered our very currency I am loath to trust anyone to tell me what to do with money. It always seems to eventually go to the political class. So give me cruel capitalism and freedom any day.

rhare's picture
rhare
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 30 2009
Posts: 1323
Re: The Survey Results Are In - Humanity is relative
Reuben Bailey wrote:

hmm. Are you saying that private ownership of land and resources leads to good stewardship? Or are you saying with private ownership, everyone will say "stewardship of the land is someone else' problem"?

I guess I did word that badly. FrownI'm saying that private ownership of land and resources leads to good stewardship. 

Of course as with nearly everything, this is not an absolute, so I think it's probably more accurate to say, in the long run, private ownership leads to better stewardship than non-private ownership.

I believe that for the most part people are self serving.  That is they will generally make decisions based on what the best outcome is for themselves or their children.  I also believe that the tougher the times, the more this trait will appear.  I also think that in general, given enough information, people will generally look out for their long term well being if their short term existence is not in question.   When given an opportunity to relieve one's self of personal long term responsibility for short term personal gain, many will choose short term gain at the cost of others.

How does this play out? The bulk of people will ignore issues not immediately important to them, particularly if they believe it is someone elses responsibility.  This leads to the problem that those in charge are incentivized to "skim" from everyone else the public resource they are overseeing.  Some will outright steal from the public resource, some will view a little benefit to them as their right for assuming responsibility for overseeing the resource, while others may simply have unconscious bias that results in small "benefits" to them or others.

I think we can easily see this behavior in politics.   Again, this is not absolute, so I play the odds.  I prefer power in the individual.

 

 

 

jonesb.mta's picture
jonesb.mta
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 11 2008
Posts: 126
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

I really didn't care for the survey as it tended to nudge one to socialism by its lack of Libertarian options. Most surveys ask, "Are you Conservative, Moderate, or Liberal"? I am, and I like to think most Americans are, fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Moderate doesn't answer that question in the same way. Moderate tends to be looked at as between Democrats and Republicans and in my case nothing could be further from the truth.

We stopped caring for the poor when the government took our money and started caring for them for us. Charity used to be practiced at every level of our society, now it's mostly by the very rich and the government. I was raised in what is considered poverty today by a divorced mother and even though we had very little, and yet every Sunday we took food, clothing, etc to people who had less. Concernedcitizenx5's outlook is warped by his experiences and I'm guessing that he isn't old enough to know what I'm talking about. I would suggest he read Walter Williams to see what Philadelphia was like before government took over charity. Concernedcitizenx5, let me apologize in advance if I'm wrong. I've spent time on Alleghany Avenue in Philadelphia and know that what you describe is true today.

ejdodson's picture
ejdodson
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 28 2009
Posts: 2
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

What the survey confirms is the general lack of historical perspective that exists in our society. There are many reasons for this, but one important cause is the abandonment of the study of the great books as the cornerstone of our educational system. The teaching of the social sciences was at one time interdisciplinary, but is today divided into sub-disciplines that are diminished in effect by this specialization. Almost no high school student in the United States today reads Socrates or Aristotle, John Locke or Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill or Henry George. Mortimer Adler fought all of his professional life against this trend.

It is only by a thorough understanding of human history can we begin to understand how hierarchy and entrenched privilege have come to dominate our socio-political organizations. By virtue of property and tax laws, wealth and income have long been "redistributed" from the producers of wealth to non-producers. Reformers in the early 20th century thought that an income tax would mitigate this inequity, but vested interests were able to obtain provisions in the tax code that reshifted the burden of taxation back onto producers and away from those who gained income by what economists refer to as "rent-seeking" activities (e.g., speculation in land, real estate, commodities, precious metals and the equities market).

The power of vested interests is seen by the success in lowering the rate of taxation on the sale of all forms of assets, when any good accountant will tell you that actual "capital goods" almost never increase in value. Capital goods begin to depreciate almost immediately once produced and only by continueous input of labor and more capital goods will retain functional utility and some resale value. The assets that increase in price over time are assets that are not produced by us; rather, gains on assets -- such as locations in our cities and towns, natural resource laden lands, the broadcast spectrum, etc. -- are essentially unearned and occur because imputed rents are left untaxed and capitalized by market forces into prices highly subject to speculation and hoarding. For such assets "price" is not an effective market clearing device; the supply curve for this broad category of assets (what political economists included as "land") leans to the left as prices increase. Only an annual public collection of market rental values will create a competitive market for landed assets in the same way markets operate for labor, capital goods and (to a large extent) credit.

There is ample treatment of the above issues in modern economic literature, but one virtually never hears any economist (save Joseph Stiglitz) willing to make this argument in public. Why? Because privilege is powerful and speculation (particularly speculation in land) has been ingrained in the American System since the very beginning. George Washington, after all, became wealthy not as a farmer but as a shrewd land speculator.

 

ken325's picture
ken325
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 29 2009
Posts: 18
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

I like the comments that I have seen by JonesB and others regarding charity.  I also liked this comment by Johngoes.

Right now though I see my taxes wasted on a bunch of crap like wars of choice, and bailing out TBTF businesses, and statisticians pumping out pure BS about the state of our nation.

 I also saw some comments that expressed concern for the poverty in this world.  I would point out again that charity is the better answer.

Everything about government solutions is a problem.  For one if we have an economic collapse driven by debt, energy shortages, and unsustainable obligations by the government; then how do you expect the government to provide for the poor?  We are going to have austerity measures not increased spending on the poor.   Second, the government can not discriminate between the person who will take money to buy drugs and the person who has real need. The individual can do this.  We can look at the track record of a charity and see if it is responsible with the money we give.  If you want government to redistribute money, then you want to force someone else to give.  Government will not be able to take on this responsibility in the future unless we sacrifice our liberty and our property to the state.  This questionnaire should have asked if we want the police confiscating property, if we want people jailed for speaking out against this, and if the state is responsible with our money.  It should ask if central planning works. It will not work and the result will be a disaster.

kelvinator's picture
kelvinator
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 25 2008
Posts: 197
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

Wow!  What a great survey and discussion to be having.   Personally, I don't think there are any pat answers on this subject going forward.   The notion that either a pure government or libertarian solution will work flies in the face of human history and common sense.   Charity is nice, and free enterprise is remarkable but together they have failed to prevent massive inequality, desperate poverty and domination by a small power elite, and not because government somehow screwed up their otherwise divine functioning.  The same can be said of purely government solutions which set up huge stifling bureaucracies, centrally plan and create fifdoms that quash innovation and entrepreneurial collaboration and change.   Sorry, no easy answers here at either end of the spectrum.

kelvinator

rhare's picture
rhare
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 30 2009
Posts: 1323
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In
kelvinator wrote:

The notion that either a pure government or libertarian solution will work flies in the face of human history and common sense.

While I don't disagree that you can't have absolute government or libertarian solutoin, can you show me any place we have had a true libertarian solution?

kelvinator wrote:

Charity is nice, and free enterprise is remarkable but together they have failed to prevent massive inequality, desperate poverty and domination by a small power elite, and not because government somehow screwed up their otherwise divine functioning.

Do you have any examples?  I would venture to say that almost all examples you can show where "free market" has failed to produce reasonable results there will be a clear example of government involvement, either via monetary manipulation or regulatory manipulation.    Subtle manipulation can have large unintended results, hence the term moral hazard.

Generally if something is wrong in a true free market, it will die on it's own because it is unsustainable.  Only when government can force individuals to put resources into an unsustainable situation do we end up with the very large problems we see today.  In a free market errors in judgement do occur, but they tend to be corrected before they become large and potentially systemic problems.

A. M.'s picture
A. M.
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 22 2008
Posts: 2367
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

ConcernedCitizenX5,

Numbered for ease of address:

Quote:

1. There are children in this country who go without food. For some the only meal they get is at school and most times they don't eat it all. They actually save some because they know they won't eat when they get home. Where I grew up in Philadelphia was called the Badlands section of West Kensington. Which has now spread to all of Kensington.

2. Kids kill each other there. If anyone doesn't think that is a "horrible condition" then they need to visit it sometime. Having been to other countries while in the service I saw similar conditions, some worse than what I grew up in. Still, where I lived was none the less horrible. Seventh grade for me was when I found out that a knife to the stomach really hurts.  I also found out that a person can get hit in the chest with a .45 slug and survive (it was not me, but a person that I knew).

3. Try visiting East St. Louis and see what people call life there. You will see that these places all fit into the horrible category. Try visiting any of the now dead coal mining regions. There are many places in America where children don't even know what being a child is. And their life expectancy is no different than those in Africa or any other Third World nation. 

4. Try watching someone you know die a slow death from cancer that was a result of working for one of the many chemical plants in our cities. There are varying degrees to all conditions. Having been around the block I can assure you that there are plenty and some more horrible than I have listed. I won't even go into the child molesters that frequented my neighborhood. Just something to think about.

First off - I don't want to give the impression that I don't care about the suffering here. I'm not trying to diminish it to the point where it's obscured, but rather present it in a way that places it in the proper perspective.

You've got some great points, and I think they merit discussion.
1. This is a tough point to discuss without sounding insensitive - I was pretty poor growing up as well, and I did a lot of horse trading, loan sharking and so on to make sure I ate - even if it was just a cup of noodles. While my position is society was not advantageous, the resources were there - and that's the key difference I'm trying to touch on. In many nations, the resources just aren't there. 

2. What do you suggest to this problem?
I'm in agreement - this is a very real issue, and the "punishment" is more often like steroids to their criminal career.
The first step is identifying the socio-economic roots of the problem - and I Don't think it's poverty. We can see severe impoverishment affect society in different ways by looking at depressions throughout history. I'm of the opinion it's based almost entirely on population density. 

3. Been there. I'm the "wrong" color, and had no interest in sticking around. A couple of people I knew through friends were attacked there; one was carjacked, and the other was shot. No doubt horrible, but how much of it is sociology and how much is actual poverty? 
The problems here, again, are drastically different than the kind of poverty that can be seen in Djbouti or Afghanistan. There are resources here - the people in ESL do not want to change. While I was in that area, they tried scores of iniatives, and the money channeled in to that community to bolster its residence was stolen and squandered by its civic leaders, pillaged by its gangsters and the infrastructure just continued to crack and crumble. What can you do about it if money and influence don't alleviate the problem?

4. I can't speak on this, but it is terribly sorry that in the first world, we're still allowing workplace exposure to toxins. It's horrible, but again, it's not Chernobyl. 

EJDodson,

Quote:

The teaching of the social sciences was at one time interdisciplinary, but is today divided into sub-disciplines that are diminished in effect by this specialization. Almost no high school student in the United States today reads Socrates or Aristotle, John Locke or Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill or Henry George. Mortimer Adler fought all of his professional life against this trend.

Another great post - this thread is quickly becoming a favorite.

No different than the loss of the principles of Journalistic Biasing's "unwritten" laws, the writings of these (and others) gives a person a bit of intellectual wile that is just not necessary in today's political system. The approach of "teaching down" has been an abysmal failure - especially in the face of constant negative stimulation coming from T.V. and media sources. How many people out there think John Locke is just a cast member of "LOST"? 

Quote:

The power of vested interests is seen by the success in lowering the rate of taxation on the sale of all forms of assets, when any good accountant will tell you that actual "capital goods" almost never increase in value. Capital goods begin to depreciate almost immediately once produced and only by continueous input of labor and more capital goods will retain functional utility and some resale value. The assets that increase in price over time are assets that are not produced by us; rather, gains on assets -- such as locations in our cities and towns, natural resource laden lands, the broadcast spectrum, etc. -- are essentially unearned and occur because imputed rents are left untaxed and capitalized by market forces into prices highly subject to speculation and hoarding. For such assets "price" is not an effective market clearing device; the supply curve for this broad category of assets (what political economists included as "land") leans to the left as prices increase. Only an annual public collection of market rental values will create a competitive market for landed assets in the same way markets operate for labor, capital goods and (to a large extent) credit.

The value of Capital Goods may depend more on availability and intrensic usefulness of the item in question. Obviously, machines which wear down with use and are available in mass quantities lose value rapidly - Cars, Washing Machines, Computers; planned obsolesence has its teeth deeply in all these items, and their over-production assures that there is an ever increasing supply of outdated surplus equipment taking up space in landfills. 

Other capital goods, however, do maintain their value. We just need to produce in accordance to what's actually needed, which can only be accomplished by localising production or giving into Centrally planned economies. I'm not at all in favor of the latter. The former will be the natural and logical outflow of a world relying on less energy and hence less JIT delivery. 

In a globalized economy, a person with a great idea and a humble start goes out of business while the people with lousy ideas that re-enforce the status quo. The automotive industry is a great example of this. Why is GMC still making 5000 lb vehicles that get 17 miles per gallon, and expecting Americans to buy these over more economical imports? Our market is 40 years behind the curve and "too big to fail". This is no longer a capitalism - it's a centrally planned economy governed by corporate interests. 

Cheers, and thanks to all for such an interesting bunch of dialog.

Aaron

 

kelvinator's picture
kelvinator
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 25 2008
Posts: 197
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

rhare-

I'm an independent  financial advisor and have watched the fraud and mafioso style pump and dump operations in the financial markets from a birdseye view for decades.   I saw what congenial grandfather Reagan brought in with his deregulation of and subsequent criminal takeover of the S&L system in which one of his sons was implicated, I believe.   I see CNBC pump out the libertarian line almost every day of the week, and look at the poor rich folks who've been promoting that philosophy.   I certainly agree with many aspects of libertarian views, like fiscal conservatism generally and Ron Paul's view of the Fed, and his view of the devastating perpetual war machine of US power and adventurism flushing tax dollars and lives down the toilet with money going straight into defense contractors wallets while the bodies go into hospitals and the ground without real reason.  

But I see who pumps out the libertarian line - people like the Koch brothers trashing the environment as though it's their divine right to dump garbage over the world in the service of building their money empires, the right wing of the Republican party of the rich who never saw a regulation they liked or a tax cut they didn't, or Greenspan, who thought elite ultra-wealthy bankers are gentleman that don't need to be regulated, should control the money supply and get money for nothing while they perpetrate fraud and cover their losses with taxpayer money.  He said his philosophy turned out to be wrong, but people still listen to the fool, apparently.

The notion that people like Greenspan, and things like Fannie and Freddie are government corruption of pure libertarianism seems laughable to me.  These things are the endpoint of libertarianism - the cartelization and operation of "people's government"  for the benefit of the elite when regulation for the benefit of the general public has been dismantled.   When there's no law or government that acts on behalf of the people as a whole, criminals and cartels run the world and dominate those with little power, which is what we're moving toward today.   The notion that in a pure libertarian state that won't happen isn't consistent with what I see day in and day out with my own eyes.  We're already seeing a world with little real government that acts powerfully on behalf of ordinary people, in my opinion.   The free market can be a great force, but  neither the free market or libertarianism are religions that are going to solve anything in themselves - they, along with bad government are part of the massive problem we're dealing with.    Mubarak's world was really deregulated.   

Kelly

A. M.'s picture
A. M.
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 22 2008
Posts: 2367
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

Kelvinator,

Quote:

The notion that people like Greenspan, and things like Fannie and Freddie are government corruption of pure libertarianism seems laughable to me.  These things are the endpoint of libertarianism - the cartelization and operation of "people's government"  for the benefit of the elite when regulation for the benefit of the general public has been dismantled.

Really? Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac weren't a cohesive social program (decidedly counter-libertarian) invested heavily by the Carter Administration? Their deregulation occured even futher under Bill Clinton, as another social program which allowed banks to loan spurious amounts of money to un-qualified recipients to fuel the housing boom in the 1990's?

I'd submit that these can be seen as wholesale departures from Libertarian ideals, and are really semi-socialistic approachs that reek of "New Deal" wealth redistribution to encourage unhealthy levels of growth. Saying that:

Quote:

there's no law or government that acts on behalf of the people as a whole, criminals and cartels run the world and dominate those with little power

Should equate to Libertarianism as an antiquated system of thought is somewhat myopic. Please accept my apology if that's not what you're saying... 

Libertarianism and de-regulation break down the power structure that allows cartels to monopolize by encouraging free enterprise and competition to challenge existing power structures with new, better ideas. The perversion of Laissez-Faire economic structure in favor of contractually-propped conglomerates acting in response to government directives was the "coup de grace" for the free-market system which had, for a couple hundred years, had a well balanced, productive run of sustainable development of the U.S. system of finance. 

That we could abolish slavery and maintain monetary soundness is a simple testament to this approach - and it's literally a case of the government "buying" the "little people" something through adaquate representation and Classic Liberalism/Libertarian ideals.

Just some thoughts.
Cheers, 

Aaron

Poet's picture
Poet
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 21 2009
Posts: 1889
Charity?

I'm not saying government should take money people's and redistribute.

However, to say that charity will take care of needs is both dishonest and dismissive of the real problems of poverty and misery. We all know of a lot of countries where the poverty and misery is just horrendous, and charity can never fill the gap because the need is always far greater than the amount of charity available. The poor of the world always have more children who have more needs and the more you give in food or other aid, the more of their children survive to have more children.

Just one example. Egypt
1960: 28+ million people fed by the green revolution, government-subsidized food, by vaccines and modern sanitation.
2010: 82+ million people.

We have a society where religious fascists refuse to spend cheaply so the poor can have adequate family planning resources (safe sex education, condoms, morning-after pills, etc.) and at the same time doesn't want to help take care of the poor except with faith-based charities that have hoops to jump through and strings attached. ("Watch this sermon and pray with us if you want our food," versus Buddhist charities giving to the poor or even to Catholic ministries without such requirements. Which is more noble and selfless, I ask?)

And of course we pay for it at the other end with unwanted, crappily-raised children, high juvenile delinquency rates, teen pregnancies, higher rates of crime, and incarceration costs to society of between $26,000 to $43,000 per year.

So please. No more talk about how private charity will take care of people.

Poet

 

citizenzeus's picture
citizenzeus
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 29 2010
Posts: 2
Re: Pie Chart #1 Selected Most?!?

It all hinges upon not knowing where you end up.  Psychological studies consistently support the relative value of practical risk reduction trumping chance opportunity.  People are not being altruistic, they are simply saying, I want to have 0% chance of being more materially destitute (and by extension economically miserable) than the next person if I have no control over where I am placed in society.  This 0% can only happen in a perfectly equal society with perfect distribution.  So the results are completely logical and unsurprising, given the set-up. The higher the inequality the higher your chances of being relatively destitute, and the lower your chances of being in the wealthy classes.  That is also consistent with this logic.  

Transport ourselves to the U.S. now, where people actually occupy certain classes in society.   The U.S. has one of the greatest wealth disparities in the industrialized world.   Yet all classes in the U.S., even the very poor, have an almost fundamentalist belief in infinite mobility and opportunity, completely at odds with the clear empirical facts:  U.S. wealth disparity is increasing and the wealthy are buying their way out of accountability [bailouts, anyone] and into "no-bid contracts" and other completely unfair advantages at the expense of true free enterprise.  They are loading their liabilities on the poor and working classes.  

However, ask a poor person in the U.S. about distributing wealth, or even prosecuting financial crimes, and they are in de facto favor of INEQUALITY, because "I don't want to be taxed when I a get rich," (even though meritocracy and mobility have largely become a myth for all but a fortunate few) and "rich people need to be taxed less to created jobs for people like me" (even though tax policy actually rewards job outsourcing, which is happening at an historically unprecendented level).  So in the U.S. in the abstract, the largely educated readership of PeakProsperity.com favor exact equality when they don't know where they will end up, but EVEN THE POOR favor massive INEQUALITY, overestimate their wealth, and vastly underestimate income distribution when they have access to real information about where they actually are.  

Now that is what I would like to have explained in a follow up study.  

My hunch is that the American ethos and penchant for idealism/fantasy and belief in mobility over the reality of increasingly institutionalized inequality around them will persist until conditions get so bad that the fantasy cannot be sustained.  We have massive, comprehensive, clear fraud in the finance industry to the tune of trillions of dollars, yet not prosecution (including no investigation by a supposedly "liberal" for-the-people president) and no concrete, actionable outrage and resistance from the public.  This just shows how deep it is.  Non-accountability is only deepened by a kind of Jesse James-style romanticism of thievery in this country.  Until there are food shortages here, and people are hungry, I don't believe there will be any real resistance either.  This actual inequality excused by fantasies of equality, can only be challenged when real conditions collapse to make the fantasy untenable.  

Citizen Zeus

citizenzeus's picture
citizenzeus
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 29 2010
Posts: 2
Re: The Return of Dan Ariely: The Survey Results Are In

It all hinges upon not knowing where you end up.  Psychological studies consistently support the relative value of practical risk reduction trumping chance opportunity.  People are not being altruistic, they are simply saying, I want to have 0% chance of being more materially destitute (and by extension economically miserable) than the next person if I have no control over where I am placed in society.  This 0% can only happen in a perfectly equal society with perfect distribution.  So the results are completely logical and unsurprising, given the set-up. The higher the inequality the higher your chances of being relatively destitute, and the lower your chances of being in the wealthy classes.  That is also consistent with this logic.  

Transport ourselves to the U.S. now, where people actually occupy certain classes in society.   The U.S. has one of the greatest wealth disparities in the industrialized world.   Yet all classes in the U.S., even the very poor, have an almost fundamentalist belief in infinite mobility and opportunity, completely at odds with the clear empirical facts:  U.S. wealth disparity is increasing and the wealthy are buying their way out of accountability [bailouts, anyone] and into "no-bid contracts" and other completely unfair advantages at the expense of true free enterprise.  They are loading their liabilities on the poor and working classes.  

However, ask a poor person in the U.S. about distributing wealth, or even prosecuting financial crimes, and they are in de facto favor of INEQUALITY, because "I don't want to be taxed when I a get rich," (even though meritocracy and mobility have largely become a myth for all but a fortunate few) and "rich people need to be taxed less to created jobs for people like me" (even though tax policy actually rewards job outsourcing, which is happening at an historically unprecendented level).  So in the U.S. in the abstract, the largely educated readership of PeakProsperity.com favor exact equality when they don't know where they will end up, but EVEN THE POOR favor massive INEQUALITY, overestimate their wealth, and vastly underestimate income distribution when they have access to real information about where they actually are.  

Now that is what I would like to have explained in a follow up study.  

My hunch is that the American ethos and penchant for idealism/fantasy and belief in mobility over the reality of increasingly institutionalized inequality around them will persist until conditions get so bad that the fantasy cannot be sustained.  We have massive, comprehensive, clear fraud in the finance industry to the tune of trillions of dollars, yet not prosecution (including no investigation by a supposedly "liberal" for-the-people president) and no concrete, actionable outrage and resistance from the public.  This just shows how deep it is.  Non-accountability is only deepened by a kind of Jesse James-style romanticism of thievery in this country.  Until there are food shortages here, and people are hungry, I don't believe there will be any real resistance either.  This actual inequality excused by fantasies of equality, can only be challenged when real conditions collapse to make the fantasy untenable.  

Citizen Zeus

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Login or Register to post comments