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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Inequality Bugs American Rich, Not Poor Lefties?

My brain track: I'm reading James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds, which happens to cite this 2004 article, which finds (among other things) that inequality bugs rich folks in America more than it bugs poor folks and folks who lean Left politically (see p. 2026). Across the pond, European Lefties get much more bent out of shape over inequlity, while the Righties, dukes, and earls just shrug and pass the truffles.

The authors suggest this finding stems from a persistent American belief that we live in an economically mobile society, where wealth is a product of moxie and hustle, not birth and luck the way the sterotypical European view might hold. Of course, that interpretation suggest that rich Americans would be bothered by inequality only out of self-interest, fearing that they'll lose their shirts on Wall Street and end up falling back to the lower quartile.

What I'm trying to square with these findings this morning is the accusation we Lefties too frequently play the class warfare card. Statistically, cries of "Inequality!" should come from the wealthy classes, from the people whose income we're trying to redistribute, not the people who supposedly benefit most from that redistribution.

Weekend social scientists, bat that one around over your Saturday grilling, and tell me what you think!

Alberto Alesina, Rafael Di Tella, and Robert MacCulloch, "Inequality and Happiness: Are Europeans and Americans Different?" Journal of Public Economics v. 88, 2004, pp. 2009–2042.


  1. Interesting point. I wonder what Surowiecki's examples suggest. I suspect one cause might be that rich people get better educational opportunities, so they're less likely to buy into the idea that moxie is the root of all money. They've seen something about where it comes from, and they don't buy the myth, which more likely is supported by those in the process of gaining wealth, often through exploiting the efforts of the working classes hoping to better themselves.

    I think of the Kennedys as a family from whom an "inequality!" cry might come. Some recently prominent Democrats, too--Kerry, Edwards.

    Now back to the grill.

  2. The people in Washington who advocate "redistribution of the wealth" these days have a lot more money than I do, and I'm solidly in the middle class. Some of the "rich elite" would seem to be quite selfless!

    That said, I'm troubled by the fact that some of these "selfless" politicians, while advocating higher taxes for people at their own income levels, have underpaid their taxes.

    We all are prone to make mistakes. And we should all correct our tax mistakes -- either underpayment or overpayment -- when they're found. I can think of three major players who've fallen short in this respect recently. Have they all come clean now?

    Plenty of poor people are mad about the rift between the rich and the poor in America. That anger is, in large measure, why the Democrats are in power today. If the Democrats we elected aren't true to their own proclaimed values, I suspect that we'll see a rise in the number of "bugged" citizens at all income levels.


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