Americans Want to Live in a Much More Equal Country (They Just Don't Realize It)
The Atlantic, August 2, 2012
"There are a few lessons that we can learn from this. The first is that we vastly underestimate the level of inequality that we have in America. Our society is far more uneven in terms of wealth than we believe it is. Second, we want much more equality than both what we have and what we think we have. Apparently, when asked in a way that avoids hot-button terms, misconceptions, and the level of wealth people currently possess, Americans are actually in agreement about wanting a more equal distribution of wealth. In fact, the vast majority of Americans prefer a distribution of wealth more equal than what exists in Sweden, which is often placed rhetorically at the extreme far left in terms of political ideology--embraced by liberals as an ideal society and disparaged by conservatives as an overreaching socialist nanny state.
A third lesson concerns the political gap between Democrats and Republicans: Given the extraordinarily polarized and derisive rhetoric flying back and forth between Democrats and Republicans, one would think there was an insurmountable gap between their positions. So how is it possible that we found so little difference between them in our study? One reason for this could be our inability to separate our ideology from our current state of wealth. Our interests tend to color our view both of how things are and how they should be. Another reason could be politicians, who, in order to rally people to their side, try to generate feelings of greater difference and opposition--and therefore conflict--than actually exist. From this perspective one could claim that politicians obfuscate similarities by using galvanizing but elusive terms like "small government," "tax relief," and "freedom."