learning the wrong lessons from an interesting chart

Americans' self-estimations of thewealth distribution

(Via here.)

Apparently the interesting bit is:

the extent to which the public vastly overestimates the prosperity of lower-income Americans. The public thinks the 4th quintile has more money than the median quintile actually has. And the public thinks the 5th quintile has vastly more wealth than it really has…You can easily see how this could have a giant distorting effect on our politics. Poor Americans are simply much, much, much needier than people realize and this is naturally going to lead to an undue slighting of their interests.

The other interesting bit is the political breakdown. If you look at the second chart, which represents what the sample thought would be an ideal distribution, two things become obvious – one, the ideals are not very different, two, they are all significantly more egalitarian than the reality. People who admitted to voting for George Bush wanted to redistribute wealth quite radically – even when you compare their preferences with their illusory beliefs about the distribution, they want a very significant change. Compare them with reality, well…

The rest is pretty obvious – the least egalitarian group is those earning more than $100,000, the most are those earning less than $50,000, women are more egalitarian than men as a group, but no more so than declared John Kerry voters.

The problem is clearly much wider than their estimates of the lowest quintile’s wealth – in fact, although the people studied were unaware of quite how bad things were, they are clearly very well aware of inequality and they want it to change. And this sweeps right across the board. Even if they were unaware of the full poverty of the poor, they were well aware of the rich.

What they need evidently isn’t Blairism – scrape a bit off the top and pay it out to the poorest, with all kinds of interlocking and perverse conditions drawn up by the Yglesians of this world. This is why universalism is important – it’s possible that the whole discourse of “targeting” as applied to social policy reinforces the delusion that the poor are actually rich.

  1. 1 Seeds of delusion sowed early.(Letters)(Letter to the Editor): An article from: Clinical Psychiatry News | Best Psychology Books

    […] learning the wrong lessons from an interesting chart « Alternate … […]

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