Monday, October 4, 2010

Economic Ideal, or Human Error.

A few people have passed around Matthew Yglesias's post about Americans' estimates of wealth distribution, in which people are asked to report both their ideal distribution and their perception of the actual distribution.

One thing I suspect might be happening that wasn't discussed: people may not be great at calculating distribution in this way. Perhaps people should be asked as well, "What do you think the average individual's wealth is in this highest (or lowest) quintile to create this distribution?" It seems like a simple enough math problem, but through the course of this survey, it's likely participants weren't doing it. People have much greater familiarity with a concrete bank account price tag than they do with percent of the nation's wealth controlled.

This is not, however, an argument for the status quo. At the very least, the report does indicate that people want much more equitable distribution than they think we have, even as that is far less equitable than what we actually have!

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