How should wealth be distributed? In an article entitled Wealth Inequality, Dan Ariely at Technology Review.com asked Americans this very question.
“Perform the following thought experiment. Remove yourself for a moment from your present socioeconomic circumstances and imagine that you are to be replaced randomly into society at any class level.
Now, before you know your particular place in society you are told that it is within your powers to redistribute the wealth of that society in any way that you choose. What distribution would you choose? This famous thought experiment is the basis of political philosopher John Rawls, as outlined in his highly influential 1971 work, “A Theory Of Justice,” in which he argues that the lowest class should be made as well off as possible.” (Bold was added)
What distribution would you choose? Click here to see how those surveyed responded. What do Americans believe is the current wealth distribution in the U.S.? –
“. . . participants rather badly estimated the current state of wealth disparity! Furthermore, they offered an ideal wealth distribution (under a “veil of ignorance”) that was even more different (and more equal) relative to the current state of affairs.
What this tells me is that Americans don’t understand the extent of disparity in the US, and that they (we) desire a more equitable society.”
These results tell me two additional things. First, for all the rhetoric we read in the media against socialism, it turns out that Americans are a lot more socialistic than they would like to believe because they believe in a more equitable society.
Americans frequently forget that we are VERY socialistic about some things. We want just one water supplier or sewer system, for example. The same is true for electricity, natural gas and other utilities. In fact it makes sense here.
Second, Americans believe in a social safety net – what an equitable society requires.
The reality is that all healthy societies, in the past and today, provide a base income or social safety net for everyone before others are allowed to retain great wealth.
Once basic human needs are assured then wealth disparity becomes less problematic because the social problems caused by wealth disparity – shrinking middle class, unemployment, crime, drug abuse, poor health, lack of skills – are minimized or eliminated.