We Think We're Sweden

Herewith the first of a two-part series on income inequality, which aired last night on the PBS Newshour. Paul Solman talked to Dan Ariely, a psychologist at Duke University who designed a study to test public perceptions of wealth inequality. The study found -- and Solman's man-on-the-street interviews seem to confirm -- that most Americans would like to live in a country with a wealth distribution like that of Sweden. And, even more surprisingly, most think they already do (though there is also an alarming number of people who think we live in the sort of country that never existed and never could: one in which the richest have no more wealth than the poorest). The responses of Democrats were different from those of Republicans, but not as much as one might expect. As Ariely puts it:

We had 7,000 people distributed around the U.S., different levels of income, education, wealth, political opinions -- 92 percent of the Americans picked Sweden over the U.S. When we broke it by Democrats and Republicans, Democrat, it was 93 percent, Republican, it was 90.5 percent.So there's a difference, but the difference is tiny. And one of the possibilities is that, when we dig deep down and we ask people to examine their core beliefs about a just society, Americans are really quite consistent in terms of thinking this is way too much inequality, and we want something that is much more equal to Sweden.

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

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