Discussion of Experiment 2.

I posed two questions. The first question was, “$100 is to be distributed amongst 100 people. How should it be distributed?” I divided the 31 responses into five broad categories, and then asked, “What is the most fair way to distribute $100 among 100 people?”

Twenty-eight people responded. The results: thirteen heartless scrooges said to give the money to those who earn it, six bleeding hearts said to give the money to those who need it, four gutless weasels said to distribute the money evenly, four selfish opportunists said they’d keep the money for themselves, and some guy said to distribute the money randomly.

I thought there were two difficulties in answering the question:

1. You know nothing about where the money came from. Is a company distributing wages to its employees? If so, perhaps you should distribute it to those who did the most to earn it. Is a corporation distributing earnings to its shareholders? If so, you need to distribute the money in proportion to ownership. Are these tax dollars that Congress is doling out? If so, you’ve got to figure out who needs it most (forget the special interests for the time being), and good luck with that. Am I dying and trying to decide how to divvy up the inheritance? If so, I’ve got to decide who my favorites are and you’re running out of time to curry favor. Did philanthropists decide to donate the money? Did I just rob some guy and decide to play Robin Hood? Did Bernanke write “$100” on a scrap of paper and say, “Trust me, it’s money”?

2. You know nothing about who the money is going to. Were the 100 people already rich, so that nobody’s going to care that much about who gets how much? Or were they already poor, so that the money means a great deal more to the recipients than it would if they were rich? Or are they somewhere in between? Or is there a mix of economic classes, and if so, what’s the mix? And how do we define rich, middle-class or poor? Is it based simply on having more or less than the others, i.e., relative wealth? Or is it based on how well you can meet or exceed basic human needs like food, clothing, and shelter, i.e., absolute wealth?

Wouldn’t the answers to these questions affect how you’d distribute the money?

This recent viral video commented on the distribution of wealth in the United States. Simply put: Americans think wealth is distributed less evenly and fairly than it should be, and wealth is distributed far less evenly and fairly than Americans already think it is.

Next question: So what? What does it matter if the actual distribution of wealth doesn’t match some poll-generated “ideal” or “fair” distribution of wealth?

9 comments

  1. I do not understand the hatred many people feel toward the wealthy in this country. I can only assume it is rooted in jealousy.
    Why should I be unhappy that Ashton Kutcher is worth $1 billion, or Mitt Romney is worth $250 million?

    Like

  2. For every middle/lower class person that hates the upper class in this country, there is somone poorer in another country who hates you and thinks you’re a greedy capitalistic pig 😉

    So my answer to question 2 is that it doesn’t matter. Somewhere along the line, one group would be forcing their views of “fair” on another group…and I think we can all agree, that’s just not fair 😉

    Like

  3. @V&T: I think a lot of it is motivated by pure envy. However, some folks resent the rich for having so much money that they aren’t giving to the poor, or that they aren’t putting to good use (however the observer defines that).

    Like

  4. Or it’s because a lot of the extremely wealthy have become extremely wealthy through not-always-super-legal ways. Or because the poor are told they’re poor because they’re lazy, and hard work is all that is needed to be wealthy. Or maybe it’s because the super wealthy have a great deal more influence over government decisions which affect everyone, often adversely the less affluent, and so perhaps they maybe resent them because people with money have a hell of a lot more control over their life than they have over their own. Y’know.

    Like

  5. Blonde: Assuming you aren’t a slave or indentured servant, there is no wealthy person on the planet that has more control over your life than you do. Perhaps you were using hyperbole, but it reads to me as an excuse for lack of success. Bill Gates would like for you to make more money so you can buy a new Windows surface tablet thing.

    You generalize that a lot of wealthy people became so through illegal means, but you don’t like the generalization that many poor people are lazy. It seems hypocritical to me.

    I agree hard work alone very rarely makes one “wealthy”. A good work ethic from school age through adulthood will never result in someone being poor. (unless they make several poor decisions along the way)

    Like

  6. My response was tailored for resentment that people feel toward certain subgroups and/or individuals within the affluent – inspired largely by your choice of Mitt Romney as a prominent example of shining success in the accruement of wealth, and by your insinuation that there does not exist a reason to resent his wealth, as an individual.

    I am not claiming that there exists a utopia wherein everyone can be successful or wherein there exists an equal distribution of success. But to say that the affluent do not have control over lives across the board, whether globally, regionally, or locally, is naive; any study of periphery countries could tell you that much, and indeed it does exist and persist in the core.

    I would argue that the United States is indeed a plutocracy, and by definition, that means a 1) government by the wealthy and 2) a controlling class of the wealthy.

    According to a study from The Center for Responsive Politics, the average United States Senator has a personal wealth of $14 million, while an average member of the House has a personal wealth of a shade under $7 million.

    The average American household — and this includes everyone — has a personal wealth of about $57,000, according to a New York University study. Nearly 40 percent of all Americans have a personal wealth below $10,000, while over 35 percent of the entire nation’s wealth is tied up in the top 1 percent of Americans, 63 percent of the wealth in the top 5 percent of Americans, and a full 76 percent of America’s wealth is in the top 10 percent of Americans.

    To be clear, then: The average Senator is worth more than almost 99 percent of us. The average member of the House is worth more than about 98 percent of us. Let me ask you a question: How much money do you give to your federal political candidates? How much do you think the rich give?

    And if the fact that the super affluent DO, in fact, control our lives (and that’s just here in America, mind you, think about the conditions under which the vast majority of the world’s populations are under) isn’t enough to justify a legitimate resentment against the mega-wealthy (other than just, wah, I want a ferrari, too!) there’s also the laughably decreasing conditions in income disparity (which, please note V&T, is different from wealth disparity, which has and will always be a part of reality).

    Dig this: According to a paper by David Cay Johnston for TaxAnalysts.com, since 1966 — and I’ll just quote directly here — “for each extra dollar of annual income going to each household in the vast majority, an extra $311,233 went to households in the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent.”

    Grasp that: For every extra dollar of annual income that we made — which, in 2011 dollars, is only $59 more than we were making in 1966 — over $300,000 went to the ultra-rich.

    That’s why people have resentment. It isn’t because they’re just jelly they don’t have their own McMansion, or because they can’t go on shopping sprees, or because they didn’t win the genetic lottery of being born in an established, wealthy family, or even the genetic lottery of being a white male; it’s because they are at a distinct disadvantage and because they are they are told that they have that disadvantage simply because they don’t work hard enough, or they’ve made some poor choices, or because their work ethic just isn’t up to par. And that is, simply put, bull.

    Like

  7. @Blonde:

    1. “For every extra dollar of annual income that we made — which, in 2011 dollars, is only $59 more than we were making in 1966 — over $300,000 went to the ultra-rich.” If I could show you how meaningless either or both of those statistics are, would it change your complaint or argument at all?

    2. I have a different view than most folks do about whether we are democratic or plutocratic or whatever. I say we can be both of those “cratics” as well as a few others, but we’re far more democratic than anything else. The overall tax burden is progressive, Medicare and Social Security can’t be touched despite the long-run economic threat they present, etc. That’s not to deny the political influence of the wealthy, but when you consider how top-heavy the population pyramid is becoming, it’s not corporate welfare that threatens America’s financial well-being over the next few decades.

    3. “…people have resentment… because they are at a distinct disadvantage and because they are they are told that they have that disadvantage simply because they don’t work hard enough, or they’ve made some poor choices, or because their work ethic just isn’t up to par. And that is, simply put, bull.”

    I will grant that many people don’t have disadvantages because they don’t work hard or because they make poor choices, but as time goes by I see more and more people who don’t overcome those disadvantages because they don’t work hard and because they make poor choices.

    4. The Senate/HR thing reminds me, I need to write another “How to make everything perfect forever.”

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s