I’ve often wondered why working class people (and I include the working middle class) so often vote against their own interests.
My mother was one of these people. She was the bright daughter of a US army french horn player, born in 1916, who was 15 at the beginning of the depression. Her parents and her four younger siblings suffered greatly in the 1930s.
In spite of this she never associated the great depression with the probable causes of the depression. Whether economic malfeasance, the failure of the free market, governmental failure to regulate the money supply, the causes are still being argued today.
In the thirties people saw a lot of discussion about the causes of the depression. The causes are beyond my analytical ability, but certainly there were many socialists, communists, keynsians, monetarists, offering their opinions. Regardless, my mother chose to blame the communists.
She always believed that she would eventually rise socially to be an “owner” and always voted against unions, and anything that would raise the level of the working classes. She worked for the Works Progress Administration but hated Roosevelt. Just as today, politics is a lot like religion, you cleave to what you perceive to be your “tribe.”
Today, as in the 1930s, people identify as conservative, centrist, or “progressive” with all the dogma that inheres. Although, there seem to be fewer centrists than before.
The statistical likelihood that someone in the working class will eventually advance to the moneyed classes are slim. Sure, there are entrepreneurs, musicians, lottery winners, and others who for various reasons “make it,” but the US has about 315 million people.
The following article is an invitation to enter a debate on where the money really is in the US and why people think they have more than they do. Money in America has been trickling up for many years while people have believed it was trickling down.
Most people think there should be a reasonable distribution of wealth in this country but the data show that this is not the case; wealth is becoming more concentrated leaving a growing proportion no longer in the middle classes and this is a dangerous thing.
While most of us make d0 on less than $500,000/year, those fortunate enough to receive bonuses in excess of $1,000,000 to $25,000,000/yr live in a rarefied atmosphere that few of us can imagine. Chime in! – carlos
Rising Wealth Inequality: Should We Care?
Why do Americans seem unperturbed about the growing gap between the rich and the poor?
The actual United States wealth distribution plotted against the estimated and ideal distributions across all respondents. See more details.
Updated March 22, 2011, 12:18 PM
Michael I. Norton is an associate professor at the Harvard Business School. He is currently co-writing a book on money and happiness.
In a recent survey of Americans, my colleague Dan Ariely and I found that Americans drastically underestimated the level of wealth inequality in the United States. While recent data indicates that the richest 20 percent of Americans own 84 percent of all wealth, people estimated that this group owned just 59 percent – believing that total wealth in this country is far more evenly divided among poorer Americans.
What’s more, when we asked them how they thought wealth should be distributed, they told us they wanted an even more equitable distribution, with the richest 20 percent owning just 32 percent of the wealth. This was true of Democrats and Republicans, rich and poor – all groups we surveyed approved of some inequality, but their ideal was far more equal than the current level.
Why then, given the consensus on this more equal America, are Americans not clamoring for redistribution?