Summary: With an impressive suite of illustrations, this viral video takes viewers through the findings of a 2011 study conducted by Dan Ariely and Michael Norton, who asked respondents two basic questions. First, they asked people to report what they thought the ideal distribution of wealth in the United States should be, then they asked them how they thought wealth was actually distributed. The results suggest that, on average, Americans believe economic inequality is greater than what is ideal—i.e., the wealth gap is too large. The researchers then presented the actual distribution of wealth in the United States and compared it with both the ideal distribution and respondents' estimate of the actual distribution, and based on this comparison, it seems reasonably clear that while Americans may believe the wealth gap is too large, they are tragically misinformed about just how large it actually is. How is it that Americans are unaware of the magnitude of this inequality? Ariely and Norton do not provide an answer, but the question is worth pursuing. Consider the fact that publics have long proven a capacity to know about a wide range of phenomena that is effectively invisible. For instance, most people in the United States know about the dwarf planet Pluto, despite never seeing it with their own eyes. Thanks in large part to the mainstream media and the reverberations of social media, people in New Mexico and Montana know about the recent Boston Marathon bombings and can even recount vivid details about the event, even if they have never been to Boston and have no intention of ever visiting. But unlike Pluto and the tragedies of distant cities, the telltale signs of inequality are everywhere. In Boston, New Mexico, Montana, and virtually every other point on the map, one can find poverty within a few miles or blocks of obscene wealth; yet the true magnitude of U.S. inequality eludes most Americans. This video is not merely useful for wrapping one's head around the extent of inequality in the United States—that the top 1% holds 40% of the nation's wealth—it is also a useful segue into a discussion that connects the material facts of economic inequality to the ideological forces that ensure it remains uninterrogated. Explaining how a system of economic inequality persists requires more than simply identifying the disparities; it also requires an explanation about how publics remain relatively unaware of these disparities. For a similar analysis in a PBS clip, see here.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist