Income Inequality In The United States

"Income inequality" is something you hear or read about constantly, irrespective of what your main source of news or information might be. From USA Today to the Financial Times, income inequality has been among the hottest topics over the past decade or so.

A loaded term that carries quite a bit of shock value by nature, income inequality -- much like gun control, for example -- isn't strictly speaking something that an intellectual, critical conversation can take place over. Everyone has their opinions, which are generally deeply-rooted and related to personal experiences and upbringings, and few are willing to listen for even a second to the other side.

What this means for me is that I generally don't get involved. I'm probably less likely to write about or discuss something like inequality than most other people out there, but I did come across a video recently that was quite interesting...

Although this video has been around for a while, it has only recently reached "viral" status. When I watched it last night and decided it was solid article material, it had a hair over 100K views -- 725K and counting this morning.

The major issue with this video -- certainly part of its "shock" effect -- is the assumption that "more wealth" necessarily implies that a group is "better off". For example, at 2:45-2:50, the wealthiest folks are "ten to twenty times better off than the poorest Americans". Well, okay. What does that mean exactly? If being better off is defined as holding a larger share of the wealth of a society, then yes, certainly the people at the top are, oh roughly 15 times better off than those at the bottom, but what this doesn't take into account is how much better off those people at the bottom are today than they were in the past.

Same deal at 5:05-5:10 -- in 1976, although the richest 1% took home a far smaller share of the total income in the US, that does not necessarily mean that the standard of living for middle- and lower-classes was better in '76 than it is today...anyone who would argue that would be almost certainly be mistaken, or would have to be a hell of a rhetorician.

The CEO earning argument, as usual, is pretty weak...there are 1000 CEOs paired with 1000 Fortune 1000 companies (obviously there are many more CEOs and companies, but these guys and gals are going to be the ones getting paid the most "egregious" compensation packages). Even assuming each makes $10MM per year, that's $10,000,000,000: a completely immaterial percentage of the total $54 trillion. Even assuming there are 100,000 CEOs earning $10MM per year, we're still only at $1,000,000,000,000...1.8% of the total $54 trillion.

Nevertheless, this video is pretty jarring, not for the fact that income distribution is so skewed, but for the fact that our perception of how income is distributed in this country is so off. And, as the video points out at the beginning, the fact that Americans are aware that the "reality" is already far from the "ideal" (although how far exactly, they're not sure, and as the video goes on to say, they're clearly mistaken) is shocking as well.

No matter where you stand on this issue -- and I think I have a rough idea of the stance WSO generally takes -- the facts are definitely eye-opening and somewhat scary.

What do you guys think of this video? More importantly, about the methods used? Is this a problem? How can we fix it? Do we care?

Thanks for reading.

Comments (130)

Mar 4, 2013 - 10:58am
"They are all former investment bankers that were laid off in the economic collapse that Nancy Pelosi caused. They have no marketable skills, but by God they work hard."
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