Most Americans Unaware How Rich 1% Are
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) September 25, 2014
As evidence showing more and more of America’s wealth is being snatched by the rich compounds, a survey shows Americans are still unable to grasp how truly rich those at the top are. The 400 wealthiest Americans now control $2.3 trillion worth of wealth while the American middle class not gotten a raise in 15 years according to the US Census.
But if the inequalities are so plain and dramatic how is it most people are not picking up on it? Paul Krugman offers the explanation that so few of the 99% deal with members of the 1% that such levels of wealth are a foreign concept. That, outside of celebrity entertainment, the average American never interacts with the 1% nor understands how different the lives of the 1% are from their own.
The true plutocrats are out of sight.
So how can people be unaware of this development, or at least unaware of its scale? The main answer, I’d suggest, is that the truly rich are so removed from ordinary people’s lives that we never see what they have. We may notice, and feel aggrieved about, college kids driving luxury cars; but we don’t see private equity managers commuting by helicopter to their immense mansions in the Hamptons. The commanding heights of our economy are invisible because they’re lost in the clouds.
The exceptions are celebrities, who live their lives in public. And defenses of extreme inequality almost always invoke the examples of movie and sports stars. But celebrities make up only a tiny fraction of the wealthy, and even the biggest stars earn far less than the financial barons who really dominate the upper strata. For example, according to Forbes, Robert Downey Jr. is the highest-paid actor in America, making $75 million last year. According to the same publication, in 2013 the top 25 hedge fund managers took home, on average, almost a billion dollars each.
Krugman notes a survey published by the Association for Psychological Association that shows most Americans believe wealth inequality is not as severe as it truly is as well as preferring a style of wealth distribution more akin to Sweden. In a sense, most people agree on what they want but don’t know what they have.
As the survey shows, there is a general consensus on building a more equitable society. The question is even if more Americans are shown that what they believe they have is wrong compared to what they think they have, will the political system allow for reform? Right now the plutocrats are having it both ways – they have gamed the political system and the public is not even aware how rich and powerful they are.