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The Sciences

Eat the Rich

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollFebruary 24, 2011 7:54 PM


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In times of economic turmoil, nothing has a calming effect like a few colorful charts. Here are a couple of thought-provoking ones via E.D. Kain at Balloon Juice. First, originally by Alex Knapp, we have the distribution of wealth in the U.S.:


If it looks like a more dramatic amount of inequality than you are used to seeing, it may be because this is plotting total wealth rather than yearly income. Knapp also points out that the tax system doesn't really redistribute wealth very much; the top one percent pulls in 19% of the pre-tax income, which after taxes is whittle away to ... 17%. Of course their share is growing with time, courtesy of Mother Jones:


We can compare that reality to what people think it is, and what it should be:


What does it imply that most Americans think the distribution of wealth is much more even than it really is, and would like it to be more even still? By itself, nothing at all. These are just data -- descriptions of the world -- and science doesn't imply morality. The data are just useful to keep in mind when we do think about how a just society should be ordered, and what strategies ("share the pain!") might be most appropriate when thinking about how to recover from our recent economic pratfall. How many comments do you think we'll get before someone claims that taxation = slavery? I'm guessing five.

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