One of the reasons I remain pretty optimistic about the United States’ long-term economic prospects is that we have such vast wealth. That sheer wealth will eventually help eliminate the nation’s debt, fuel investment in infrastructure, and allow the economy to continue growing despite the challenges of the 21st century.
Of course, at the moment, a huge amount of the nation’s vast wealth is in the hands of a tiny percentage of Americans. Wealth disparity seems to be both a result and a cause of extreme income disparity. We don’t need to gouge the rich, but we need public policies that slowly bring more wealth into the hands of poor and middle class Americans.
We’re not going to make those public policy decisions anytime soon, but eventually — 10 years? 20? 40? — we’ll figure it out.
Thanks to a YouTube user named Politizane, we have this great video that puts wealth inequality in clear terms. It simply takes a look at data from a paper by the Harvard’s Michael Norton and Daniel Ariely about what Americans would see as the ideal distribution of wealth, what they think the nation’s wealth distribution actually is, and what the numbers actually are.
Check out the video — just six minutes:
At his talk at the Savannah Book Festival a few weeks ago, Al Gore put the issue in stark terms too, noting that the Wal-Mart heirs have more combined wealth than the least wealthy 100 million Americans.
The Wonkblog at The Washington Post has some excellent commentary on the video and the trends that it captures.