Americans Want to Live in Sweden

By James Kwak

The chart below is from a short paper by Michael Norton and Dan Ariely (author of Predictably Irrational) (hat tip Huffington Post). The top line is the actual U.S.wealth distribution. The second is what Americans think the wealth distribution is. The bottom line is what Americans think the wealth distribution should be.

Yes, in the real world, the wealth held by the bottom two quintiles together simply vanishes on a chart like this.

It’s based on a survey done in 2005–before the financial crisis, and just about at the peak of housing boom-induced euphoria. The results are consistent across income groups, gender, and political affiliation. There are small differences, but they are swamped by the basic results.

There are two other great charts (including the U.S.-Sweden comparison), but in the interests of respecting fair use I’ll send you over there.

This is one of the themes brought up in Winner-Take-All Politics by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. Americans really think that society should be considerably more equal than it is, and that attitude has not shifted appreciably during the past thirty years. Yet our political system produces policies that make America more and more unequal, predominantly by cutting taxes for the very rich. Hacker and Pierson’s point is that there has not been an ideological shift toward conservative positions in the country at large (at least not on this issue). Instead, it’s the game of politics that has changed, so policy has become more disassociated from the preferences of the people.

89 responses to “Americans Want to Live in Sweden

  1. Anyone have a chart that shows income distribution by decade since 1900?

    I think that the rate of change would be insightful…

  2. Another internet article floating around today (think it’s from Huffington) looks at which countries are the best, economically, for women – yes Sweden still ranks among the highest…

    What was interesting about the women-rankings was that Russia was one notch worse than Namibia! Good lord, how pathetic when comparing the size, age and natural wealth of the two countries! Cut down on the vodka, you Bolsheviks!

    And the Mediterranean machisimo still has women under das boot – Israel, Spain, Italy and Greece – shameful…such ancient lands, such entrenched cruelty and disrespect to half the human species.

  3. What is most interesting about all these wealth tables is that nobody ever examines the distribution within the top 20%. My estimate is that the top one tenth percent (270,000 people) owns at least half of what is attributed to the top 20%.

    Until we begin looking hard at that top tenth and where its wealth comes from, all so called solutions remain entirely bogus.

  4. Hillbilly Darrell

    Yep. And, this logic is one of the precise and primary reasons our family has permanently relocated/emigrated to Canada. My wife having reverse migrated after 41 years in the U.S. on a Green Card, and me having obtained a Canadian Permanent Residency Visa having been sponsored by her after 10+ years of marriage. Our kids have been duel citizens from birth, and have been appropriately registered as such, so they’ve simply returned to Canada. Thankfully, we had this option as many/most don’t.

    The Canadian chart doesn’t look appreciably different from Sweden’s, or virtually any other civilized OECD country’s chart. To find a chart that looks like the U.S. chart, one needs to look at developing and corrupt third world counties….

  5. Brett in Manhattan

    As usual, Socialists leave out that one key factor: The size of the pie and how it shrinks, under a Marxist system, to the point where everybody suffers.

    Better to have a tiny piece of a huge pie, than an “equal” piece of a tiny pie.

  6. Hillbilly Darrell

    Check out this PDF which details income earned and taxes paid by individual quintiles, and specific to top 1% in 2006:

    http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/100xx/doc10068/effective_tax_rates_2006.pdf

    This info details earned income, but not passive wealth figures.

    If you plink around on the CBO’s site you can find all kinds of interesting historical tax and income data.

  7. The trend towards wealth concentration can only continue unless we put multiple barriers in place to restrict and reverse the centralized accumulation, or until we reach the relatively stable default state in which there are a handful who control wealth, power and knowledge served by a larger handful of desperately poor and ignorant. The total population in this state is but a tiny fraction of todays, and the total GDP… which measures economic flow, is an even tinier fraction of todays. It is the state of third world economies, and the Middle Ages which science, trade and a New World of resources emptied of people by European diseases and by exploitation eventually created a new innovation: the middle class.

    The only social mechanism we have for doing managing the upward flow of wealth, as a dam manages the downward flow of water, is government… whose own weakness has been increased by this inbalanced distribution which has put more demands on its resources while lowering its sources of revenue in a foolish pursuit of “trickle down economics.” (resources alway trickle down to large pools, not to small distributed pools of the middle class.)

    I suggest that we could benefit by looking at the economic system in terms of pools of resources dedicated by those who manage them to specific objectives. Government, businesses, banks and property rights are human constructs which enable us to pool resources to achieve objectives of various magnitudes and durations. Private property, personal objectives; corporations, business or economic objectives, however compromised by the personal objectives of the individuals within and mangeing those pools; and governments, social objectives; however compromised by the personal objectives of the individuals within those pools.

    The individuals managing the personal and business pools have realized two things: it is personally more profitable to suck resources from larger pools than the smaller ones. The individual recognizes that his/her pool of wealth is best served by pulling resources out of other bigger pools of wealth rather than non-existent ones. i.e. better to suck resources out of the middle class or other rich rather than the poor.

    A business executive focuses on larger customers to enrich the business pool and even more so on extracting as much personal wealth from the business pool as he can, even to the point that his personal compensation forms a parasitic load on the business pool. (The 13 Bankers!, hedge fund managers, etc.)

    Government executives (politicians or civil servants) aren’t irrational either. Most of them work to enlarge their personal pools of resources through their work in government. For politicians, direct compensation is meager….we the people have made it so… therefore they must find pools outside the government to provide their own security… and the upper quintile individual pools and large business pools are the most lucrative sources. Therefore, instead of making sure that governement has the resources to execute its responsibilities, key individuals in government are motivated to cater to the wealthy and large corporations in order to secure their own futures.

    This is all perfectly rational and a fault of structural defects that must be corrected if we are to have a sustainable self managing economic and political system. Evolutionary structures in living systems have dealt with this same challenge of keeping resource pools adequately distributed and replenished to enable vigorous new growth and ongoing adaptability. Two of the methods are: rampantly overproduce and relentless prune (we choose to build and maintain instead), and de-factor term limits on individuals and species produced by a multitude of soft factors (i.e. disease, starvation, predation, parasitic loads, genetic defects, copying errors, etc.) rather than one rigid one.

    Our laws about resource pools need to be similarly constructed, with processes that relentlessly deconstruct large resource pools so that new ones may be formed to meet new challenges. I write about this in my blog, including examples of how corporate law has to change.

  8. Brett in Manhattan

    This Swede doesn’t seem to think his native country is so great:

  9. Hillbilly Darrell

    OK Brett. What is the “net” size of the U.S. pie in the context of per capita U.S. population-i.e. per person, and as determined by by subtracting accumulated liabilities, and unfunded future obligations, and massive deferred infrastructure investment and maintenance? Compare that number to Sweden’s, or Canada’s, or any other civilized/developed OECD country’s figures from your choice of communist, socialist, fascist, egalitarian, or capitalist points of view. How do the numbers look based on any analysis, based on any ideological bent?

    Not good. In fact, bad. Very bad. Third world corrupt in fact. Akin to Nigeria…..

  10. Actually, your only half right…. with totally even distribution of wealth the pie shrinks, because government has established barriers to wealth entry which demotivates the populatec. But so too does the pied shrink as wealth overconcentrates in the hands of a few (who set-up barriers to wealth entry for others…ie. property rights of all sorts force others to rent rather than own, etc.)

    There is, in the middle, with a healthy middle class and maintaining realistic paths to wealth accumulation through hard work and creativity which motivate people.

    See my comments below about wealth pools.

  11. oh and the economic pie is shrinking sooo rapidly in Sweden, Norway, Canada, and Denmark compared to countries that have income inequality like we have in the U.S. You know, the Dominican Republic, the Ivory Coast, Mexico, and Cameroon. Based on the CIA GINI index, we are a lot closer to those countries than we are to France or Germany, and very far way from Sweden.

  12. @Brett – First, learn the difference between “democratic socialism” as a political system in Sweden, true economic socialism, and Marxism – they mean different things. You do any points you might have a disservice by acting hysterical.

    Second, how has the pie grown here in the USA over the past decade of virtually anarchical free-markets? No job growth, decreasing middle class, no real wage growth, increasing concentration of wealth owned by the top 1%, brutually-volatile financial markets. Is the pie really growing, and are the pieces for the bottom 90% actually bigger?

    Look at this if you believe in American economic exceptionalism: http://awesome.good.is/transparency/web/1009/value-of-work-2/flat.html

    Third – Sweden is top5 in global competitiveness, private-sector efficiency, ‘creative class’ production, happiness of citizenry, life expectancy. Must be an awful place to live.

  13. Let me try to give you a serious answer… or at least an hypothesis from an obscure political anthropologist (me!)…

    All group decisions must contend with balancing the interests of the individual vs the group…

    This is an ancient issue… reflected in the old standard referred to as the “Tragedy of the Commons”…

    In general we think of the “Right” as weighted towards the individual… and the “Left” towards the group…

    In truth decisions always rest somewhere along that continuum…

    In biological terms its the personal survival drive vs biological altruism (a group-oriented drive dependent on group identification)…

    The problem is this: The survival instinct scales directly… but altruism does not.

    (An easy way to look at this is this is why a Kennedy or a Kerry can be “Liberal”, and still guiltlessly utilize tax dodges for the wealthy, not fight ‘terribly hard’ for their repeal… and not fight ‘hard enough’ for minimum wage increases of single payer healthcare… they truly support them but won’t fight like a poor parent with uninsured children would if such people could ever be elected as members of Congress or other positions of power)…

    This is a subtle but pervasive force over time… this slight shading of opinion and the willingness to ‘fight’ for a position…

    In SCALED social organisms (larger than Dunbar’s Number) the Right will have an advantage because its adherents are fighting both for their own interests AND their families… for the leadership of the Left… they may believe what they say… but they’re fighting for an abstraction.

    This is a rough and brief simplification but I think it represents a reality… and is of vital importance when addressing what are actually ‘meta-political’ problems.

    P.S. I believe this is an ancient problem and actually forms the original basis of Authoritarianism. Mechanisms of self-governance are attempts to address these problems… We are way behind in making the “META-political” changes necessary.

    P.S. I believe this is actually a fundamental reason for birth of Authoritarianism with the rise of settled agricultrue. Mechanisms of self-governance are attempts to address these problems… We are way behind in making the “META-political” changes necessary.

    Thanks to Michael Bauwens of the Peer to Peer Foundation for re-posting my piece On Creating Communities

    http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/tom-crowl-on-creating-communities/2010/09/15

    And look for more coming there on:

    The Individually-controlled/Commons-dedicated Account*

    A self-supporting , Commons-owned neutral network of accounts for both political and charitable monetary contribution… which for fundamental reasons of scale must allow a viable micro-transaction (think x-box points for action in the Commons). The resultant network catalyzes additional functionality for co-ordination of other ‘social energy’ utilization. (If desired, It’s also the most neutral and ultimately politically viable method for the public finance of elections.)

    Ayn Rand & Alan Greenspan: The Altruism Fly in the Objectivist Ointment

    http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2009/10/ayn-rand-alan-greenspan-altruism-fly-in.html

    Personal Democracy: Disruption as an Enlightenment Essential

    http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2010/06/personal-democracy-disruption-as.html

  14. Brett in Manhattan

    We have different ideas as to what constitutes a “Free Market.”

    My idea doesn’t have a Fed “Centrally Planning” the market by continually manipulating interest rates to blow up bubbles.

    The comparison to Sweden is silly. You can’t compare a country with 10 million with relatively homogeneous population to a country of 300 million with a diverse population. But, if you want to do so, how about comparing suicide rates?

    Btw, Didn’t the anti-immigrant party just win some seats in the Swedish gov’t? Apparently, there’s some trouble in your paradise.

  15. That’s hilarious. Yngwie is a notorious a-hole, BTW.

  16. This is a good book:

    The Swedish Secret: What the United States Can Learn from Sweden’s Story, Earl Gustafson

    The author is a former state legislator from Minnesota with family ties to Sweden. There’s a section in there where he describes Sweden’s banking crisis which pre-dates ours. I read this book before 2008, before Simon explained to America that Sweden had already confronted this problem more effectively than we did. I have not gone back to see how the story reads now. But it was good background information. Also very good advertisement for taxes and making good use of them. Sweden’s not perfect but it’s very inspiring.

  17. It’s funny, America looks a lot more like Venezuala than it does Sweden, based on income distribution. Where would you rather live, Brett?

  18. >Btw, Didn’t the anti-immigrant party just win some seats in the Swedish gov’t? Apparently, there’s some trouble in your paradise.

    Yeah, and SB1030 passed with 70% support in Arizona, Tom Tancredo might become the next Governor of Colorado, and a Muslim Communist is the President of your paradise.

  19. BS. The main reason humans got to the top of the evolutionary heap was because of our ability to work in groups. Hence the importance of language.

    Also, it’s well-documented that babies are highly altruistic by nature.

  20. Additionally, Sweden isn’t “collectivist.” The problem with people like you is everything becomes black and white. Just because a country/society wants to create a more level playing field doesn’t mean its “collectivist.” Why not consider it a “commonwealth?” We in the US use that word, don’t we?

    Also, I would add, the original colonies in North America WERE strongly collectivist, not individualistic. Look at Plymouth. They kicked Roger Williams out for bucking the authorities.

  21. agreed, Nick, it was cooperation and natural affection

    not man made “protocols”

  22. This is the one that always gets me (although there are many such examples, encompassing broader groups like Mr. Kwak gives above). I have posted this on my own site, here, and other sites before. I originally saw this in the letters to editor section of New Yorker magazine and then searched it on the net. I doubt if you will EVER see this quoted on sewage surfing programs like Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, because even they know as illiterate and low-IQ as the vast majority of their audience is, even the average Glenn Beck fan, with his barely achieved high school diploma, or Vo-Tech training, trailer home and two remaining teeth in his head, sitting and listening to his little radio could even make out beyond the ridiculous context the Republican hosts would it out in, how obviously inequitable this is and destructive to the very fabric of American society.

    http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2010/02/17/a-look-at-the-tax-returns-of-the-top-400-taxpayers/

    16.6% folks. What percentage do you think the average teacher, policeman, fireman, engineer, computer scientist, truckdriver, janitor, etc. pays in federal income taxes??? Anything 33% or above means he pays double what these top 400 do. And all the while we get to listen to Newt Gingrich (the 3 times married of “family values” fame), and Sarah Palin whine and moan like their “way of life” is coming to an end. If Republicans “way of life” is coming to an end, they should thank their lucky stars not like King Louis XVI.

  23. In the last sentence of the first paragraph of the above comment, I should have stated it “…. the ridiculous context the Republican hosts would put it out in.”

  24. Glad to see you picked this one up, James. It really gave me a lot of hope when I heard it on the radio then read the report. It means that for the vast majority of Americans it really IS possible to get them to talk realistically about wealth distribution in the country IF you can find a way to get around the emotionally charged partisan language the right (and a lesser degree the left) have used to frame things.

    I know it’s a long shot, but it’s really great news to me. Maybe my country doesn’t have to break in two along partisan lines after all.

  25. Please understand… it’s not that biological altruism doesn’t exist… this is very much the opposite of what I’m saying… (I’m NOT an Objectivist)

    And co-operation is truly an essential for our development…

    The fundamental of altruism is “who’s IN” as opposed to “who’s out”…

    And altruism isn’t necessarily “nice”… in fact its behind both much generosity AND brutality.

    It’s important to understand subtleties. I agree with all you say… babies ARE altruistic and co-operation is key to our survival.

    And Marie Antoinette was a good mother… and likely a good person as well…

    But she and Louis both lacked the physical and social “proximity”.

    Consider this… today many children will die unjustly around the world… but the truth is… on a personal level we’d be much more emotionally impacted by the death of our dog… This may be unpleasant to face… but its the truth. Its not about whether or not you have altruism… it’s about your (and my) attention economies and cognitive limits.

    It’s the fuzzy though real “BOUNDARIES” of biological altruism that are problematic in the group decision process.

    Your comment doesn’t seem to reflect much analysis of what I’m talking about since we may well agree.

    I believe you’ll be hearing more on this “Altruism Paradox”…

    And the reason I make this attempt to clarify is that this is an understanding that’s necessary for finding pragmatic solutions.

    The Problem in Scaling Altruism: Where’s the Intelligent Life?

    http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2010/04/problem-in-scaling-altruism-wheres.html

  26. There are such tables, and they support your thesis. Prof. Saez of Cal Berkeley just received and economics prize for his work in this area.

    See this link:

    Striking it Richer: Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States:

    http://elsa.berkeley.edu/~saez/saez-UStopincomes-2008.pdf

  27. Equating lower interest rates with centralized planning is a real stretch. If so, then lowering taxes on the rich is also a form of centralized planning. Both forms of planning haven’t done squat for the size of the pie over the last decade! They have enabled accumulations of wealth by the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and poor…. so the planning must be geared to helping the wealthy (Reagan’s trickle down economics-or more aptly “treacle down” down economics?) or else its irrational in both cases.

  28. Maybe this will help your understanding… the goal is to make altruism (a vital component for our survival, growth and evolution) SCALE properly… so we CAN have a more level playing field… closer perhaps to a Swedish model.

    This requires ‘structures’…

    In fact, this is what our Founders were attempting to do… provide structures to enable a more ‘participatory/collectivist’ approach to governance. (a perfectly reasonable term) by designing systems for interrupting the hierarchies that inevitably develop with the class divisions that arise with the loss of physical and social proximity.

    I guess what’s so irritating is that we’re likely on the same side but I’m tired of being mis-characterized. However if you look into the issue and have good questions or critique I’ll be happy to respond. But since I agree with your comment (except the BS pejorative and false conclusion) I don’t know what else to say…

  29. Brett in Manhattan

    oh and the economic pie is shrinking sooo rapidly in Sweden, Norway, Canada, and Denmark compared to countries that have income inequality like we have in the U.S. You know, the Dominican Republic, the Ivory Coast, Mexico, and Cameroon. Based on the CIA GINI index, we are a lot closer to those countries than we are to France or Germany, and very far way from Sweden.
    Dirk

    _________

    LOL. Comparing the U.S to 3rd world countries. Poor people in those countries would laugh at the American definition of “Poor.”

    http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2004/09/Understanding-Poverty-and-Economic-Inequality-in-the-United-States

    The following facts about persons defined as “poor” by the Census Bureau are taken from various government reports:

    Forty-six percent of all poor households own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as “poor” by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

    Seventy-six percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

    Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

    The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)

    Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars.

    Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television. Over half own two or more color televisions.

    Seventy-eight percent of America’s poor own a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.

    Seventy-three percent of America’s poor own microwave ovens; more than half have a stereo; and one-third have an automatic dishwasher.

  30. Brett,
    My apologies in advance for projecting certain views entirely unto you, but the evidence you are citing is contradictory to other criticisms being made by your ilk. You link to a heritage paper, published in 2004, saying that home ownership among America’s poor is significantly higher that the global poor. However, today, you (the collective “you”, of course) rail against the very policies that put the poor in these very homes.
    Those metrics that you are citing are absolutely terrible metrics for poverty measurement. The dynamics of poverty between America, India and Bolivia are extremely different. Why you would cite that 73% of America’s poor own a microwave as some sort of indictment of the American poor as globally privileged is insane. Cooking a garbage dinner in a microwave is, in fact, thriftier than a stove-cooked nutritious meal. It’s also terrible for one’s health, so I fail to see it as privilege.

    I’m going to click submit, since I already bothered to write all this. Mostly I’m angry now that I took the troll bait.

  31. Yonathan Randolph

    If you asked people the ideal PDF (with dollar values labeled) instead, how would the responses differ from the ideal CDF (which this survey asked)? What if you asked for ideal PDF/CDF of income? Ideal tax rates? I don’t think the average answers to these questions would be consistent with each other, so I’m somewhat skeptical of a survey that asks for just one of them.

  32. Re: @ Brett in Manhattan___Indeed…the homeowners of the McMansion’s have lost 50% equity in their piece of sheltered nirvana – this dream world americans call “Fantasia”! Loose one job, be it part time or full time your…debt borrowed enslavement has now put you on a one-way streets-car ( desire nought!)too the nearest coal mine via box car rail-transportation. Oh yea…”the greater fool” will buy up your debt from the offering oligarchy banks – but hey…what the heck, all you owned was on paper anyway, pathetic! Sure we got complacent, and alittle stupid (built into our makeup/ such is the foundation of greed/ survival instinct?) but you know stereo’s, and TV’s ect., etc., are a heck of alot cheaper than Day Care – let us not forget that when we pay out 40% +/+ in taxes from our paycheck there should be some give back? C’mon give the poor coal miner some credit from the company store – as for living in Sweden, last I checked it’s “Cold” most of the year…no packing bags for this guy? ” Go Rays!!! “

  33. hey look, it’s the 80 20 rule!

  34. These are interesting findings, though not surprising. But I’m not sure I agree with your take away, James:

    “Hacker and Pierson’s point is that there has not been an ideological shift toward conservative positions in the country at large (at least not on this issue). Instead, it’s the game of politics that has changed, so policy has become more disassociated from the preferences of the people. ”

    I think this is missing something. I don’t think it’s a conservative position that rich people should have almost all the money. That may be the result of conservative policies as practiced and it may be the position of a handful of rich people, but I don’t think it’s how the policies are advertised or why they’re bought by the non-wealthy voters who support them.

    It’s a conservative position that rich people should be able to keep and use more of the money they make, and I think this is believed (it’s at least sold this way) that such policies will lead to more jobs and more money for all.

    Now, I disagree that the conservative position actually works in practice, and I agree that it leads to inequality. But the issue is more problematic than “Americans want a more economically equal society, therefore they actually want a progressive tax structure.”

  35. Yeah, that is why there is such a huge migration supporting your point.

    Lies,
    Damn Lies,
    Statistics.

  36. Nick, you say “Just because a country/society wants to create a more level playing field doesn’t mean its “collectivist.” Why not consider it a “commonwealth?” We in the US use that word, don’t we?’

    Yes, the word is sometimes used in this country. But, tragically, Americans have no concept of what a “commonwealth” is.

    For an economic system that truly advocates a commonwealth, you might go to http://www.steadystate.org and consider signing their position statement. It’s all about creating a real commonwealth.

  37. Whooaa, boy. This is not about individuals. This is not about the politics of individual conservatives or individual liberals.

    The entire economic system of the United States has been captured, as Eisenhower predicted, by the military-industrial complex.

    It’s a tragedy of epic proportions, but the American people are struggling too mightily with the day-to-day survival of their families to even consider it.

    Whet Moser, James Kwak, Brett from Wall Street, get a grip! You might want to check out Andrew Bacevich’s new book, “Washington Rules.”

    Geez, guys, we’re in a serious situation here. And we’d better find a SERIOUS alternative to the status quo.

  38. Your commentary is a sad reflection on the American condition, though I find it oddly revealing about why we find ourselves in the state we do.

    While you are right about all of the above – Americans have more automobiles, larger homes, and more land than most people, the goodies stop there.

    We have worse health care (by the vast majority of statistics: infant mortality, life expectancy, obesity, overprescription of medication etc.), far less vacation time, less time with family, longer working hours, and so on. I think I would take a good vacation with my wife over 6 plasma televisions any day of the week – but that’s just me. You and your man Yngwie can have a field day if you so desire …

    And even on your own metrics, read a little more into it and you see how hollow these things are. We spend more time commuting (yes, we do it in our own car, but subways are more efficient – being in Manhattan you should know). Our “massive homes” require far more maintenance than the typical European/affluent Asian home, further reducing our time for fun family etc. Our appetite for large housing only reinforces these problems by requiring much greater spacing, which means longer commutes, crappy suburban communities that lack character and livability, and terrible waste of resources.

    So yea, if you want to live in a material utopia that is emotionally and psychologically draining, be my guest. Just don’t take me with you.

    And by the way, your little experiment, if it continues this way, will end in the collapse of this country. Hate to be the one to break this to you, but it is the government and its direction of resources that has funded basically every major revolution to which our economy has been a part: computers, aviation, chemical revolution, green revolution, and on and on. The government always makes the initial investment, either intentionally or not, and private business and our economy reaps the benefits.

    This is a great model and worked beautifully for many decades, giving us a nice middle class but also making many people wealthy. The only problem is the wealthy got a bit too greedy, and in the 60s and 70s decided they wanted more. Ever since then, the average man has seen no gain in his condition. And now the day of reckoning is coming.

    Either we slap the hand of the rich and take back what is rightfully ours – to reinvest into this great country – or we will be faced with an ever-worse educated labor force, an ignorant political class, crumbling infrastructure, and a slow and ugly decline in our standard of living. Oh wait … we’re already in the midst of that.

  39. That’s what Brett likes about her.

  40. That’s right Brett. Because any attempt to narrow the gap between rich and poor, even by a small amount, instantly renders the United States a Marxist dictatorship.
    Even a dog can see shades of gray.

  41. Because it is all “serious”, NORMAL minded people are truly attempting to see the “other’s” concerns and viewpoints.

    So the constant hysterics on their private airwaves (MSM) from the people paying 16% – and MUCH less – is yet another indication of pathological psychosis.

    With all that stolen $$$ – why are they all still headquartered here in the USA? They obviously don’t like “the people” and “the people” don’t like them.

    It’s just going to get real ugly because they can’t stop calling us stupid as they rob us.

  42. Bayard Waterbury

    James, of course those of us who follow you and Simon and your wonderful blog are not surprised in the least, by either the problem or its roots. This gap, as highlighted by a piece on the NewsHour tonight, has been widening consistantly and constantly since the late 1970′s, after having moved generally in the opposite direction during most of the previous 40 years. The most substantial variable, which is only a part of the problem is the taxation policies subsequent to Reagan’s presidency (note that he’s just the earliest agent, and I’m not pointing at Republicans), but there are other substantial problems. Another major problem is our failure to promote policies which encourage sharing of gains in productivity between management, ownership and rank and file employees, especially in manufacturing, despite the purported power of unions.

    Once again, this is obviously been perpetuated to the present and into the future by the growth of money and its influence in the polical sphere. There is nothing being done to change that. If we look closely at laws enacted which could and should have a leveling effect, they are non-existing within that same period. Most are either canted in the wrong direction, like the changes to tax code and rates, but many are just lame, like the health care reform and the financial reform, neither of which is even a tiny bit progessive to our society. The purvasive influence of the wealthiest and the powerful dominant corporate interests, is a complete deterant to constructive change. We have a man as sitting President who said he was a change agent, but has, in fact, been no such thing except, perhaps around a few minor issues. We have a Congress that is substantially, as much as the Administration, bought and paid for by the puppet masters.

    In plain speech, we have the world’s largest, and arguably, most effective plutocracy and there is no change on the horizon, since neither party is willing, and not motivated to change, and has a stranglehold on our short ones.

    This is the new land of opportunity — of none for the average citizen, and unlimited for those at the top and their friends.

  43. Bayard Waterbury

    Ted, dear man, don’t bet against a French style American revolution. It won’t happen tomorrow, but who knows?

  44. Notorious P.A.T.

    You mean, would people rather live in a country where the average income is $36,000 and pretty much everything is paid for out-of-pocket, or live in a country where the average income is $26,000 but health care, college education, vacations, child care, family leave, and sick days are paid for by the government, while poverty is almost nonexistant and crime is low?

    You can label dollar values if you want, but as the OP said, the bottom 40% requires a magnifying glass to be seen on America’s chart and the middle 20% is about to follow.

  45. Notorious P.A.T.

    Brett, you aren’t going to get rich. You aren’t going to inherit a billion dollars from a long-lost aunt, or invent the next Google, or save up enough money to make a killing in the market. The sooner you accept this fact, the better off you will be.

  46. I doubt the Swedish or German or the Canadian poor are worse off than the American poor, probably the opposite, so what do your comparisons prove? The “pie” argument is nonsense. Countries with mechanisms for wealth redistribution (welfare systems, progressive taxation) do not seem to have any disadvantage in creating large pies for their people.

    Some of the comparisons are nonsensical as well. For example you’re comparing average living space across America with average living space in Paris. You can’t compare the living space someone can afford in a small town with cheap land to the living space in a crowded capital like Paris where land value is very high. Compare Paris with New York if you want a comparison that makes sense.

  47. Funny how little wealth distribution gets talked about as a cause of our financial malaise.

  48. Hillbilly Darrell, since unfortunately we can’t all join you in Canada, perhaps you and your family would take a look at http://www.steadystate.org and consider signing their position statement.

    Then you could suggest that all your American and Canadian friends do the same. People from all over the world have already signed.

    We live on a finite planet. Therefore economic systems that rely on constant growth are doomed.

    The Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy will be ready with an intelligent alternative when the global financial system goes belly-up.

  49. After reading all the comments further down, seeing as I’m not the only one to take the bait and that you certainly are a persistent troll (sorry for the pejorative term, but if the shoe fits), I’ll add my two bits Brett.

    The above chart is simply a reflection of the disconnect between reality, the perception of reality and the desired reality of wealth distribution. In my view, what has happened, particularly over the past 30 years, is that the gaps have grown while at the same time the plutocracy has waged a war against the truth and successfully manipulated the opinions of those who are most hurt by this growing gap; somehow convincing those who are hurt most by growing inequality that it is a good thing – that somehow this gap makes it more likely that one day you (or I or him or her) will someday strike it rich when in fact this lottery ticket idea makes the majority less well off while enriching an elite 1%.

    It’s unfortunate that no amount of facts will be able to change your opinion, but all we can do is keep trying: http://theendisalwaysnear.blogspot.com/2010/09/lessons-on-killing-golden-goose.html

  50. The “Conservative” position is what it has always been: The status quo is preferable to the unknown. This results in policies that favor established/traditional structures over experimentation. In the US, our tradition was established by the Colonial charters and later embodied in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Principles favoring private property ownership rights and disfavoring concentration of political power and arbitrary application of laws are among these traditions. Therefore, “conservatives” support private property ownership rights over collective ownership. There is no inherent bias against taxation except to the extent that it infringes on private property rights and the other traditions of the US. There is no inherent bias against big government except to the extent that it results in concentration of political power and arbitrary enforcement of laws. “Conservatives” neither favor nor disfavor taxation.

    It is the “Libertarian” position that favors individual decision making over collective decision making. It is the “Libertarian” position that favors reducing government to its smallest Libertarian” position that ALL people, rich and poor, “should be able to keep and use more of the money that they make”. Libertarians believe absolutely that these policies will lead to more jobs and more money for society as a whole. No one who is honest believes that ANY policy “will lead to more jobs and more money for all (people)”.

    In ANY system, some people will suffer disproportionately and some will benefit disproportionally. There is no system that will benefit ALL people equally. The question should be: Which system 1) has the greatest potential to benefit the MOST people; and 2) in fact benefits the MOST people and society as a whole.

    Systems favoring collective property ownership always satisfy the first factor, but never satisfy the second factor.

    We seem to forget the significance of the name of our economic system: Capitalism. It is called “Capitalism” because the engine of the system is the ownership and control of wealth or “capital”. Therefore the goal of the system is the accumulation, ownership, and control of wealth/capital. Effective deployment of this capital will result in the accumulation and control of more capital, so, unless something intervenes, the “rich get richer”, until they accumulate all of the wealth of society.
    What can intervene to break this cycle? Risk. Putting capital to work means putting it at risk. Risk breaks the cycle and evens the playing field.
    Our recent problems are directly related to the political forces that have reduced or eliminated the risk inherent in putting capital to work. When that risk is eliminated, wealth will be lost and the distribution will be leveled.

    P.S. It is ironic that the proposed cure for the disease (progressive taxation) utilizes the same vehicle (congress) for transmission of the original disease (laws mitigating risk). The political class is the problem. Why do we think we can trust them with the solution?

  51. I think an erroneous argument forwarded by many opposing allowing the Bush II-era tax cuts to expire is that the size of the pie will shrink if taxes (wealth redistribution) ‘increase’ (or relapse, if you prefer). The argument is that the entrepreneur creates wealth, not the government, so increased taxation (seizure of wealth) strips the wealth-generator of the fruits of his or her labor. What this argument fails to grasp is that the manufacturing tycoon that makes 10 million cheap, high quality toasters has no use for more than one, and so cannot swap out this accumulated wealth for negotiable currency without BUYERS WITH DISPOSABLE INCOME. If everybody in the consumer class is just getting by because their income is fully committed to paying mortgage interest, etc., then nobody can buy the stuff the manufacturer has to sell. Paying taxes is a way of preserving a fertile economic environment.

    So aversion to paying higher taxes may be more coupled to what you are selling. If demand for your product is insensitive to the plight of the masses, you frankly won’t see why you should bother to pay more in taxes, as your perceived return is little, if anything.

    Too late those living behind the walls of gated communities may come to realize the short-sightedness of this strategy of greed and neglect.

  52. Just because MSM is not reporting the NEWS it doesn’t mean the revolution has not already started – why else would comics and apologists be given the microphone to try and turn the huge gatherings of the hoi poloi into an Oprah psychobabble session of “let’s be positive and not focus on the uber-rich”?

    Can you REALLY psychobabble away with jokes and PCism the need for JUSTICE?

    Constitutional Convention, Amendment 28 and burn the Patriot Act.

    The professional stance of MSM to 90% of We the People is that NOTHING we do is “news” worth reporting. Indeed.

  53. Risk mitigation laws were created because excessive risk taking does not hurt only those who take the risks. Bank panics were much more frequent when there were no bank regulations and this caused great economic instability. The structural importance of banks in modern economies ensures that they will be protected from the results of their risk taking regardless of political forces, laws and regulations. We can abolish all regulations and pretend that we’ll just let bankers bite the dust the next time they screw up but that just won’t happen. We’ll bail them out again and again when they take on too much risk because if we don’t the economy and consequently the society will suffer. This is probably inherent in capitalism since banks manage it’s most important resource, capital.

    Experience has shown that you can’t always leave everything to the market. If you have to intervene, make sure you do it right. The Swedes seem to understand this better than the Americans.

  54. Yeah, even the Fascist “Henry Ford” got it. Pay them and they pay you.

    It’s taken a lot of careful propaganda to forget it again…

  55. I don’t believe that those on the far right think that they will someday be rich and are protecting their own futures by not wanting the rich to have to pay “too much” in taxes, I think they are afraid that if the rich have to pay “too much”(or any)in taxes that the rich will take their money and leave, taking all of the jobs with them. The far right is afraid of the rich and feel they must appease them in order to keep their middle class dreams alive.

  56. Re: @ Carla___ “as Eisenhower predicted, by the military-industrial complex”…is pure “Old Fashion” unadulterated reverse psychology, period! It was “All Systems Go”, guys, and gals! Why…for God’s sake would he make such an assinine statement without a solution/backstop when it could have been “nipped-n-the-bud” (50-plus years ago) at its “Grass-Roots”? PS. Then our man campaigns big time for “Tricky-Sticky-Dick” such nonsense.

  57. “Own a home” “Own a car”

    Really own them? Or own a massive mortgage they can’t afford?

  58. classic abusive spouse syndrome, no?

    why are you staying with the abuser?

  59. He came here and became nobody in particular. ABBA and Max Martin stayed in Sweden and changed pop music in the 70′s and 90′s and both orders of magnitude richer than this clown. Yngwie probably shouldn’t be using himself as an example.

  60. Doesn’t that tell u sumthing then simon? That maybe we have a system of govt run by people with an agenda that’s not in the best interests of the country? Is that the type of country that the founders wanted? Maybe they were in cahoots with the same bunch of jerks

  61. liberté, egalité, fraternité ou la Morte

  62. Anyone who really wants to better understand the deeper nuances regarding wealth distribution in the US should first fully understand Reagan’s Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981. The Dept. of the Treasury’s ‘Fact Sheet’ has a good primer here: http://www.ustreas.gov/education/fact-sheets/taxes/ustax.shtml

    The current US tax framework is designed to provide investors with the necessary wealth (capital formation)to facilitate, via incentives tied to tax deductions, to maximize gains from global market share. An easy way to understand this is to imagine gold miners staking claims on potentially lucrative sites so as to establish domain with subsidies from distant governments. Global market share is the claim-staking of our times… and the present, and the future, prosperity of the US depends on this because the US is not competitive in terms of labor values etc.

    The competition for global market share is an essential ‘mining’ of the ‘demographic dividend’, which is exploitation taken to an extreme in terms of scope and size. So I am not advocating any of this here… but instead trying to explain that it is important to have all of this in the correct perspective. What this perspective changes regarding wealth distribution in the US is basically everything having to do with how ‘We the People’ move forward. But this is far more than just a conversation about the greed of a small group of individuals. This is about global control as machines devalue labor and people, and this is about ‘who’ has rights to ‘what’ as the limits to the carrying capacity of the planet become strained. Not to suggest that there is some sinister design already in place, I doubt if the totalitarian implications of these machinations have ever so much as been mentioned by the ‘powers that be’… but there is most assuredly a ‘better us than them’ motivator involved here, and so… believing that the plight of the working poor, or even the well-being of the middle-class, in the US, has any chance of gaining any serious consideration that might come at the expense of global market share is naive. Economic efficiency is our one true God so long as nationalism prevails.

    However, as nations like the US become more dependent on MNCs via equity shares, those nations also become more and more vulnerable to international boycotts. The capitalist God does in fact have a ‘very’ exposed weakness… and so, as global communication improves through free and open channels, (like this one), the balance of power is there for consumers to take. It will only require an internationally concerted effort aimed at select corporations and the affiliated stockholders to force things into balance. This will simply be the natural consequence of a nation becoming too dependent on investing as opposed to producing its fair share(negative external costs and human exploitation considered, of course). It will be an interesting time and it is not long from now.

    Ray L. Love

  63. The size of the pie shrinks sometime after infrastructure investments fall below a critical replacement rate.

    Overall wealth increase is a result of healthy infrastructure growth.Sustainable growth,as poorly measured by GDP, follows investments in infrastructure: physical infrastructure (plant and equipment, roads bridges, etc.)and intellectual infrastructure that comes from education, training and work experience.

    Infrastructure left alone deteriorates, so the rate of investment must at least equal the rate of deterioration and the desired rate of (future) growth. The Industrial Revolution took off in part because resources could be pooled (banks, corporations, bonds, the British National Debt, etc.) to build large scale infrastructures from which trade and production flourished.

    The Greatest Generation built infrastructure, but as they aged and control passed to younger minds, we began to cannibalize infrastructure to satisfy immediate consumption needs…. that tradeoff didn’t show up as a GDP problem right away. One example…exporting skilled jobs, knowhow and equipment to the Far East in exchange for cheap consumables, bought in part with loans from the Far East.

    Now we lack infrastructure and are unable to continuing enough borrowing to support consumer spending and keep up pretenses.

    By the time the upper 20% realize what’s happening, the middle class will be a memory and they’ll be vulnerable…. except for the upper 1 in 10,000 who can similarly exploit the other 19.99%.

  64. James asserts that tax policy is the source of wealth inequality. Really? Not individual earning capability or lack thereof? Not personal savings rates or investment decisions? No doubt higher marginal rates would knock the rich down. Would that make everyone else wealthier? James assumes a great deal.

  65. I must do more research on Sweden, and admit that my experience and knowledge thus far on that nations economy and politics is lacking. What I do know from experience, is that most Swedes are much better educated than most Americans. They speak Swedish, and French, or Italian, or Spanish, or at least one other language outside of English. Most Amerikans don’t speak English well, and have absolutely ZERO understanding of any other language outside of menu options. That alone should tell every American something.

    The other critical issue to examine is that Amerikans hold to the quaint notions, dreams, and hopes of an America that no longer exists. The socalled American dream is dead and rotting. Upward mobility is impossible under the current matrix. Rock and Movie stars, Wall Street fiends, and Drug Dealers comprise the only hope in hell there is for any American to move above their current economic strata.

    We inhabit a fascist state. The predatorclass, the superrich, 1% of the population are the only segment of society that enjoys any hope upward mobility, representation in the government, or stability. The rest of the American population (99%) must hazard and endure a future of less – much less rewards, freedoms, rights, protections, and hope.

    And therein lies the problem. We can talk about these things on blogs, and listen to various parrots spout this or that theory on TV, – but the hard reality is that America is a dying empire, and the people will suffer hardest, first, and most from this upheaval and bastardization of America.

    The predatorclass owns and controls Amerika and these fiends and sociopathic den of vipers and thieves hold absolutely ZERO concern for America, or their fellow Americans. Other nations are not so keen to toss their people into the trash heap for the wanton profit of thefew, the oligarchs, the predatorclass.

    We can learn from these societies, or not. If we do, then all of us must recognize that the strength and engine of America and the global economy is an industrious prosperous middleclass. If we don’t – then woe to us, for our craven socalled leadership will continue funnelling the peoples wealth and resources, and cloaking, pandering and bowing to, and advancing the predatorclass, the richest 1% of the nation, and the rest of population will be left to squalor and hardship.

    This is NOT America.

    If we do not institutionally, and structurally provide for those less fortunate in our society – then what are we as a nation and a people?

    All the wingnut parrots bruting the babyjesus on TV speak with forked tongues, and have no ears, no eyes, and no hear, and are ignorant of the masters teaching. It is our obligation, our duty as good citizens to help the needy.

    Now wingnut teaparty freaks will talk whine and cry like screeching harpies about deficits, and biggovernment on one side of their forked tongues, – but the same pack of hopgobblins demand that a monstrous huge porcine government fund warsofchoice against unknown unknown, and unseen evildoers, and support funneling trillions of the peoples taxdollars to BAILOUT the predatorclass den of vipers and thieves on Wall Street.

    Real Americans must ask the simple question – are we willing to tolerate fascist Amerika – or do we as a nation and a people hold to the principles and ideals that defined and shaped this nation?

    There has never been a greater divide between thehaves and thehavenots in the history of America. We cannot tolerate this dynamic and continue to pimp ourselves as America. Extreme concentration of wealth and power is anathema and contrapuntal to every law and principle this nation was founded upon. That thing they call the Constitution is structurally opposed to this very kind of fascism. So – we either live by our own guiding principles, the rule of law, and our own unique experiment in democracy, or we don’t. If we do – then the predatorclass must be put back in keep and give back a significant portion of the wealth and power they have absconded and commandeered. If we don’t – then buckleup Amerika, because many of us will not tolerate the robbing, pillaging, and commandeering of our once more perfect union peacefully.

    In a world where there are no laws – there are no laws for anyone predatorclass biiiiiaaatches!

  66. Brett,

    It is actually quite easy to take the size of the pie into account.

    Forget all of Hillbilly Darrell’s niceties.

    Simply take US and Swedish GDPs, multiply by the fractions for each quintile, and divide by the number of people in each quintile. This gets you per capita income for each quintile.

    I did this, with numbers from Wikipedia and the paper James links to. Here are the results, in PPP dollars:

    Income Per Capita, for each quintile:

    2nd quintile Sweden $38,326 US $25,509
    3rd quintile Sweden $32,851 US $9,276
    4th quintile Sweden $27,376 US $464
    5th quintile Sweden $20,076 US $232
    TOP quintile Sweden $65,703 US $185,924

    In other words, %80 of Americans are way worse off than the corresponding Swedes — after taking the size of the pie into account.

  67. According to Dan Ariely’s blog, the ideal distributions are not those that Americans said they wanted, but those that they said they would choose under a Rawls-style veil of ignorance. See here: http://danariely.com/2010/09/30/wealth-inequality/.

    From this point of view the interesting thing is how unequal the ideal distribution is, even under Rawls’s initial conditions!

  68. Re: @ tigger___”from the frying pan into the fire” – caveat emptor. Oh Canada…where are you now when we need you? Ref: http://www.recoverypartners.biz/blog/

  69. I’d suggest all of you read the paper the figure was drawn from if you haven’t already. It isn’t about social systems, about individuals versus society, about right and left. It’s about one thing only: income distribution.

    As James mentioned, it’s very well done. The desire for many posters to an ideological suit on the numbers is entertaining, but beside the point of the paper. The conclusion is a simple one: people at all income levels have a very skewed vision of what the real distribution of wealth is and a rather egalitarian idea of what it should be.

  70. Couldn’t disagree more. Participants at almost all income levels were willing to grant the lowest 20% at least 10% of the wealth! That’s so far from what the actual distribution is that the report might as well be for another planet. The 40% at the lowest end of the scale don’t even show up in the actual distribution of wealth as things stand now.

  71. But Rawls’s initial conditions are from another planet. In the UK, people are always harping on about helping the worst off in society. Rawls concludes in A Theory of Justice that (from Wikipedia):

    “Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that (Rawls, 1971, p.303):
    a) they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society (the difference principle).
    b) offices and positions must be open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.”

    But actually, when asked what distribution they would choose under Rawls’s intial conditions, Americans do not choose the maximal good of the least advantaged; they leave plenty of wealth on the table for the rich. Perhaps this is down to some other notion of fairness than the one Rawls considers.

    I suppose Rawls (an idealised TOJ Rawls, anyway) would say that they haven’t really thought about the unfairness of the distribution of talents, but it might just be that they disagree with him about what is fair. That is what I find interesting.

  72. Adam smith's shade on society

    I live in Sweden, and I think that USA is prime example on how a business elite is dictating policies and setting the agenda for political discussion in stark contrast to the actual demos opinons. Taxes are constantly diverted from public “disinterest” sectors towards self interest based sectors in society.

    Internal policy as well as international politics is very deliberately steered towards war aims and security to keep the public paranoia constant ringing and the average citizens away from meddling or having any insight or impact on policies, but the main reason is to divert public funding towards the military-high tech complex that the economy relies on

    Upholding costly wars,and prioritizing history’s largest “defence” military budget is in essence one important imperative to divert taxpayers money into the business-state profit pools.

    Of course this is evident in income distribution.

  73. “The predatorclass owns and controls Amerika and these fiends and sociopathic den of vipers and thieves hold absolutely ZERO concern for America, or their fellow Americans.”

    This is the story since early 1900s – psychos and sociopaths always launch the pre-emptive strike. Their targeted eugenics is against NORMAL and DECENT people and OUR VALUES – MERITOCRACY through honest intelligent life-sustaining “labor” – not lying, stealing and murdering!

    The TRUTH is that no one has power over YOUR free will unless you gave it to them.

    Maybe things will change when the brown-nosers delve into the psycho-logical “feeling” people like MadeOff had towards them when they were begging him to steal their money….”powerful” people deep down inside HATE the suck-ups, but find them useful and disposable.

    With 7 billion people on Spaceship Earth, a 1% predatorclass depending on keeping sadism alive and well through a steady supply of masochists that RELIGION cultivates for them

    is about to “change” based on physics – the principles of exponentiality – after all, it’s a nanosecond world, right?

    Constitutional Convention, Amendment 28, burn the Patriot Act….too simple? Give ME ME ME your “power”, Tony…

    :-))

    Taking on the psychos and “containing” them in the correct kind of “institution” is serious business, not blogging yaddayadda fodder. There are many peaceful ways to do it, many different kinds of “force” to apply – the first one that comes to mind is taken from a page in their hell-on-earth playbook – MIND GAMES.

    Psychos don’t experience “fear” – but their heads start spinning 360 on their pencil necks when you take a shot at their BELIEFS – the delusions of grandeur about what “power” they have.

    No one has “power” over your free will that you did not give to them to have over you…

    Bottom line is “government” IS by the people in the first place and we have a Constitution that was prophetic – it knew the psychos always claw their way in to “rule” – that’s why the USA LAW is that when the “government” is all about hurting the NORMALS, en masse, from BOTH ends of the spectrum, it’s time to hit the delete key and start again.

    Meritocracy vs. kleptocracy…

  74. Great link!

    From the link, I was interested in this concerning the Tax Reform Act of 1986:

    >The number of tax brackets was reduced and the personal exemption and standard deduction amounts were increased and indexed for inflation, thereby relieving millions of taxpayers of any Federal income tax burden.

    I guess conservatives can curse Reagan for putting the tax burden only on the shoulders of the wealthy and middle-class.

  75. If we take tax cuts to its extreme it means no taxation. I am trying to imagine what a society would be like if there was — no taxation — and it is not a nice picture. For example, if funding for law enforcement was privatized, the institution would be accountable to private interests and not the public interest. The same for national defense.

  76. Blunt Instrument

    I am not suggesting that a perfect free market is the solution to the problem. The problem is that the de facto application of the laws mitigated risks to the shareholders and the management in addition to the risks to the economy as a whole. Therefore, it actually encouraged excessive risk taking by the banks.

    The Swedes do understand this better than we do. Their solution punished shareholders and management. Actually, the Swedish model is more “free market” than the American model, as it more correctly allocates risk to the risk taker, instead of to society as a whole. We can protect the banking system without protecting the people who make decisions that lead to failure.
    Our system of incentives for both government and for business needs to be better aligned with what will benefit society, instead of what benefits the members of congress and business.

  77. The “What Americans think” part reminds me of a similar question asked of Americans regarding what percentage of the US budget should go to foreign aid. The estimated was way off — much high than the actual. This happens over and over. It almost seems like a Jay Leno bit to even ask what Americans (myself included!) about percentages like this.

  78. Sweden’s nice in the summer. I lived near the arctic circle and it would hit 90F in August sometimes, and highs up there were often in the 80s – sometimes higher than, say, Stockholm, which is milder, especially in winter.

    It was really nice living in a country with less inequality. People insisted, though, that there was no “bad” part of our town (of around 30k residents) but once you lived there you found out which wore the “worse” areas, though still fairly nice by American standards

  79. It was expected but not that much. That is not good at all for the health of the society as Crime and unhappiness stalk unequal societies and it leads to instability. Really I don’t understand the policies.

  80. Fred in Cinci

    This item from Slate, titled Introducing the Great Divergence By Timothy Noah, goes back to 1940. http://www.slate.com/id/2266025/entry/2266026

  81. the Greed is Good mindset has been firmly planted by the Masters who run America for so many years, primarily by Republicans. Clinton too subscribed to the farce as well.

    the number of Zombies who want to believe in this Free lunch nonsense is huge. Mostly Republicans and Party Democrats officials still trot out this dinosaur of thinking.

    the PR Goebbels campaign called Supply side Economics has done it deed on the country we knew as America. now Fascist rule, quite effectively with the Media as reinforcers.

    i only wish i could leave America. i know there is no hope for anyone who isn’t in the upper 2% or so/elites. so much for hope change and all that American “Dream” nonsense.

    Emigrating holds more promise than remaining to watch the destruction of the America i inherited from my parents.

    Greed is good… for the top 2%. otherwise it sucks.

  82. The secret to women having such a good lifestyle is that Sweden is essentially a matriarchal society. Women dominate the Riksdag and local governments. They have absolutely equal rights in marriage and divorce. Their male partners must take time off to take care of newborns so that the women can go back to work. In fact, marriage is fast falling out of favor except as a sentimental act performed usually later in life. Women have what they need because they demanded what they want. But again, the society is matriarchal and may have been so for millennia.

    However, even with that being the case, women earn less than men for comparable labor. And young women are permitted — but it ends up, required — to partake of alcohol as much as young men, which results in genderless drunken caterwauling most weekend nights. It’s still a mixed picture, but there’s no doubt that Swedish women like all Swedes have it enormously better than their counterparts in the USA.

  83. I think it’s rather remarkable that a nation of nine million has Europe’s strongest economy and remains autonomous among more powerful neighbors to the south and east. Little debt and full employment.

    The suicide rates BS is an old canard.

    As for the right-wing Sweden Democrats, they’re more an embarrassment than a real political party. They represent about four percent of the population, maybe 360,000 voters. (There are also 400 Hells Angels.) There are simultaneously 500,000 well-integrated Muslims and another 500,000 immigrants from elsewhere, with relatively little social discord.

    You’re just jealous. It’s okay. You have a lot to be jealous about.

  84. That was the sloppiest recitation of statistics I’ve yet read. All those numbers are part of ranges, not absolutes. You are a deceiver, Brett. Conversation with me, closed.

  85. The ghetto Rosengård in Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city (300,000), despite immigrants making up 35% of its population, is two blocks by two blocks. What made other parts of Malmö “worse” was bus service that was insufficiently frequent. There were no drunks and there were no beggars and even the insane are provided with safe havens at night. Meanwhile, the city is wholly sustainable and proceeding with its next phase of CO2 reduction, to zero within the century. Nowhere is perfect, but Malmö comes close.

  86. They also own the world’s largest military, so if you’re proposing for others to man the barricades, you really must have a solution for their ultimate safety and protection. Otherwise, you’re ranting, encouraging other to lay it on the line, dangerously akin to Saint Beck.

  87. It’s called false consciousness by the left. FC means identifying with people who do not identify with you. Hedging your awful objective conditions by projecting for oneself into the majority milieu, which is a lot like taking opium. “Looks good from up here,” you say, while your feet stay planted firmly on the ground.

  88. It is impossible to tell without further digging, but are people willing to live with Swedish tax rates? Everyone having equal wealth is lovely ASSUMING EVERYONE WORKS AS HARD, BECOMES EDUCATED AND CONTRIBUTES EQUALLY.

    I suspect people would not want policies that punish success and hard work and reward sloth and failure. Also I suspect people would not want policies that reduce wealth overall. These would all be the natural consequence of a regime where everyone shared equally.

  89. So true!
    The right wing Sweden Democrats are an embarrassment!
    / Swedish Opinion