Posts Tagged ‘rich’


As the New York Times explains,

not every neighborhood in Manhattan has a million-dollar entry fee. The median price — what 50 percent of people paid less than — was just $910,000 over the last 12 months, and there are still places where the average residence sells for less than half a million. There are also some areas where prices declined.

But the “lower” end of the Manhattan market is shrinking. The proportion of the market that sells for less than $500,000 (again, after adjusting 2009 prices for inflation) dropped about 3 percent during the recovery.

Still, the sales of eight and nine-figure apartments are”yet another indicator that the richest of the rich have had the best recession recovery.”

 George Grosz, "Bürgerliche Welt/ World of the Bourgeoisie" (1922)

George Grosz, “Bürgerliche Welt/ World of the Bourgeoisie” (1922)

Back in 2011, I suggested we move from focusing on the pathologies of the poor to those of the rich. And that’s exactly what psychologists seem now to be doing. We’ve seen studies of “social class as culture,” “sharing the marbles,” and much more.*

The latest is Rael J. Dawtry, Robbie M. Sutton, and Chris G. Sibley on “social sampling—that is, the idea that wealthier people may be less supportive of redistribution than poorer people because they infer society is wealthier than it actually is because they are surrounded by other wealthy people. And that’s exactly what the authors found:

wealthier (relative to poorer) Americans reported moving in wealthier social circles and extrapolated from them when estimating wealth levels across America as a whole. . . In turn, these estimates were associated with the perceived fairness of wealth distribution in America and with opposition to redistribution, a finding that is consistent with theory on normative-justice judgments.

These results suggest that the rich and poor do not simply have different views about how wealth should be distributed across society; rather, they subjectively experience living in societies that have subtle—but important—differences. Thus, in the relatively affluent America inhabited by wealthier Americans, there is less need to distribute wealth more equally.

Dawtry, Sutton, and Sibley are certainly on to something: we often arrive at social judgments based on anecdotal evidence—things we have either heard or seen—and many of our anecdotes are produced or disseminated within our particular social circles. Those circles are our “sample.”

But that’s not enough. Because we also have other knowledges of the world around us—knowledges that come from the news, novels, music, religious sermons, political speeches, and so on. We’re not just limited to what is said and repeated within our narrow social circles.

So, sure, wealthy people might think the rest of society looks like the worlds in which they live and work. But they also know, through other means, that it isn’t really like that. There are many more people earning far lower incomes than they might come across on a daily basis. Grotesque inequalities exist and they’re getting more and more extreme.

If the rich don’t know about those inequalities, given the other knowledges that are widely available, then they are engaged in practices of willful ignorance.

And that’s another pathology we need to take into account.

*Readers will note I find myself always turning to George Grosz to illustrate my discussions of these studies. There must be some other artists I can use. Any suggestions?


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A new New York Times/CBS poll [pdf] confirms what every other recent poll I’ve seen has shown:

  • Americans overwhelmingly believe current economic arrangements in the United States are fundamentally unfair (because “just a few people at the top have a chance to get ahead,” the distribution of money and wealth “should be more even,” and the gap between the rich and poor is “getting larger”) and
  • something should be done about it (since the gap between rich and poor needs to be “addressed now”,” the government should do more to “reduce gap,” and they “favor” raising taxes on people earning more than $1 million a year).


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