11月26日思‧英文討論會: Wealth Inequality

思,英語討論會是我們工作室固定的聚會。這個討論會的特色之一是,我們所討論的主題比較不是大家會討論的題目。另一個特色之一是,我們的討論模式有一定的架構。這個架構幫助參與討論的人組織他們的思惟、表達他們的想法與意見,或者練習以比較從容的態度提問或回答問題,同時還能協助參與討論的人以不犀利的方式討論比較困難的題目。接下來幾次聚會的討論文章會張貼在部落格裡,我們希望大家知道我們究竟在討論些什麼,我們也希望大家知道我們如何進行討論。思,英語討論會從11/12星期五晚上七時三十分開始,一連十二週。很歡迎大家來嘗試一次討論會,或是一次就報名十二週

Questions to Ponder:
1. What percent of the total country’s wealth do you think the richest 20% of the population hold?
2. What percent of the wealth *should* they hold?
3. How do you feel about taxes?
4. What percent of taxes is too much? Too little?
5. How do you feel about government services like jien bao or the CDC?
6. What might be some hidden costs to not providing services? (e.g. high crime levels = need to spend income on security)
7. What might be some hidden costs to having high taxes?

Discussion Question: Would you rather live in Country A or Country B? (Or would you prefer a different arrangement?)

Country A has very high taxes and services for everything a citizen needs, including free education, free healthcare, help with paying living costs for students and elderly, free job training, roads and physical infrastructure, communications infrastructure all paid for and cared for, all the basic necessities of modern life are provided by the government.

Country B has very low taxes, especially for rich people, and nearly no services, except for roads and infrastructure, border control and military defence. Everything else is provided by private companies, if you want it you pay for it out of your own pocket. If you don't want it, you don't have to pay for it.


Choose a position:
Position A) Country A
Position B) Country B
Position C) Country C (Describe the kinds of taxes levelled and services provided in Country C.)

Excerpt 1: http://echidneofthesnakes.blogspot.com/2010_10_10_archive.html#4574709252604085756
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Americans generally underestimate the degree of income inequality in the United States, and if given a choice, they would distribute wealth in a similar way to the social democracies of Scandinavia, a new study finds.
For decades, polls have shown that a plurality of Americans -- around 40 percent -- consider themselves conservative, while only around 20 percent self-identify as liberals. But a new study from two noted economists casts doubt on what values lie beneath those political labels.
According to research (PDF) carried out by Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University, and flagged by Paul Kedrosky at the Infectious Greed blog, 92 percent of Americans would choose to live in a society with far less income disparity than the US, choosing Sweden's model over that of the US.
What's more, the study's authors say that this applies to people of all income levels and all political leanings: The poor and the rich, Democrats and Republicans are all equally likely to choose the Swedish model.
Recent analyses have shown that income inequality in the US has grown steadily for the past three decades and reached its highest level on record, exceeding even the large disparities seen in the 1920s, before the Great Depression. Norton and Ariely estimate that the one percent wealthiest Americans hold nearly 50 percent of the country's wealth, while the richest 20 percent hold 84 percent of the wealth.
But in their study, the authors found Americans generally underestimate the income disparity. When asked to estimate, respondents on average estimated that the top 20 percent have 59 percent of the wealth (as opposed to the real number, 84 percent). And when asked to choose how much the top 20 percent should have, on average respondents said 32 percent -- a number similar to the wealth distribution seen in Sweden.
"What is most striking" about the results, argue the authors, is that they show "more consensus than disagreement among ... different demographic groups. All groups – even the wealthiest respondents – desired a more equal distribution of wealth than what they estimated the current United States level to be, while all groups also desired some inequality – even the poorest respondents."
And one graph from the study:

The study also offers the information in this graph by by the respondents' income levels, by their voting habits and by gender. It turns out that men prefer a slightly more unequal wealth distribution than women but the differences are slight. And nobody prefers as much wealth inequality as the US currently has!
This is all quite astonishing. What's probably most astonishing is that nobody much seems to have cared to remove the ignorance these findings suggest.
Americans' ignorance about wealth (and, probably, income) distribution is encouraging in the sense that it offers hope that most voters might opt for government policies more conducive to equality if only they knew how unequal things were. But it's dismaying in the sense that people who occupy a position of relative privilege seem to go out of their way to avoid acknowledging it. A recent example is M. Todd Henderson, a law professor at the University of Chicago whose annual household income exceeds $250,000, putting him comfortably ahead of 98 percent of his fellow Americans. Henderson was foolish enough to write a blog post venturing that even though he and his wife earn more than $250,000, his Hyde Park neighbor Barack Obama shouldn't raise his taxes because "we can't afford it" after paying the mortgage, the kids' private school tuition, the nanny, etc. You can imagine the response he got.
I would have thought all this would be an obvious weapon for the Democrats to use when defending the Health Care Reform, for example, or the minimum wage or umpteen other possible political acts. But no.

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