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How Americans spread the wealth

Amid raucous political debate over tax cuts for the rich and who owns most of America's wealth, university researchers have found at least one reason why we suffer such bruising public policy stalemates in this country.

Wealth chart

Demographic variations on the ideal

How would different groups spread the wealth in an ideal America? Here are their responses broken down by income, politics and gender.

Pick your pie chart: Where would you live?

In a national survey, respondents were given three pie charts showing wealth distribution among five segments of the population. Then they were asked: "Which nation would you rather join -- if you were randomly assigned and could end up anywhere in this distribution, from the very richest to the very poorest?"

One unlabeled pie chart depicted a perfectly equal distribution of wealth. A second pie chart identified the wealth distribution in the United States. In between these extremes, a third unlabeled pie chart reflected the income distribution of Sweden.

The United States distribution was far less desirable than both the (unlabeled) Sweden distribution and the equal distribution. About 92 percent of Americans preferred the Sweden distribution to America in a head-to-head comparison when Pie C was excluded.

Here are the results:
A, which was preferred by 10 percent of Americans, is the United States.
B, which was preferred by 47 percent of Americans, is Sweden.
C, which was preferred by 43 percent of Americans, isn't a real place.

Source: Building a Better America survey, Norton and Ariely
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