I think one of the first new expressions I heard on my first trip to Newcastle-upon-Tyne went something like, “O aye, he’s a stirrer that one is.” So this sober post has a bit of mischief-making behind it.
According to the abstrat below, many Americans are unaware of how great income inequality in American is. And even conservatives want something better than what we have got. The authors say that they wanted to insert the desires of ordinary Americans into debates about optimal income distribution. But they must realize that the relationship between what people say they want in judging income distribution and what they will vote for are hardly securely connected.
Anyone who has worked on implicit biases knows that people who are, e.g., trying very hard to be fair to all their students may nonetheless produce biased grades. And that’s just one example. Desire and action can fall apart. One thing in the political sphere that has interrupted the connection between desire and actual voting behavior in the case of income distribution is the persuasive leadership of conservative factions. Or, ironically, the desire leads to votes for candidates who think the government’s doing nothing is the best state of affairs. Let trickle down work; do not indulge the “laziness” of the welfare recipients, and so on. (Note: this views are being reported, but are not endorsed!)**
In the political sphere one hope is that we get a leadership who can make vivid the effects of doing nothing, and actually help to change behavior. We may not have such a leader, as we once thought we did. But in any case, that raises the question of whether leadership in academia could be more effective. So far the APA has hardly been a help. Perhaps we should try to energize deans or department chairs.
Should we try a petition and a set of action guidelines to be sent around to chairs? What sort of petition might stir things up? What sort of guidelines could there be? Should the guidelines come monthly, with perhaps different areas for different months?
Building a Better America—One Wealth Quintile at a Time, by Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely2.
Disagreements about the optimal level of wealth inequality underlie policy debates ranging from taxation to welfare. We attempt to insert the desires of “regular” Americans into these debates, by asking a nationally representative online panel to estimate the current distribution of wealth in the United States and to “build a better America” by constructing distributions with their ideal level of inequality. First, respondents dramatically underestimated the current level of wealth inequality. Second, respondents constructed ideal wealth distributions that were far more equitable than even their erroneously low estimates of the actual distribution. Most important from a policy perspective, we observed a surprising level of consensus: All demographic groups—even those not usually associated with wealth redistribution such as Republicans and the wealthy—desired a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo.
**This may be a chaitable interpretation. That is, one might be willing to say on a poll that one would prefer a more just society where there’s less violence, for example. At the same time, one might want one’s privileged life most of all, so the disconnect between desire for equality and voting behavior looks more like plain selfishness.