In a world of plenty, where's your "fair share?"

One thing we are definitely down with where the 99% are concerned is the problem of wealth and who has it.   We can easily sympathize with those who think they have too little and others have too much, because that’s exactly how we feel.  There may be some minor disagreement about where exactly to draw that line, but in principal, we’re right on board with the whole redistribution thing.

But as Samuel Johnson famously noted, “The great differences among mankind are about means, not ends.”  How exactly to effect this redistribution is a hot topic, much bruited about, we assume, by earnest debaters inside the various “Occupy” camps.  But before we get into the relative merits of confiscatory taxation versus “snatch and grab,” let’s take a look at the data.

First of all, who actually has what?  Well — from

Ouch!  Looks like the 1% have almost half the money.   5% have almost three quarters of the money.   And 80% have 7% of the money.   Of course, we’re not sure how reliable these figures are, but how far off can they be?   Well, for starters, these figures are based on “financial” net worths — that is, they do not take into account homes, art collections, jewelry or Porsches.  But if most of the actually wealth of the “middle class” is tied up in their home equity, these figures would not reflect that, and we might suspect that’s an important omission.

Equally fascinating are perceptions of wealth distribution.  We wouldn’t — and didn’t — mind it so much that the wealthy are wealthy if they weren’t rubbing our faces in it.  In times past, people felt more of a duty to keep their consumption reasonably modest, but today, bling’s the thing, and we can’t turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper without a snowstorm of stories about deep-pocketed dimwits blowing loot around as though hundred dollar bills were just so many autumn leaves.   The Kardashians are not helping, but we expect them to be hopelessly crass.  What’s hard to take are images of purportedly sober, solid citizens spending a plumber’s annual income on an office sauna, or paying $8.00 per quarter pound for custom-cooked pet food.

Our friends up at Harvard decided to conduct a survey among Harvard alumni (who must have some notion about who’s got what, since they ought to have a fair portion of it) about how they thought wealth was spread out among the population, versus how they thought it should be shared, and were somewhat nonplussed by the results.   Far from having an exaggerated notion of how superfluously rich the rich are, people don’t actually seem to know just how bad it really is:


As you can see, they thought (left bar) that the money ought to be much more evenly spread out.  The folks at the top still have the most, but not nearly as much as what the Harvards thought people actually had (middle bar).  But in fact, the distribution was much more extreme than they had thought (right bar), with the folks at the bottom getting nothing at all, and the folks on the top getting bar far the most.

So things are not only pretty bad, but a lot worse than people think, at least where Harvard alums are concerned.

So, what to do?  Well, maybe it would be better if everybody in the US had the same amount of wealth.  How to do this we leave till later — but if we took the total wealth of the citizens of the United States — total assets less liabilities — and divided them equally among all American citizens, man, woman and child — how much would everybody get?

Well, according to the US Federal reserve, the average, or median net worth per capita in the United States is precisely $187,500.  They get that number by taking the total wealth of the nation and dividing by the population (311 million, roughly), and this is at least math that we can follow.

Extrapolating this into household net worths, and using an average of two adults and 2.5 children per family, the average US household would have a net worth of about $843,750.  Well, that’s better, isn’t it?  Of couse, if we could just reach out and magically redistribute the wealth that way, there might be some stocky points:

1.  Why should families with six children get more than a family with no children?

2.  Who would get the really nice houses?

The answer to the first is problematic at best, but the second is easy.  Since there would suddenly be a rather large number of really nice houses that no one could afford to live in any more — too much overhead, not enough servants (who’s going to clean toilets when they have $187,500?) — we would have to distribute them based on merit.  And since the people creating the greatest good for the greatest number of people are by definition public servants, we guess that our elected officials and a fair sampling of appointed officials as well would get the lion’s share of the Park Avenue apartments and the Beverly Hills mansions.  As for the vacation homes, the same principle would operate.  We could call them “daschas.”

But the problem with all this “distributing” is that it would require pretty much constant adjustment.  If the history of lottery winners is any guide, people just can’t seem to hang onto money past a certain point, and the folks who are good at grabbing it tend overall to have an edge over those that are better at spending it.  Fortunately, there is a better and obvious solution to all of this.

Maybe it’s not so obvious, since no one seems to be onto it but us, but one simple graphic will explain it.   Frankly, we’re surprised no one has caught onto this yet:

This is a world map with national average household income distribution illustrated by color.  The red countries have by far the most.  The light blue copuntries have very, very little.  The white countries starved to death ages ago.  There’s nobody there (note Mongolia and Greenland) so let’s not worry about them.

Look at the red countries.  Anything?  Not yet?

Well, they all speak English!

Okay, there are a few where a lot of them don’t, but they’re all in Europe or Scandinavia, where the rich people all speak English anyway.  (They went to private schools.)

So what we need to do is to teach everybody English.  Clearly, 80% of this country doesn’t really speak English, and one could argue that most of Australia doesn’t, and then there’s the Quebecois, but you just can’t argue with a great graphic.  If 5% of this country controls 75% of the wealth, they must all be English majors (another clear argument for a good liberal arts education), and those that weren’t probably majored in math or computer science, subjects that actually lead to gainful employment in most cases.

We’re glad we had an opportunity to clear this up, and hope that the country and the 99% can now get onto more useful topics for debate — like whether or not bankers should be fitted with shock collars, or how to find Rick Perry’s missing 18 minutes of tape.

nemo wishes everyone a great weekend, and looks forward on Monday to talking about something even more interesting:  how did all those rich people actually get so rich?