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Technology & Innovation

How the 1% Brainwashed the 99%

Most Americans not only misperceive currently levels of income inequality, says Joseph Stiglitz, they underestimate the tectonic changes that have occurred in the last ten years.   

What’s the Latest Development?

In Joseph Stiglitz’s new book, “The Price of Inequality,” the Nobel economist argues that new social science research has given power elites a greater understanding of how ideas affect society and that they have used that knowledge to cover up the gross wealth inequality now plaguing the country. “Fairness, like beauty, is at least partly in the eyes of the beholder, and those at the top want to be sure that the inequality in the United States today is framed in ways that make it seem fair, or at least acceptable. If it is perceived to be unfair, not only may that hurt productivity in the workplace but it might lead to legislation that would attempt to temper it.”

What’s the Big Idea?

While the national political conversation is focused squarely on economics, much of what passes for a debate of ideas is merely the recitation of propaganda, says Stiglitz. As a result, the public remains misinformed. “In a recent study, respondents on average thought that the top fifth of the population had just short of 60 percent of the wealth, when in truth that group holds approximately 85 percent of the wealth. … Only 42 percent of Americans believe that inequality has increased in the past ten years, when in fact the increase has been tectonic. Misperceptions are evident, too, in views about social mobility. Several studies have confirmed that perceptions of social mobility are overly optimistic.”

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