An interesting experiment recently showed that we have a two step inequality problem. First, many underestimate the extent and growth of inequality in the US over the past few decades. Showing them information and charts about these trends and where their hypothetical incomes would fall in a world with less inequality helps raise awareness and concern. However, there is a second problem – raising concern about inequality is offset by a different concern, that the government isn’t up to the task of dealing with problems.
Our research suggests that merely talking more about inequality is unlikely to change Americans’ policy preferences. Americans are already aware of inequality and are troubled by it. Proponents of greater redistribution can probably save their breath pointing out that inequality is a problem. Instead, they face what seems to be a much more difficult task: convincing them that their government is up to the task of addressing it.