WUOMFM

wealth

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Stop me if you've heard this one: Inequality is on the rise in the U.S. 

Most Americans know this. The rich are getting richer. The poor are just kind of stuck. Figuring out what to do about it is the problem. One idea lots of people seem to like is to just force rich people to pay higher taxes. A Gallup poll released earlier this year found that 52% of Americans now believe the government should redistribute wealth by heavily taxing the rich. 

Even some politicians have come around on the idea. Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have talked on the campaign trail about their desires to raise taxes on the rich.

But that doesn't mean it'll happen. Historically, democratic societies have rarely imposed massive taxes on the rich. And when they did, it was almost always in the middle of a mass war. 

user Santa Catalina School / flickr

I am no stranger to uniforms. I went to Catholic school for 12 years, so from kindergarten through my senior year of high school I had to wear some iteration of white button-down shirt with plaid skirt, jumper or pants. And you know what? I actually liked it. It was so easy to get ready in the morning; no thought went into what I was wearing or whether I looked cool. So from a vanity standpoint and, let's face it, a laziness standpoint, the utilitarian function of the school uniform was a plus.

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In the early 1800s, the newly formed state of Georgia had a lot of new land under its control. The land had been taken mostly from the native Muskogee and Cherokee people, and leaders of the young American state were looking for ways to transfer the land to white settlers. What they ultimately decided on was a series of lotteries. 

The forced transfer of property from native people to white settlers was common in America during the 19th century, but the lottery system was not. It meant that basically any white male adult in Georgia, rich or poor, had the same shot at winning a valuable piece of land. And, while the system itself was unjust and just plain wrong on multiple levels, it also set up an ideal research experiment.

If you're a social scientist looking back, what you see in Georgia in the early 1800s isn't just a lottery, it's a randomized controlled trial. And it allows economists to ask a question that's still relevant today: What happens to a family when it suddenly comes into wealth? 

The wealth gap was bad before the recession, but now it's even worse. A new study by the Urban Institute shows that, on average, non-Hispanic white families "were about four times as wealthy as nonwhite families, according to the Urban Institute’s analysis of Federal Reserve data. By 2010, whites were about six times as wealthy." Experts say the continued and growing wealth gap will make it that much harder for future generations of American minorities to advance and prosper. A disturbing thought when you consider the country is moving closer and closer to a majority minority.

This video blew my mind. A few friends posted the video on Facebook, and I finally got around to watching it this morning. It's a quick six-minute piece about wealth distribution in the U.S. - what people think the wealth distribution looks like, what people wish wealth distribution looked like, and the reality of what wealth distribution looks like in this country. The disparity between reality and what folks perceive to be the ideal is staggering. I want you to watch the video with this question in mind: How sustainable is this system of wealth distribution?