In recent years, a small cohort of scholars has begun to study the policy views of the country’s most affluent voters, and the results are especially illuminating on the subject of inequality. In a 2013 paper, Benjamin I. Page and Jason Seawright of Northwestern University and Larry M. Bartels of Vanderbilt University surveyed more than 80 wealthy Chicago-area residents and found that 62 percent felt “differences in income in America are too large” — a figure generally in line with public opinion.
But when it came to addressing inequality, the rich were much closer to Mr. Cruz than to the American public. Only 13 percent of wealthy interview subjects said the government should “reduce the differences in income between people with high incomes and those with low incomes.” Only 17 percent said the government should “redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich.”
More recently, one of Professor Page’s protégés, a Northwestern graduate student named Fiona Chin, has further investigated the subject, conducting interviews with nearly 100 other wealthy Americans across the country. Unlike Professors Page, Seawright and Bartels, whose interviewers typically spent under an hour soliciting their subjects’ views on a range of policy questions, Ms. Chin limited her discussions to inequality and often spoke with her subjects for several hours at a time.
Ms. Chin’s findings, which she is scheduled to present at a conference in April, are even more stark. As she puts it, the rich tend to see inequality “as a story about individual hard work, effort and character.”
They recognize that growing up poor puts workers at a disadvantage but argue that a middle-class background presents no barrier to economic success and that growing up wealthy can even be a liability because it robs people of their incentive to work hard. In general, Ms. Chin has found, the rich regard those who do not succeed in life as “people who didn’t take advantage of the education system,” not victims of circumstances beyond their control.
And in many cases that's true. I'll bet you know lots of people who succeeded on their own.
But if I look at my own life -- and if I'm honest -- I have to admit I grew up in a solidly upper-middle-class household with two parents and no doubt I'd graduate from college. (And that my parents would pay for it.)
But I'm small potatoes; let's have a look at the truly rich, according to Forbes magazine. And of the 400 richest Americans (Forbes's emphasis):
276 members of the list are self-made billionaires; 58 inherited their wealth, and 66 inherited at least a portion but are still increasing it.
Let's see: 124 members of the Forbes 400 inherited at least a portion their money. That's about a third. Do they attribute their success to "individual hard work, effort and character"?
And let's have a closer look at that list. Four of the top ten are named Walton -- and none of them have the first name "Sam." (That's three of them in the picture above.) And two others are named Koch, neither of whom is called "Fred." I wonder if they all feel they "took advantage of the education system"? And would they agree "that growing up wealthy can even be a liability because it robs people of their incentive to work hard"?
Or would any of them admit that it really, really helps to win the sperm lottery?