In the runup to the 2012 presidential election, pollsters were quarreling over whether Americans thought the income gap was a big problem or not; wanted the government to do something about it or not; wanted less money for the rich, or simply more for themselves. A poll done in the fall of 2011 by Pulse Opinion Research for The Hill found that 74 percent of respondents—79 percent of women, and, tellingly, 80 percent of those aged 18 to 39—considered the income gap either a “big problem” or “somewhat of a problem.”
In January, 2012, a Gallup poll found that only 2 percent of respondents considered the income gap the most important economic issue facing the country; a Heritage blog heralded the finding with the headline “Americans Remain Unconcerned by Income Equality.” That was misleading. In an open-ended poll in which the top concern, jobs and employment, garnered only 26 percent, income inequality, with 2 percent, was on a par with Social Security, low wages, and taxes—hardly issues about which people could be said to be unconcerned.
A Gallup poll a month earler had said that 72 percent of Americans considered narrowing the wage gap either extremely important, very important, or important.
In July, 2012, as the presidential election drew near, a CBS News poll showed 53 percent of voters saying that Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s policies favored the wealthy. Only 21 percent said incumbent president Barack Obama’s policies favored the wealthy. The winner? The candidate perceived by the majority as not favoring the rich.
All in all, it’s fair to say that more Americans than not are worried about the income gap, even if they’re worried about other things as well. But there are people who defend it. For a look at the way the 1 percent live and think, you can’t do better than read Plutocrats by Chrystia Freeland, a veteran reporter for the Financial Times, The Economist and the Washington Post, who has made a specialty of following the money and the people who have it.
Freeland’s book is especially valuable because it carries insights about the thinking of the “working rich,” people whose views are often significantly different from those of the hereditary upper crust. Freeland has been behind closed doors, at meetings and social affairs that are closed to most of us, even most reporters, and she lets us know what the wildly wealthy say when they speak to each other, socially and in exclusive newsletters. Here she quotes Dennis Gartman, the commodities analyst and investment expert who publishes The Gartman Letter:
“We celebrate income disparity and we applaud the growing margins between the bottom 20 percent of American society and the upper 20 percent, for it is evidence of what has made America a great country. It is the chance to have a huge income… to make something of one’s self [sic]; to begin a business and become a millionaire legally and on one’s own that separates the U.S. from most other nations of the world. Do we feel bad for the growing gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S.? Of course not; we celebrate it, for we were poor once and we are reasonably wealthy now. We did it on our own, by the sheer dint of will, tenacity, street smarts and the like. That is why immigrants come to the U.S.: to join the disparate income earners at the upper levels of society and to leave poverty behind. Income inequality? Give us a break. God bless income disparity and those who have succeeded, and shame upon the OWS [Occupy Wall Street] crowd who take us to task for our success and wallow in their own failure. Income disparity? Feh! What we despise is government that imposes rules that prohibit or make it difficult to make even more money; to employ even more people; to give even more sums to the charities of our choice.”•