What is happening to Wal-Mart sales is just one small manifestation of an issue I discuss in The Golden Calf, the worsening income and wealth inequality of the U.S. ever since economism became our dominant ideology. A new twist on the familiar data is very nicely illustrated in this animation by Adam Mordecai on the Upworthy site:
Mordecai starts with data that I more or less covered in The Golden Calf, that 1) we have extreme inequality in how income and wealth are distributed in America, and 2) most Americans have no clue that this is so, and while they think that the rich are indeed a lot richer than the poor, they guess at an income distribution which is much more equal than what actually obtains. Indeed Mordecai editorializes and suggests that we’d be a heckuva lot better off as a society if instead of the truly lopsided wealth distribution that actually occurs, we had the much less lopsided but still notably unequal distribution that most Americans think is what’s true.
Norton admits that some of this sense of justice depends on how you ask the question. He acknowledges that had the Bush voters been asked whether they supported redistributing wealth to reduce inequality, the majority would probably have said no.
My take-home message from all this is that despite the inroads that economism has made in reshaping what counts to most of us as basic common sense about public policy, it still seems true that most Americans would be really shocked if they actually understood what has happened to income and wealth inequality in recent decades, or even since the 2008 recession. It obviously serves important interests to be sure that most Americans never hear this factoid.