Point of View: Dreams of Sweden

On Channel 13 the other night the economics reporter, Paul Solman, was standing outside a theater in New York City showing people pie charts of three countries’ economies and asking them to pick America’s.
    In the top one (which didn’t exist), there were five equal slices. In the middle one, the top 20 percent had 36 percent of the wealth. In the bottom one, the top fifth controlled 84 percent.
    As I recall, no one picked America’s pie except two laborers, who had no trouble at all in pointing to the economy that to many appeared as if it were a third world one as ours.
    Why, I wondered, were all those people so dumb? Had they been reading the papers at all lately, they wouldn’t have mistaken Sweden’s economy (the middle one) for America’s.
    Actually, it just wasn’t the small group standing in front of the theater who were dumb. Seven thousand Americans sampled by the pie charts’ progenitor, Dan Ariely, a psychologist at Duke, proved to be equally as clueless.
    “Ninety-two percent of the Americans picked Sweden over the U.S.,” Ariely told Solman at one point in the “PBS NewsHour” piece. “When we broke it by Democrats and Republicans, Democrat, it was 93 percent, Republican, it was 90.5 percent.”
    Ah, there’s the answer, I thought at first: Nobody (Congress included) knows anything in this country! But, wait, maybe we’re all on to something inasmuch as we secretly think of ourselves as Sweden!
    Warren Buffett, of course, knows we are not, and so I was drawn to his Op-Ed piece in The New York Times — and to his comments on the Charlie Rose show — in which he told of how he and his super-rich confreres, all of whom, he said, owe some measure of their financial success to this country’s fostering of the entrepreneurial spirit, continue to be coddled. Please, raise our taxes, he said, and is saying.
    Leveling is not the answer, nor, by the same token, is grossly unequal wealth distribution.  
    Taxes should be raised on the wealthy, and that money should be used by the government to put people back to work. Then, once our mammoth foreign adventure drains have been stanched and the economy has revived somewhat, the budget deficit should be addressed.
    Meanwhile, that Swedish pie looks tempting to me — and apparently to the great majority of those Democrats and Republicans surveyed.    Jack Graves
    P.S. Last week’s column had a major error. (Aside: I couldn’t have made it, could I?) I was not saved from fun by Ev Rattray, Barbara Johnson, and Mary: I was saved for it! Oh well, it’s summertime and the proofreadin’ ain’t easy.