Spreading the Wealth

In the Presidential campaign, one of the criticisms of Barack Obama’s positions was that he wanted to, “Spread the wealth.”  This sprung from a comment he made to Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher in Ohio about his tax proposals not increasing taxes for anyone earning under $250,000/year.  This was one of the issues that was pretzelized in the closing weeks of the campaign, which is why I was interested to see a graph showing the income distribution in several developed western countries in a recent issue of the Economist.

Economist - Income Distribution of Western Countries - 10-25-08

Source: The Economist, 10/25/08, "Pain all around, please."
Data from Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

This chart shows that while all these countries have wide distributions between the highest and lowest income groups, the spread in the United States is by far the greatest.  And while the lowest 10% in the US is not the lowest of all these countries, it comes close – and the highest 10% is significantly higher than Britain, the  country with the next highest earning top 10%.

While the data in this graph is a few years old, and may have changed somewhat given the economic drop of recent weeks, the basic shape of these distributions will certainly be something for political and economic leaders – including President-elect Obama – to consider as they shape policies and actions in the coming months and years.

There are certainly many conclusions that can be drawn from this chart, including how the US’s more market-based economy enables people to earn more.  But it also demonstrates that there are significant opportunities for shared sacrifice and contributions to consider as part of how we solve some of our most pressing challenges, including economic growth, job creation, and access, quality and costs within our healthcare system.

What do you think?

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