The American Dream seems to have morphed into the American Delusion.
We have become a nation of the top one percent, by the top one percent, and for the top one percent. Yet the other 99 percent tend to vote in the interests of the top one percent rather than in our own interests.
Twenty-five years ago the top one percent took in 12 percent of the nation's income and controlled 33 percent of the nation's wealth, and now the numbers are 24 percent of income and 40 percent of wealth.
In the last decade, incomes for the top group have risen by 18 percent, while incomes in the middle class have fallen.
Two polls help explain why we might vote to maintain or strengthen this One Percent Nation.
A Time magazine poll of a few years back showed that 19 percent of us thought we were in the top one percent in income, and another 20 percent thought we would be within five years. This thinking seems more delusion than dream.
A recent poll by Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University asked a cross-section of Americans what level of wealth equality they thought existed and what level they would prefer.
Respondents thought the top 20 percent had 59 percent of the wealth (as opposed to the actual number of 84 percent), and they thought the top 20 percent should have 32 percent of the wealth.
Surprisingly and ironically, the level respondents preferred was similar to the wealth distribution in, yes, Sweden, a country often referred to as socialistic by those speaking for our top one percent.
"What is most striking" about the results, write Norton and Ariely, is that they show "more consensus than disagreement among different demographic groups. All groups, even the wealthiest respondents, desired a more equal distribution of wealth than what they estimated the current United States level to be, while all groups also desired some inequality, even the poorest respondents."
The authors think that the reason American voters have not made more of an issue of the increasing income and wealth gap is that they may not be that aware of it.
And, "just as people have erroneous beliefs about the actual level of wealth equality, they may also hold overly optimistic beliefs about opportunities for social mobility in the United States, beliefs which in turn may drive support for unequal distribution of wealth," they write.
In other words, they may be pursuing the American Delusion rather than the American Dream.
(James Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily News)