Wealth Distribution in U.S. per PBS NewsHour

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Fern Lovett Baird
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Wealth Distribution in U.S. per PBS NewsHour

Post by Fern Lovett Baird »

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Re: Re: 9 Out Of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact
From: readingliberally-saltlake@johnkarls.com
Date: Thu, March 7, 2013 7:47 pm
To: Fern Lovett Baird

Dear Fern,

Since you are so skeptical that Social Security and Medicare would “make a dent” vis-à-vis wealth distribution in America, I decided to dig out for you the PBS NewsHour reports referenced in my previous e-mail.

The first on 8/16/2011 reported, inter alia, that the top 20% of the American population holds 84% of the wealth and the bottom 40% holds only a fraction of 1% (actually 0.3%). It also proceeded to report that Americans thought the distribution of wealth was much more equal. [FYI, the link you provided in your original e-mail merely resurrects these stats from this PBS NewsHour report without attribution.]

The second on 9/21/2011 corrected the 8/16/2011 statistics by pointing out that, according to Economics Professor Robert Lerman of American University, if the effect of Social Security and Medicare are factored in, the top 20% would only hold 55% and the bottom 40% would hold 17%.

Both PBS NewsHour transcripts are attached for your convenience. I’ll leave it to your judgment whether considering Social Security and Medicare “makes a dent” though it would appear that the PBS NewsHour, by airing the second report, thought it did.

Incidentally, Prof. Lerman did make the point vis-à-vis Medicare that “the distribution of health spending is pure equality -- 20 percent of health spending is on the bottom 20 percent, 20 percent on the next 20 percent, and 20 percent on the top 20 percent…..the top half of 1 percent have fundamentally different health care, but not the overall top 20 percent.”

[Prof. Lerman also made the point that the improvements in healthcare mean that the top half of 1 percent 25 years ago could not get access to the same care that a middle-income person gets today.]

The Topic for Next Wed Evening

Your most recent e-mail said you thought the link in your original e-mail might be useful vis-à-vis a discussion of wealth distribution, if that was on the agenda.

Yes, it is on the agenda, but only as one of five aspects of American life -- the others are health, education, safety and democracy.

You are probably recalling that wealth distribution has been the sole focus (though using different books) for three months out of the last six, and four months out of the last ten.

You might be amused to know that I was so sick of the topic that the monthly hand-out for the beginning of each monthly meeting since last December when we are voting for the following month’s topic, has begun with the following --

“Normally Yours Truly does not voice any views on the relative merits of proposals (in addition to always refraining from voting except to break ties). However, Yours Truly does strongly object to the following “Plutocrats” proposal because (1) this would make three months out of the last five and four months out of the last nine that we will have focused on class warfare, and moreover (2) President Obama campaigned on the class-warfare issue (aka the millionaires/billionaires tax) and his position was implemented in the “fiscal cliff” legislation. Accordingly, if it is selected, Yours Truly would respectfully request one of the members voting for it to take responsibility for composing the Short Quiz & Suggested Answers, and for leading the discussion on March 13th. Because he’s sick and tired of this issue and how much time we’ve spent on it!!!”

Apology re American University vs. New York University

My original response had said that “if memory serves” Prof. Lerman teaches at N.Y.U. (rather than American University).

Studies show that every human being has a Photographic Memory (including pre-birthing experiences) that can be accessed via hypnosis, but few of us can access it otherwise.

I have always been lucky to have a nearly-Photographic Memory for things I consider either important or interesting.

Where Prof. Lerman teaches didn’t quite make the cut, though I knew there was a somewhat-personal connection. I have taught in N.Y.U. Law School’s graduate tax program and thought erroneously yesterday that that was probably the personal connection. It turns out that Prof. Lerman and the PBS NewsHour’s Paul Solman who conducted the interview, attended together in the 1960’s Brandeis University which is only a mile or so from Harvard Law School which I attended in the 1960’s, so it obviously crossed my mind in 2011 that I might have bumped into these individuals 45 years ago without knowing who they would become.

Skiing This Season

I am guessing from your e-mail that you weren’t aware that I broke my leg skiing last March.

First time in my life that anything medically went wrong. And having recently turned 70, I was due!!!

Caught an edge near the top of a slope that is steep enough you don’t stop if you fall. My right ski didn’t pop off. So I slid head first more than a quarter mile with my right leg and ski flailing along behind. Tib & fib sheared through at the boot line and both upper fragments had spiral fractures into the knee.

Medicare fixed me up with a 12-inch metal plate to which were attached the tibia remnants with more than 14 one-inch screws!!!

And I have been back on the slopes almost daily since they opened in November, skiing top-to-bottom on Black Diamonds.

Viva Medicare!!!

Your friend,

John K.

PS – I hope to see you and Frank next Wed evening!!!

[3/10/2013 Addendum Re Last Section = Never having had anything wrong medically for the first 70 years of life is a slight exaggeration because there was a case of basal-cell skin cancer shortly after I began work with Dresdner Kleinwort Benson Ltd./London at age 55. Even though basal-cell skin cancer is little more serious than a common cold, I became uninsurable!!! So perhaps one can understand my "Viva Medicare!!!" sentiments!!!]

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Re: Re: 9 Out Of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact
From: Fern Lovett Baird
Date: Thu, March 7, 2013 10:52 am
To: readingliberally-saltlake@johnkarls.com

Hmmmm....interesting about the Social Security benefits and Medicare. I'm sure though, it wouldn't make a dent, for the comparison.

Have you been skiing much, this season? I've been three times. I'm spending more time working in Park City this year. The lack of base hasn't inspired me to get on the slopes. Three of my four days were powder days!

I thought the link might be appropriate for the discussion on the economy, or did that one pass?


---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Re: 9 Out Of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact
From: readingliberally-saltlake@johnkarls.com
Date: Thu, March 7, 2013 10:37 am
To: Fern Lovett Baird
Cc: Frank Globekar

Dear Fern,

Thank you very much for your e-mail. Very interesting.

Incidentally, the statistics contained in the linked website appear to be
similar to those reported initially last Fall on the PBS NewsHour.

Paul Solman, who was the PBS NewsHour regular who made the presentation,
provided an up-date a week or so later which comprised an interview by
Paul of an Economics Professor from, if memory serves, New York

The NYU Economics Professor made the point that it would take well north
of $1 million to provide a pension equal to the average senior citizen's
social security benefit -- not to mention Medicare.

When he factored in that Hidden Wealth, the distribution was much less
skewed -- though still considerably more skewed than commonly thought.

I hope all is well with you!!!

Your friend,

John K.

PS -- Are you and Frank planning to come to our March 13th meeting???

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: 9 Out Of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This
Mind-Blowing Fact
From: Fern Lovett Baird
Date: Wed, March 6, 2013 6:30 am
To: Frank Globokar


http://www.upworthy.com/9-out-of-10-ame ... n_ref_map=[]

Fern Lovett Baird

Fern Lovett Baird
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Posts: 3
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First PBS NewsHour Transcript - 8-16-2011

Post by Fern Lovett Baird »

PBS NewsHour Transcript – 8/16/2011
Land of the Free, Home of the Poor

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, the opening chapter of an occasional series about inequality in America. It's a subject that's getting more attention in light of the weak economy and the ongoing debate around budget cuts and raising revenues. Billionaire businessman and philanthropist Warren Buffett, who has argued in favor of higher taxes on the wealthiest, cited the growing disparity in an interview on PBS last night with Charlie Rose.

WARREN BUFFETT, Berkshire Hathaway: It should be a land of opportunity. And people that get rich. They -- nobody is going to confiscate everything or anything of the sort. But the distribution in this country -- market system has led to extremes. A guy that is wired like me -- I don't have any special status in this world. I'm not -- a great nurse, a great teacher may be much more valuable to society than I am. I'm wired so that I can figure out what things are worth. So...

WARREN BUFFETT: Yes. So, I get super rich. And somebody whose adenoids are in a certain arrangement gets rich. But television makes a lot of people rich. I mean, Lou Gehrig held out for $25,000 in the late '30s. You know, they benched him. They didn't bench him, breaking his streak, but he had a long -- he had a long struggle. Television has made the .230 hitter or the .240 hitter better than Ted Williams at .406. So, it -- there's a lot of serendipity. We -- everybody in this country owes their good fortune in some way to the rest of the country.

[The pie chart wouldn't reproduce -- but it showed 84% of the wealth for the top 20% of the population, 11% of the next 20%, 4% for the third 20%, 0.2% for the fourth 20% and 0.1% for the bottom 20%.]

Test your knowledge of wealth distribution by exploring pie charts of different societies.

JEFFREY BROWN: NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman has been looking into the reality and impact of the wealth gap in the U.S. today.
Here's the first of several stories, part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.

PAUL SOLMAN: Near Times Square, at the line for "Late Show" tickets, we borrowed David Letterman's audience for a short quiz on economic inequality.
So, this is three different societies.

MAN: Uh-huh.

PAUL SOLMAN: It's the distribution of wealth in the societies. Where do think these three places are? In each chart, we explained, yellow represents the richest fifth of the population, blue the second richest, and so on, down to orange, the poorest fifth. Which chart, we asked, represents the distribution of wealth in the United States? So, this one's exactly equally distributed from the top to the bottom. In the first chart, each one-fifth of the population has 20 percent of the wealth. In the middle pie chart, a middling amount of inequality: The richest fifth owns 36 percent, the poorest fifth, only 11 percent. And in the third chart, extreme inequality, where the richest fifth owns 84 percent of the nation's wealth, while the bottom two-fifths, 40 percent of the population, owns an almost invisible 0.3 percent of the nation's property. Which one do you think the United States is?

MAN: I would -- I might say this one.

PAUL SOLMAN: You think the United States is completely equal, 20 percent, 20 percent?

MAN: It's not exactly equal, but that might be my guess that would be the closest, or maybe this one. It's one of the top two.


WOMAN: Maybe the middle.

PAUL SOLMAN: What? The United States would be the middle?

MAN: I think the middle one is U.S.

PAUL SOLMAN: Middle one is U.S. Middle one is U.S. Middle one is U.S.
Which one would you think the U.S. was?

MAN: Hopefully that.

MAN: This would have to be Third World. This would have to be places like India.

PAUL SOLMAN: A place that would be incredibly unequal, right?


MAN: Definitely.

MAN: The U.S. would be here.

PAUL SOLMAN: U.S. would be here. And this one?

MAN: I don't think that exists.

PAUL SOLMAN: At least he got that one right. The completely equal pie economy is completely made up. The middle pie represents the wealth distribution of Sweden. The bottom pie? We asked two presumably low-income workers near the tourist line for "Letterman." What place would have a distribution like this? What...

MAN: United States.

MAN: United States?

MAN: United States.

PAUL SOLMAN: United States? Yes, this chart represents the land of opportunity, ours.

DAN ARIELY, Duke University: The study had a few different parts to it.

PAUL SOLMAN: Psychologist Dan Ariely designed the quiz. First consistent finding: Most Americans don't realize how unequal our country really is.

DAN ARIELY: People don't understand how much wealth the top 20 percent have. They actually have 84 percent of the wealth. And they think they have much less. And more disturbingly, people don't understand how little wealth the bottom of the distribution have. The bottom 40 percent of the U.S. have about 0.3 percent of the wealth, basically zero. And people think they have much more than that.

PAUL SOLMAN: But how can that be, given the spread of McMansions and luxury brands in America's wealthy communities so easy to contrast with almost any poor neighborhood in the country? Harvard Business School Professor David Moss:

DAVID MOSS, Harvard Business School: People look around them at their local communities. And local communities tend to be more equal than the broader society. And so, as they look around, that's essentially their judgment -- or our judgment -- I should include myself -- see the same thing.

PAUL SOLMAN: So there isn't that much inequality in Newton, Mass., where you live, for example?

DAVID MOSS: Much less, much less than -- than in the society as a whole.

PAUL SOLMAN: Maddie McWilliams, who attends high school at upscale Newton, agrees.

HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: It's getting easier for people to ignore the inequality. They can stay far away from it.

PAUL SOLMAN: Insulate themselves?


PAUL SOLMAN: Another reason people don't realize the extent of inequality, most of it is explained by gains at the tippy-top. Harvard economist Richard Freeman:

RICHARD FREEMAN, Harvard University: In the last 30 years or so, the share of national -- of income that has gone to the upper 0.1 percent -- not to the upper 1.0 percent -- 0.1 percent -- rose by 10 percentage points. That is one of the most astounding patterns I have ever seen in data.

PAUL SOLMAN: Point-one percent?

RICHARD FREEMAN: Point-one percent, yes.
People sometimes say, oh, the rich, it's the upper 10 percent, it's the upper 5 percent. No, no, this is the 0.1 percent. Warren Buffett has this wonderful statement where he says: Yes, there's been a class war in the United States. And my class, namely the super rich people, have won.

PAUL SOLMAN: A graphic, recent example, this New York Times online slide show of children's playhouses, which can cost up to a quarter-of--million dollars. Meanwhile, more and more Americans, millions of them, can't afford their own homes.

DENISE BARRANT, homeowner: My house is in foreclosure. I owe them at least $100,000 more than my house is worth, probably closer to $150,000 more than my house is worth.

PAUL SOLMAN: Are they coming to take it away?

DENISE BARRANT: At some point, they will. They haven't yet, but at some point, they will.

PAUL SOLMAN: And then where will you go?

DENISE BARRANT: I have no idea. I have -- I try not to think about it, because I really have no idea.

PAUL SOLMAN: Denise Barrant has a college degree from Lehigh University, some master's level courses and a paralegal certificate. She once had a job at a health insurance company paying $80,000 a year, plus a part-time job, just for fun, she says, selling clothes at Talbots. But for three years, she's been unemployed, free-falling out of the middle class and into poverty, living in a well-to-do Boston suburb she could once afford.

DENISE BARRANT: Even the organizations that were helping people before have been stretched so much, that they're having a hard time helping people.

PAUL SOLMAN: You mean it's hard for you to find a food pantry?

DENISE BARRANT: There is one in the next town over. And it was funny. I remember, the first time I went, the people were like, well, you don't look like you should be here.

PAUL SOLMAN: Don't have a lot of college grads like yourself at the food pantry.

DENISE BARRANT: I'm sure they didn't at the beginning, but I'm sure they do now.

PAUL SOLMAN: Barrant's situation has deteriorated since we first interviewed her earlier this year, and she said this:

DENISE BARRANT: The top 1 percent is living well, and they don't get it.

PAUL SOLMAN: One of her fellow interviewees was security guard Bobby Hicks.

BOBBY HICKS, security guard: Fifteen years ago, I was -- I was working as an office products delivery truck driver.

PAUL SOLMAN: And you were doing better doing that than you are now?

BOBBY HICKS: Yes, absolutely.

PAUL SOLMAN: Though Hicks was born in America; Christi Pierre-Louis in Haiti, her job frustration echoes his.

CHRISTI PIERRE-LOUIS: It makes me feel like the American dream is not just -- is not for me. It's just not for me. Maybe it's for the wealthy, just not for me, because it doesn't matter how high I reach. You know, I'm reaching up my hands, and it seems like it's still -- I'm still -- still very far away from it. It's like someone literally pulling it. As much as I'm running after it, they're running away with it, and I don't get my piece of the American dream, because I work hard in this country, too. I pay my taxes, just like everyone else. I work here. I go to school. And I'm doing my best, but, still, my best is just not good enough.

PAUL SOLMAN: So, the U.S. looks unequal to a Haitian?
Economist Richard Freeman is not surprised.

RICHARD FREEMAN: We're high for a poor country, in terms of inequality, and we're a rich country. We're about the same level of inequality as China. And, of course, China, half the population are rural peasants who are not part of the modern world. And if we were to compare us with African countries, dictators in different places, you know, taking a lot of the wealth from normal people, we would be among the top half of the African countries of inequality. So, the U.S. really has reached an extraordinary level of income inequality.

PAUL SOLMAN: The luxury goods speak for themselves. But who knew that the kids of the wealthy were flying private jets to camp this summer? OK, to some, this might be cause for indignation, but, to others, it's not that simple.

STEVEN DAVIS, University of Chicago: Inequality is the flip side of providing powerful incentives for people who generate a lot of income.

PAUL SOLMAN: Economist Steven Davis:

STEVEN DAVIS: Part of the success of the United States' economy lies in the fact that, if you succeed in a big way commercially, you're rewarded for that. And the taxes on your success are modest, say, compared to what they are in a -- in a country like France or in the Scandinavian countries.

PAUL SOLMAN: But as Dan Ariely found in part two of his study, and as our own informal survey confirmed, when people didn't know which countries the pie charts represented, they overwhelmingly chose the one representing a much more equal and yet still prosperous country, Sweden, as the place they'd prefer to live. A function of their politics, we wondered?

DAN ARIELY: We had 7,000 people distributed around the U.S., different levels of income, education, wealth, political opinions -- 92 percent of the Americans picked Sweden over the U.S. When we broke it by Democrats and Republicans, Democrat, it was 93 percent, Republican, it was 90.5 percent. So there's a difference, but the difference is tiny. And one of the possibilities is that, when we dig deep down and we ask people to examine their core beliefs about a just society, Americans are really quite consistent in terms of thinking this is way too much inequality, and we want something that is much more equal to Sweden.

PAUL SOLMAN: And so, last question: Which distribution do you prefer?
Which society do you want to live in?

WOMAN: I'm going to go with this one, though.

PAUL SOLMAN: You want to be in the unequal society?

WOMAN: Sure.

PAUL SOLMAN: On the off chance that you will be in the yellow?
You can let us know online.

JEFFREY BROWN: Paul's next report examines the connections between the growing wealth gap and the financial crisis.

Editor's Note: In the pie charts used to illustrate this story, the middle pie chart represents the income distribution of Sweden. For more, see '"Building a Better America--One Wealth Quintile at a Time" by Dan Ariely and Michael I. Norton.

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Corrected PBS NewHour Transcript - 9-21-2011

Post by Fern Lovett Baird »

PBS NewsHour Transcript – 9/21/2011
Do Social Safety Net Programs Shrink Gap in U.S. Economic Inequality?

JEFFREY BROWN: And we return now to our continuing series on inequality. NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman has been examining that subject, including studies showing an alarming rise in the so-called wealth gap. But tonight's interview takes issue with that view. It's part of Paul's reporting on Making Sense of financial news.

ROBERT LERMAN, Professor of Economics, American University: It would be nice if there was more equality, but let's not overdo it.

PAUL SOLMAN: Bob Lerman is professor of economics at American University, a fellow at the Urban Institute, and an old college friend a year ahead of me at Brandeis University in the '60s.

ROBERT LERMAN: Oh, nice shot.

PAUL SOLMAN: Thank you. That's the one we're going to use on the video. We sometimes play tennis when Lerman visits Boston. But this match at our alma mater was prompted by an email he wrote in response to our recent story about inequality, in which we asked people on the "David Letterman" ticket line in New York to pick the chart that best depicted America's distribution of wealth. Which one do you think the United States is?

MAN: I would -- I might say this one.

PAUL SOLMAN: In the first chart, each one-fifth of the population has 20 percent of the wealth, in the middle pie chart, a middling amount of inequality -- the richest fifth owns 36 percent, the poorest fifth only 11 percent -- and, in the third chart, extreme inequality, where the richest fifth owns 84 percent of the nation's wealth, while the bottom two-fifths, 40 percent of the population, owns an almost invisible 0.3 percent of the nation's property.

MAN: I think the middle one is U.S.

PAUL SOLMAN: Middle one is U.S.? Middle one is U.S.? Middle one is U.S.? Which one would you think the U.S. was?

MAN: Hopefully that.

PAUL SOLMAN: The punchline: Most people in surveys like this one, including ours, get it wrong. The third, and most unequal, chart is America, based on the distribution of housing and financial wealth. But Bob e-mailed to say he thought the survey was misleading. You think inequality really isn't a problem?

ROBERT LERMAN: No, I think it's somewhat of a problem, but you way overstated it. There were no nuances to the report. You ignored a big source of wealth, which is the wealth embodied in Social Security.

PAUL SOLMAN: Since we both embarked on adulthood here at Brandeis, Bob knows the Boston area well enough to make his case in and around town.
Just down the road, the EPOCH nursing home, a venue for his main nuance.

ROBERT LERMAN: A good part of wealth is embodied in the right to your Social Security flow of income and also to the guaranteed health insurance that you get. That's worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to a typical person. And you multiply that by the number of persons, and you have got a lot of wealth. Take a lot of the people right here at this nursing home. Medicare is a source of wealth that finances their stay here.

PAUL SOLMAN: People like Clare Devane and Dorothy Arnold. So you two were just sitting here while we were doing the interview. We didn't discuss this before. Your point is?

ROBERT LERMAN: How are you being financed here?

WOMAN: Through Medicare and MassHealth.

WOMAN: Me, too, Medicare and MassHealth.

PAUL SOLMAN: So this isn't your own private savings that's paying for your room here?

WOMAN: Some of my money came here, but then the Medicare took over and MassHealth.

PAUL SOLMAN: How old are you?

WOMAN: Ninety-four.

PAUL SOLMAN: And, as Lerman would point out, the longer you live, the more wealth Medicare or Social Security represent. So Medicare is like a stash of wealth that you're now drawing on.

WOMAN: Right.


WOMAN: That's right.

WOMAN: Wouldn't be able to come here otherwise.

WOMAN: That's right.

PAUL SOLMAN: And that's your whole point?

ROBERT LERMAN: That's my whole point.

PAUL SOLMAN: Downtown Boston, and a street busker we couldn't resist, maybe because of the snazzy hat. He was playing on the Boston Common, so named because, from 1634 on, everybody had equal access to it, up through today's regal swan boats ready and willing to offer commoners a ride. After the American Revolution, General Washington came here to celebrate our right to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, made possible these days, says Bob Lerman, by the social safety net, which is not counted as part of the official wealth numbers. So, Social Security represents hidden wealth for most of the distribution?


PAUL SOLMAN: And so does Medicare?

ROBERT LERMAN: So does Medicare. And another element of it -- and it's related -- is health expenditures overall for all ages.

PAUL SOLMAN: As it happens, this public patch of Boston features a monument to a monumental breakthrough in health care: ether for anesthesia to relieve pain. Like most of modern medicine, says Lerman, it's available to us all.

ROBERT LERMAN: The distribution of health spending is pure equality -- 20 percent of health spending is on the bottom 20 percent, 20 percent is on the next 20 percent, and 20 percent is on the top 20 percent.

PAUL SOLMAN: But you can't tell me that the top 20 percent of Americans in terms of wealth get the same health care as the bottom 20 percent? These guys have concierge doctors whom they can call on at any time. These guys are lucky to get into the emergency room.

ROBERT LERMAN: Well, I agree that the top 1 percent or the top half of 1 percent have fundamentally different health care, but not the overall top 20 percent.

PAUL SOLMAN: But the huge disparity is between the people at the very top and everyone else.

ROBERT LERMAN: Well, that might be fair if the people at the very, very top could actually get a better operation. It's not at all clear that's the case. The wealthiest person 25 years ago could not get access to the same care that the middle-income person gets today.

PAUL SOLMAN: The bottom line, to Lerman, is that, if you add in health care and Social Security wealth, the distribution wouldn't look like this -- the richest fifth of Americans with 84 percent of the wealth, the poorest two-fifths with an almost invisible sliver -- it would look something like this: richest fifth, 55 percent, poorest two-fifths, almost 17 percent -- more details on our website. But then, if you look at the top 10 percent, the top 5 percent, the top 1 percent in America, you're going to have something that looks just as unequal, if not more so, than this picture does.we

ROBERT LERMAN: Paul, you know what's amazing, it's amazing we don't have more inequality than we do have, given the fact that 40 percent of kids are born to unmarried parents, we have had a lot of immigrants from very poor countries come into the country. And, yet, still, the distribution of consumption, the distribution of health expenditures is relatively equal.

PAUL SOLMAN: Just half-a-block away, it looked pretty unequal to us. You can't tell me that the people who shop at Chanel here on Newbury Street in Boston or stay at the Taj Boston -- that used to be the Ritz-Carlton -- aren't living a significantly different life than the rest of the American public.

ROBERT LERMAN: The very top are, but, overall, you don't see that big a gap. Today, you could have a Ferrari or you could have a Kia. You could stay at the Taj Boston or you could stay at the Holiday Inn. Is there that big a difference? So, let's be clear. The rich do have more opportunity to consume than everyone else, but I'm not sure that we need to be as concerned about it as implicit in your program.

PAUL SOLMAN: Now, all this may not reassure those worried about economic inequality. The rich don't just buy status duds, they might point out, but private limos, private schools, private everything. And their money also buys security and power, getting others to sing your song on Boston Common or, some would argue, Washington, D.C. Skeptics might have one final concern as well: that America's famous economic upward mobility, where even the ugliest of ducklings can turn into a swan, is becoming a thing of the past. But though Bob Lerman agrees that what he calls the super-duper rich have been pulling away from the rest of us, he thinks there's a more positive way to look at our picture of inequality.

ROBERT LERMAN: It's accurate for financial and housing wealth, but not for the comprehensive picture of wealth. The distribution of wealth is still wide, but it's not nearly so wide as you might expect.

PAUL SOLMAN: We will look further into this and other issues as we continue our series on economic inequality.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, in a coming report, Paul explores connections between economic status and personal health.

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