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Economic Mobility Explained With M&M’s

Justin Maiman
Daily Ticker
Economic Mobility Explained With M&M’s

It's been two years since Occupy Wall Street captured New York City's attention - before catching on throughout the country, then the world.

At the heart of the protest was the struggle for social and economic equality in America. One protest sign from 2011 captures the sentiment of the moment: "Memo to 1%: 99% are waking up. Be nervous. Be very nervous. Marie Antoinette wasn't."

Of course, OWS peaked and then sputtered. It's hard to imagine now but at the time there seemed to be a spark catching on...

Related: The Great Wage Debate: Should Companies Pay Workers More?

Dr. Doom himself, economist Nouriel Roubini, even stopped by Zuccotti Park and weighed in afterwards, telling Foreign Policy:

"It takes a lot of different manifestations, but we live in a world with a lot of economic insecurity, of worries about the future, of inequality, poverty, of concerns about jobs. And [Occupy Wall Street] is the manifestation in the U.S."

So two years later, this startling stat still stands out: The share of income received by the top 1% has more than doubled over the past 35 years, from 9% in 1976 to 20% in 2011, according to the World Top Incomes Database (check out this database for hours of data fun). What is still not clear to economists is how income inequality affects behavior.

Recently, The Atlantic business editor Derek Thompson wondered: Are the Rich Getting Too Much of the Economic Pie?

Thompson's video is well worth checking out. And it inspired a discussion between The Daily Ticker's Lauren Lyster and Yahoo! Finance columnist Rick Newman.

"I agree that income inequality is absolutely growing, there's a lot of evidence of that," says Newman. "What I think doesn't get enough attention is something else called economic mobility and this is your ability to move from one income group to the next."

Not surprisingly, it turns out it's harder than it used to be to get ahead, and especially to jump from one income group to a higher income group.

Watch the video above to see why Newman thinks this concept is so important, and how candy M&M's can shed light on the subject of productivity and incentive in a capitalist society.

(Spoiler alert: "No one's gonna give you M&Ms.")

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