Wednesday, July 20, 2011

An Inequality Parade

I've posted recently on How high is U.S. income inequality?  I followed up with posts on about Causes of Inequality: Supply and Demand for Skilled Workers and How the U.S. Has Come Back to the Pack in Higher Education. Here's one more metaphor on the subject. Back in its January 20, 2011 issue, the Economist magazine had one of its wonderfully readable surveys that touched on many issues of inequality, called "A special report on global leaders: The rise and rise of the cognitive elite." The entire article is worth reading, but here is a striking way to visualize U.S. income inequality.

"Jan Pen, a Dutch economist who died last year, came up with a striking way to picture inequality. Imagine people’s height being proportional to their income, so that someone with an average income is of average height. Now imagine that the entire adult population of America is walking past you in a single hour, in ascending order of income."

"The first passers-by, the owners of loss-making businesses, are invisible: their heads are below ground. Then come the jobless and the working poor, who are midgets. After half an hour the strollers are still only waist-high, since America’s median income is only half the mean. It takes nearly 45 minutes before normal-sized people appear. But then, in the final minutes, giants thunder by. With six minutes to go they are 12 feet tall. When the 400 highest earners walk by, right at the end, each is more than two miles tall."