Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Giants Among Us

Whether parsecs or googleplex, a trillion dollars or a billion years, the human mind has trouble comprehending big numbers. Analogies can help, if only a little. Here's an interesting take on income disparity:

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.

Perspective doesn't equate to understanding or to assigning moral significance. But it helps to know what the issue is, anyway.

Watching the O'bama/O'Reilly Super Bowl interview the other day, I wished, when Billo accused the president of being a fervent income redistributer, that Obama had pointed out that the greatest income redistribution in decades occurred with the Bush tax cuts: it's just that it all went upward.

Personally I have no problem with rich people being rich, and I'd say very few liberals do, either. Hard work, quality work, productivity should be incentivized, recognized, and rewarded (a concept which no longer applies to much of medicine nowadays, especially surgery.) Like so many other things, though, it's a matter of finding the fulcrum on which it all turns. Does the guy who invented credit default swaps deserve, say, a thousand times more than a respiratory therapist?

From where I sit typing in obscurity, it seems, as another example, that the current tax rates are out of balance and belong back where they were when the economy was booming, pre-W. Were the rich suffering then, forced to move out of their homes? Was communism rampant, from each/to each? More importantly, was our budget balanced and our debt being paid down? What, I'm trying to understand, is so wrong with that? Even if it means the CDS guy makes only eight hundred times more than the RT?


Sid Schwab said...

Sorry, Frank: new rules. Say something related, something new, or something interesting. Or, failing that, funny.

Pieter B said...

And the funny has to be 1) intentional and 2) present in greater than homeopathic quantities.

re: The O'Reilly interview

Sid, can you imagine how loudly Frank, Rush, Glen, Ann and their ilk would have screamed if Keith Olbermann had interviewed Dubya and interrupted him just once, let alone every 20 seconds?

On another blog, a former devoted fan wrote that he thinks O'Reilly's success has convinced him (O'R) that he's the smartest person in the room, no matter what the topic at hand or who else is there. Witness his recent blather about the tides as proof of the existence of god.

I thought it was a pretty decent analysis when I read it. Watching the interview with the President convinced me that he nailed it perfectly.

Sid Schwab said...

I agree. Billo is, despite his bluster, a deeply insecure guy with absolutely NO insight into himself. The extent to which he rails at others for exactly the behavior that he exhibits continuously would be laughable were it not so damaging.

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