Friday, July 27, 2012

Max Fisher: Map -- U.S. Ranks Near Bottom on Income Inequality

Map: U.S. Ranks Near Bottom on Income Inequality
by Max Fisher
The Atlantic

Perhaps the most politically contentious aspect of President Barack Obama's new proposed legislation, aimed to revive the still-struggling U.S. economy, is $1.5 trillion in tax increases, much of it aimed at wealthy Americans. The White House is calling this "the Buffett rule." Named for super-investor Warren Buffett's complaint that he pays a lower tax rate than some of his most menial wage employees, the legislation would be designed to ensure that anyone making more than $1 million per year will pay at least the same rate as middle-income taxpayers.

Obama's "Buffett rule" is a response to a number of U.S. economic issues (as well as some relevant political openings) related to the recession. One of the most severe is income inequality -- the gaps between wealthy, super-wealthy, and everyone else -- a serious, long-worsening problem that makes the recession more painful and recovery more difficult. To get a sense of just how bad our income inequality has become, it's worth taking a look at how we stack up to the rest of the world.

Viewed comparatively, U.S. income inequality is even worse than you might expect. Perfect comparisons across the world's hundred-plus economies would be impossible -- standards of living, the price of staples, social services, and other variables all mean that relative poverty feels very different from one country to another. But, in absolute terms, the gulf between rich and poor is still telling. Income inequality can be measured and compared using something called the Gini coefficient, a century-old formula that measures national economies on a scale from 0.00 to 0.50, with 0.50 being the most unequal. The Gini coefficient is reliable enough that the CIA world factbook uses it. Here's a map of their data, with the most unequal countries in red and the most equal in green.

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