While I have been teaching my two courses, posting segments of my Marx tutorial, working out at the Wellness Center, and playing endless games of Spider Solitaire, I have also, like everyone else, been watching events unfold in Egypt. I do not intend to comment on those events. I have never been to Egypt, do not read, write, or speak the language, and can contribute nothing to the discussion that has not already been said by those more knowledgeable than myself. But reading Andrew Sullivan's DAILY DISH this morning [where one will find the tweets and emails from Cairo as they appear], I came across a chart that struck me so powerfully that I decided at least to report it here. Sullivan reproduces a chart that compares the Gini Coefficients for Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, and Tunisia, which range from 30.6 [Pakistan] to Tunisia , and then observes that the Gini Coefficient for the United States is 45.
For those who not au courant, the Gini Coefficient [named after someone named Gini] is a measure of the inequality of distribution of income [or, in fact, anything else] in a population. It is derived from, and is an alternative way of expressing what is captured by, a Lorenz Curve [named, of course, after someone named Lorenz.] Leaving aside the mathematics, a Gini coefficient ranges from 0 to 1 [or, if you wish, from 0 to 100], with 0 meaning exactly equal distribution of income and 1, or 100, meaning absolutely unequal distribution [one person or household gets everything].
This is a measure of relative inequality, not of absolute wealth or poverty. So, to ring the changes on an old joke, if a group of millionaires are sitting around a wine bar, with the Gini Coefficient for the group being 0 [each has exactly one million dollars], when Bill Gates walks in, the Gini Coefficient shoots way up close to 1, even though no one is made any poorer by his presence. Nevertheless, in a large society, the Gini is a good snapshot of the shape of inequality. It is simply stunning that the United States has significantly greater income inequality than Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, or Tunisia [and many other countries.] By the way, back in 1960, France had a much, much higher Gini Coefficient than the United States. Now, it is much, much lower. Government policies do really matter.
I remarked, some while back, that the United States was on its way to becoming a banana republic. That was no really fair to the banana republics. Nicaragua's Gini is 43.1 India's, by the way, is 36.8 Since this is a centennial of Ronald Reagan's birth, we might think of this number as Reagan's legacy. I am sure the demented old man would be quite happy with that if he were still alive.