As I have on various occasions observed, when it comes to changing the world it takes a great deal of effort to make even a very small change and an enormous amount of effort to make a slightly larger change. But when it comes to thinking about the world, it is no more difficult to think about everything than it is to think about just something. Consequently, philosophers tend to think about everything.
This morning as I was taking my walk at 7:15 my mind turned, as it does from time to time, to Lorenz curves and Gini coefficients. A Lorenz curve is a graphical device that can be used to represent visually the unequal distribution of income in a society. The Gini coefficient or index associated with a Lorenz curve is a numerical summation of the information portrayed in the curve. You can find a simple Wikipedia explanation of the matter here. A Gini index ranges between zero for a society of perfectly equality and 1 for a society of perfect inequality (which is to say a society in which nobody gets anything except for one person, who gets everything.) The larger the Gini index, the more unequal the society.
The Gini index of the American economy has risen dramatically since the 1970s, indicating a marked increase in income inequality. The Gini index of the United States is currently estimated as a bit more than .41. By comparison, the Gini indices of France and Germany are slightly above .31. Sweden, Denmark, and Finland are even less unequal than that.
I have often observed, I do not know how many times on this blog, that since I went to college in 1950, the proportion of adult Americans with a college degree has risen from 5% to roughly 33%. Fully 60% of young Americans now enroll in college, only 55% of those making it all the way to the degree (55% of 60% is 33%, of course.) So the striking increase in the proportion of the population with advanced education has gone hand-in-hand with increased income inequality. That simple observation should put paid to the fantasy that education is the solution of which inequality is the problem.
I am all in favor of eliminating the racial, ethnic, and income inequalities in the distribution of higher education in the United States (slightly more women than men have college degrees so gender inequality is not a problem), and I have in my small way done what I could to advance the elimination of those inequalities but if every quantifiable subset of the American population exhibited the same rate of successful higher educational attainment, it would do absolutely nothing to reduce the overall inequality in the distribution of income.
It was at about this point in my perambulatory musings that I stopped thinking about everything and started focusing on where my feet were going, something that is required of those of us who have Parkinson’s.