Wednesday, November 8, 2017

One Chart, Two Interpretations

Does this "wealth pyramid" chart illustrate how unfair life is in America, or how lucky we are compared to the rest of the world?  Click to enlarge

A reader keeps sending me links to a site called "valubit" which seems a little far-left to me.  The articles seem to harp on class warfare and income inequality.   One wonders if the site is funded by the Kremlin.  Whenever someone tries to get you to hate your fellow countrymen, think about who benefits from that.  There is ample evidence that Russia has been spoofing us for some time now, trying to divide us against one another - and it ain't hard to figure out why.   Destabilizing the West helps Russia.   Trump.  Brexit.  Catalonia.  Connect the dots.

Anyway, this article, (UPDATE:  No longer on valubit, but available here) which was ostensibly about Harvey Weinstein, somehow morphed into a discussion about wealth inequality.   But before we address the latter, consider the former.   Granted, what Mr. Weinstein did was pretty atrocious.   And the fact that others covered up for it or were afraid to speak out is scandalous as well.   But at the end of the day, the entire thing was exposed and his career and life were ruined.

Our country may not be perfect, but we at least try to make it better - and often succeed.   Compare this to say, oh, I don''t know - Russia?   A place where opponents of the regime are murdered with Polonium or just beaten to death in a prison cell.  And no, no one is too outraged over there about that, and no, Mr. Putin's career has hardly been derailed.   We need to keep things in perspective.  We are the good guys, even if sometimes we elect bad guys.

But the pyramid chart shown above is being interpreted by the author as another example of income inequality - at least that is his takeaway.   For me, it tells another tale - that as Americans we are incredibly spoiled and well-off, and yet are the world's loudest crybabies about how awful we have it here.  Well, maybe we tend to think that after reading articles written by Russian troll sites.

Click on the chart above to enlarge.   First, the good news.  If you are an average middle-class American, odds are you are in the top 1% of wealth globally.  If you have, or will have, saved up a million dollars (or even a half-million) by retirement - or have a pension in excess of $50,000 a year - you are one of those evil 1%'ers.  Welcome to the wealth inequality club.

Even if you have as little as $10,000 in savings, you are in the top 12.5% of wealth for the planet.   You think you have it bad?  Imagine how awful it must be for the bottom 71% shown in the pyramid.  Those folks have it rough - and odds are they live in a country where wealth and growth opportunities are not just limited - they are non-existent.

At least in the US of A, if you keep your nose clean, stay away from drugs, and move the fuck out of the ghetto, you have a shot at getting ahead.  It does require effort and discipline, of course, but it can be done - I've had friends do it.   I've done it myself.   You can get ahead in America - but that doesn't mean success is guaranteed or just handed to you for showing up.

Sadly, it seems more and more Americans want the latter.  "I work at a job," one man opines on Reddit, "So I should have free healthcare, a reasonably priced place to live, and a government provided pension!"    Others argue that even less effort is required - that we should all be granted "guaranteed income" simply for existing.    The entire system of rewarding people for effort should be thrown out and replaced with a welfare state.

Maybe this seems like a keen idea to some folks.  To me, it seems like a one-way ticket to that bottom 71% of that pyramid.