"Point four three. Point five three. Point five six!" It's not every day that you get to write a lede that juicy.
But in an election year where who's making what is making headlines, the story in those three numbers -- 0.43, 0.53, and 0.56, -- cut to the very heart of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' argument for becoming the next Cranky Ol' Man and Chief of these United States of America.
These numbers, and 9 more like them, are the result of the early work of Corrado Gini, a turn-of-the-20th-century Italian sociologist and stats-geek, who back in 1912, rocked the numeric world by developing a single-number score for measuring how unequal society's riches are divided.
Mr. Sanders meet Mr. Gini.
The resulting Gini Index has become numeric star in comparative economics. The World Bank uses the Gini Index. The CIA uses the Gini Index. Mathworld (That's gotta be a fun day with the kids: Junior go splash on the standard deviation wading pool!) even uses the Gini Index. And I see why: The Gini score packs big meaning into wee little numbers. And these days, were terabytes of data are worse than meaningless, what a thrill to look at exactly 11 numbers and tell the story of the rich and the poor for two hundred years!
If only Corrado Gini had founded Google, who knows where we would be.
The Gini Index visualized above, graphs out Bernie's argument on what share of society gets what share of society's wealth. Each ten out-of-a-hundred is ranked from bottom to top. And the share of wealth is ranked from left to right. If every rank gets the same share of wealth, as Clear Lines Consulting, a San Francisco-based nerd firm graphed above, the result is the blue line of Equalistan. Your group may be richer than nine, but not proportionally so. See that? And if the top 10 percent gets more than average say, 15 percent of the wealth. Then the bottom must get only 5. And that country is now graphed as Similaristan. But if the top 10 percent get a full 90 percent of the wealth, oh boy. We are are all living in a country called Slaveristan.
Or pretty much the United States of America, if you believe Bernie Sanders' "ten percent take-all" argument.
The Gini Index is so bombin' that back in 2009, a World Bank data nerd named Branko Milanovic sampled Gini's work and retrofited it back in time ... to 1820! And he did with all of eleven numbers! And the calculations are so simple that a 9 year-old can do them. Yet still stand up to a major WikiPedia post -- the ultimate trash-talking proving ground for stats geeks.
And when you chart 200 years of the Gini Index, like I did below, watch out: The narrative of what two centuries of modernism has done to the world emerges. 1820 was supposed to be the high-water mark for families of elite aristocrats ripping all wealth out of the world for their own personal gain.
But I sense another story. Do you?
My plan is to sit down with Milanovic over some good stiff New York City coffee. And have him walk me through the calculations. Am I getting Gino's ratio wrong? Let me know. But if these 11 numbers are even half-correct, is it any wonder a political nobody came to dominate the debate on how the world splits its wealth.
Agree or disagree with Mr. Sanders, but Mr. Gini, and his ratio sure has the feeling of being on the right side of history.
Bene, Corrado. Bene!