Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gini Coefficient

The Gini Coefficient is a mathematical formula invented by an eponymous Italian mathematician in 1912. It is a tool favored by economists to figure out wealth distribution. The map above comes from our friends at Leon Panetta's agency (the current head of the CIA used to be my Congressman years ago. I rate him a Good Guy). I honestly don't understand Corrado Gini's work except through a foggy veil of half understood misunderstandings, but let it be sufficient to note that economists do and they love his graph. We the people need to love the Gini Index as well because it tells us how poor we are. It does it with no regards to politics, the size of the economy or anything else. It's just a bunch of very revealing numbers. The fact that the Gini Index isn't in popular circulation may give you a hint of the irrefutably nasty news it contains.
If you look at the Mercator projection of the world shown up, and without enlarging the picture note the colors. Yellow indicates a lower Gini Coefficient, places where income is evenly distributed. Gray indicates places with such basket case economies it can't be measured, which is another way of indicating extreme inequality. Blues are more unequal than greens but purples trump everybody else.
Obviously Southern Africa and Brazil lead the way with China, Latin America and...the US in the same upper regions of peasant inequality. Europe and Canada show the fairest distribution of wealth. Obviously it's important to understand that with these statistics in use comparing the US, minorities will be disproportionately represented in the ladder of wealth, and white middle class people will be bunched further up the curve. However the news gets worse.

The rate of change in the Gini Coefficient in the US is accelerating. More people are accumulating more wealth at the expense of the many. The white middle class huddling in a corner hoping for relief and the return of the American Dream are being picked off and dumped into tent cities alongside the poor blacks and browns that always live on the margins of our economy.
Economics is a zero sum game and it's time to accept that. In other words there is only so much wealth to go around. So for every billion accumulated by a CEO on Wall Street there is one less billion to be shared by the rest. Republican supply side economists will try to tell you that wealth is infinite even though common sense should tell you that nothing in life is infinite. They will also tell you that a rising tide raises all boats, such that if corporations make more money, more cash flows to the workers. Not so. Average income levels mean nothing if you have ten people in a company and one makes a million bucks and the rest make a dollar each. The "average wage" would be somewhere around 100,000 dollars each, and obviously in my simplified example that simply isn't the case.
Even if you believe a rising tide raises all boats ask yourself why your parents could raise a family on one income a generation ago and now even two incomes struggle to do the same. There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that there is something seriously messed up in a system that sees greater and greater income inequality, less purchasing power and increasing insecurity. This isn't just unfair, this is a situation that leads to instability, and ultimately social collapse. And history shows that this is inevitably what happens when income inequality gets out of hand.

A Bit Of Front

One of the reasons I write this blog is that things are always changing around here and I want to record the Key West I know, as it evolves. There are days when change just gets your knickers in a twist and this feeble plastic chain is one such example.The message is unmistakable: no more free scooter parking at the end of Front Street. "In the good old days" (I hate that phrase and it's so common in Key West), you could roll up to the parking lot and roll your powered two wheeler into an approximation of a spot. I asked the attendant and he said it's now only free if you eat at a place on the water, which has always been the rule for cars. It seems that in these straitened times the owner of the lot figured he could rent those two spots out to a couple of cars, which would net him all of what? ...if they aren't parking to go and eat, in which case it's free anyway. Go figure. I know, it's a privilege that becomes an expectation but still. I park the Bonneville here to get half price appetizers at Alonzo's with my wife and now I'm going to have to remember to get a receipt. By the way there is still free scooter parking on the street, if you can find a space, as you can see this place is popular for two wheelers even in the low season. Pedestrians too:
Anyway this blow to my list of not-so-secret parking spaces set me to wondering how much this block of Front Street will change over the next few months or years (or hours even!). So I did what I had to do and whipped out my camera. If you, like me, prefer hotels to the intimacy of bed and breakfasts there are major chains littering the waterfront:
And it seems the services on offer can be fascinating:The Hyatt owns a ton of land in Key West, an entire city block resembling the Berlin Wall attests to that fact. One wonders what unspeakable acts go on behind that impenetrable wall, that bland facade? The other side of Front Street is full of interest, storefronts and the like:I go to Kermit's as I prefer my Key Lime pies without fish.Clothing boutiques...

I am struck by how this piece of Front is cleanly developed like shopping centers anywhere in America.
It's the paradox of small town America in Key West; the family outing: The drinking establishments....
And then there is that funny little anomaly, the Bottling Court. It faces on Simonton Street around the corner but the back entrance always fascinates me, an Arab souk rendered in American:One of my fantasies was to have my own small business, a cobbler's shop by preference where I could mix the smell of shoe leather and glue, like the cobbler in the village of my childhood where I grew up, and I'd want to do it in a business garden like this:I wasn't the only one taking advantage of this quiet corner:
The pleasure I got from the play of sun and shadow, palms and architecture soothed my ruffled feathers from the new pay-to-park fiasco.