The above link is to a rather dull infographic about Tumblr, apart from the interesting statistic that 2% of users (helpfully categorised as “Addicts”) make up 43% of total visits, and visit more than 30 times per month.
Which is a useful way of demonstrating that inequality is a common statistical attribute, in fact a definitional one, of any distribution that isn’t already perfectly equal. Construct a situation where individual data points are able to equal multiples of the average (y-)value (e.g., Tumblr users and visits, individuals and income) and combinations like the above are quite easy to achieve.
The question of how much inequality is too much isn’t really answerable, even with reference to something like the Gini Coefficient, because it is simply a measurement (both quite an elegantly simple one, and necessarily imperfect). Strictly speaking, in the context of the Gini Coefficient alone the question is unanswerable, assuming the answer isn’t ‘anything less than 1 (perfect equality)’. It requires a normative judgement to set the amount or ratio of inequality we find acceptable, and the norm is either a) what society currently is, b) what it isn’t, and/or c) some other ideal.
This is all incredibly obvious, but recently an entire political discourse has been structured on the arbitrary distinction between ‘the 1%’ and ‘the 99%’. The fact that it was opposed by a rival distinction between the 57% and the 43% just shows how arbitrary it is to divide society into two discrete camps based on statistical percentages. In fact, it was more illuminating to read the arguments between the self-proclaimed 99%ers and 57%ers than it was to read any of the propaganda relating to soaring income inequality and shares of the national wealth: for the simple reason that one related to real political arguments about the role of state welfare or assistance in personal success, or the converse effect of private wealth and status, whereas the other churned out mind-numbing statistics that affected to inflame political consciences but instead hardened them around the dry numbers of economics. It’s a functional symbol, but on its own it’s a crap argument. It says: things need to change; but it doesn’t say; this is how things should change.
The lack of a plan, the lack of actionable demands, the lack of a cohesive ideology suggesting how the world could be improved beyond not being the way it is now, is sometimes taken as an advantage of the Occupy movement. Leaderless, incorruptible, unconquerable, seems to go the train of thought - but in that case it leads nowhere that others don’t choose to take it. In a way, this is an opportunity for us - to Occupy ourselves. I just wonder if others haven’t gotten there first. Today in the Guardian, ‘Occupy’ writers took over (part) of the Comment is free section, and in search of some new perspectives on the movement (yeah, I know you’re great, I know governments and corporations are bad, but what else?) I read a couple of articles on financial matters. One was about how you don’t have to pay debt collectors, and contained the statement “fractional reserve banking is basically fraud”, which is basically as intelligent as saying that property is theft, especially as we rely on the separate (and mutually understood) definitions of each term to operate an economy and rule of law in the most basic terms. The other was about how banks shouldn’t be allowed to ‘create’ money - basically by the same system of fractional reserve as described above - and they should be restricted by government from creating numbers-on-a-computer-screen (not the article’s phrase, but the exact stereotype it describes), essentially removing their ability to make loans.
It has to be said, the Guardian does tend to publish an awful lot of ‘bad’ opinion pieces, from the left perspective, but horribly tendentious and controversy-baiting, in the spirit of ‘free’ comment. It could also be said that those writers are not representative of the Occupy movement or philosophy - but isn’t that the point, that no-one is representative of it? It is democratic to the point of being a replica of Ancient Greece (and similarly drawn from those with the ability to devote themselves to politics full-time). I don’t know if the obsessions above are connected with the mathematical focus of the 99% idea, but I suspect they are. My greater fear is that the amazingly diverse coalition of “anarchists, anti-capitalists, deep green activists, libertarians” is ideally placed as a conspiratorial plaything for the last group. Precisely because they don’t, and cannot, constitute a group, lacking in the necessary solidarity and spirit of co-operation - unless they form part of a movement so large that such terms become meaningless, are in fact designed to be meaningless. The arguments above aren’t quite as nutty as US-style gold standard fetishism, but they sail awfully close to that wind.
What I’d like to see is the driving force behind the Occupy movement applied to some genuine politics, which works across the 99% to make it into a functioning body politic rather than a homogenized mass - no idea of the lumpen proletariat in modern history has ever done so much lumping of people together, including certain unsavoury 20th century movements which pursued rather unenlightened racial policies - and looks beyond the numbers to debate the real politics and economics of creating a more equitable society. Today on Tumblr I saw a lot of posts about two things: the suspension of popular TV comedy Community (which I never found that funny when it came on first, so forgive the schadenfreude and/or irritation at people’s reactions) and the clearing of the Occupy Wall Street camp in New York’s Zuccotti Park. Neither are particularly surprising events in the current set-up of power structures, or even of what can be rightfully expected - a massive occupation of a public park is okay just because it’s political, is it? - so why do we act like we’re hurt? We’ve lost nothing, because, as of yet, we’ve changed nothing.