I read recently that 16% of ancient Rome’s wealth, built on the backs of its slaves and plebes, was controlled by 1% of its population—this at the height of the Empire in 150 CE. The Roman state—city-state, kingdom, republic and empire—lasted about 1200 years; a pretty good run.
35% of US wealth is now in the hands of 1% of its people. What does this portend for the future? Is economic inequity quantifiable as a dynamic and if so, what does it tell us of the historical relationship between the increasing misery of the many, the swelling affluence of the few and social upheaval? What’s the tipping point? Give me numbers!
I searched and found the Big Creeping Gini.
The Gini coefficient measures income inequality. At Gini 100, one person controls 100% of the wealth. (As happens within some families.) At a Gini of 0%, wealth is evenly distributed. (Sweden’s Gini is about .023.) The higher the number, the more unstable the society.
Creeping social destabilization can be measured by the upward movement of the Gini. The tripwire seems to be in the 50’s:
US, 1968: 38.6 (Not so bad)
- Rome, 150CE: 44 (Rome had another 260 years)
- US, 2010: 46.9* (Oh my)
- France, 1780s: 54.6 (Eeew)
- 1789: the Bastille is stormed (Tumbrels & heads rolled)
[This] led me [to] reflection on that unequal division of property which occasions the numberless instances of wretchedness which I had observed in this country…The property of this country is absolutely concentred in a very few hands…These employ the flower of the country as servants, some of them having as many as 200 domestics… They employ also a great number of manufacturers and tradesmen, and lastly the class of laboring husbandmen. But after all there comes the most numerous of all classes, that is, the poor who cannot find work. Thomas Jefferson, letter from France, 1785
Big Creeping Gini