visualizing inequality

One of my resources to keep in touch with development debates is Oxfam GB Duncan Green’s From Poverty to Power blog. Apart from his own interesting posts and guest contributions he regularly publishes a Links I Liked post that always contains click-worthy stuff. His latest contained three visualizations that  really did it for me, but at the same time brought a discussion about Wild Ass Guesses (“unreliable guesstimates  and made-up statistics in the public debates on corruption”) on the Global Anticorruption Blog to mind. Visualization is certainly a fancy of mine so here we go.

This Global Justice Now image visualizing the UK government’s relative efforts in investigating benefit fraud versus tax evasion loudly shouts at my sense of injustice. But first comments on Duncan’s posts already point out that at least some of its numbers are WAGs (see here and here). Campaigners tend to go for shock value and seek that in the largest numbers. Their utilitarian argument is understandable but doesn’t convince me. Truth is ultimately the more solid ground. The ratio depicted above – 632:1 – is shocking, but would 25:1 or even 10:1 have been less shocking? Our species cannot grasp big numbers, 10:1 or 100:1 doesn’t make much impressionable difference. Why risk credibility?

The second pic in Duncan’s links was about  global inequality in access to clean water:



I haven’t looked into these numbers from WaterAid’s latest report but would intuit that they are not WAGs but reasonably transparent guesses. To me, these figures are way more shocking than the above developed world inequality. Ever since reading Branko Milanovic‘s  The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality, I’ve wondered about our collective developed world inability to look the real inequality in its face.

This leads to the last visualization of the Links I liked post that caught my attention, a cartoon by Brandan Reynolds:

My gut reaction to this picture is immediate: what a powerful combination of two dominating themes in current public debate! It ‘somehow’ speaks to my generalized unease/upset about the ways of the world. Thinking about it, I would say that its simplicity is a boon. Any suggestion of a more direct relationships between the two would have risked triggering questions about truth. Campaigners from the Tax Justice universe have worked hard to make the panama-headed ship look like stealing from the poorest. I’m sure that in abstract terms they are right, but I’m also very doubtful that in practical terms the poorest would benefit much from stopping that ship. The cartoon doesn’t make that robber claim, and is all the better for it.

Best auditive reflection of the same unease, but one that offers release as well remains the blues, especially if it has entered one’s system in youth, so let me conclude with some Rory Gallagher.

About roger henke

Still figuring out the story line that would satisfy myself here. Listening to what my family and friends evoke, what the words I absorb, the images that move me, the movements that still me, point to.
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