Friday, January 12, 2007

Maybe we're just measuring the wrong thing.

"There's a very interesting strain of economic research showing that our sense of well-being is determined more by our relative wealth than by our absolute wealth.
In other words, we care less about how much money we have than we do about how much money we have relative to everyone else. In a fascinating survey, Cornell economist Robert Frank found that a majority of Americans would prefer to earn $100,000 while everyone else earns $85,000, rather than earning $110,000 while everyone else earns $200,000.

Think about it: People would prefer to have less stuff, as long as they have more stuff than the neighbors.

The point -- and this is still a nascent field -- is that a nation may be collectively better off (using some abstract measure of well-being) with a smaller, more evenly divided pie than with a larger pie that's sliced less equitably. Reasonable people can and should argue about that."

The main thrust of the article is that CEOs getting $50 million bonuses while very good for them are not so good for the country as a whole.

There is certainly pressure there, we saw looting after Katrina, but then again we didn't see it after 9/11.

It would seem much more important to me the gap between the bottom and the point where basic needs are met. This may be the poverty line or not, the band for what defines the poverty line is rather large and depends a lot on where you are living, and I won't go into detail about that.

One of the problems the poor in our country is facing is obesity, that does tell us something very important, they are getting enough to eat. In many countries of the world, being poor means staring starvation in the face and missing work means no food and maybe death.

So to me the Gini coefficient is an interesting but meaningless number, it just doesn't seem to measure anything useful. But it is an easy number to find, find the lowest wage offered and the highest and divide. There are people who will be very shrill about "getting that number more in line with {something memorable}"

That needs to be answered in some manner. How do we measure something more useful?

An easy number to come up with might be the ration of those under the poverty line versus the whole population. But what do we define as the poverty line? The number we are looking for is probably along the lines of: how much does a family of 5 need to feed, lodge, transport and maintain themselves per year. the problem here is that the poverty line isn't a simple number to find, it is depends on where you are living, the poverty line in California is way higher then in Arkansas. Then you have to find the number of people below the poverty line in each area and that is a big mess because we see lots of arguments over that topic every time it comes up.

This just goes to show you that what you measure is as important as what you measure.

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