Sunday, September 17, 2006


Modal Curve Monkey Business

The lazy and complacent neo-con idealogues at Tech Central Station are engaged yet again at their favorite intellectual tricks - sophistry and casuistry. For the vocabulary-challenged among us, this means that TCS is bullshitting us once more. In an article entitled "Census and Sensibility", some dorkwad named Jerry Bowyer begins by sniping at the brain cells of concerned liberals - "When levelers (people obsessed with income inequality) used to call my radio program, I would typically debate statistics with them. But that took too long..."

He goes on to compare the rising bank accounts of the rich to the distribution of high IQ's in a large population. The more people you have, the larger the number of geniuses among them - but also the smarter the top geniuses will be. Likewise, the more people, the more billionaires - and, of course, the richer the top billionaires will be. Notice the sly insinuation that billionaires are geniuses he makes simply by comparing the two phenomena. Excuse me, but this, ahem, "argument" does nothing to explain income inequality.

Modal curves plot the distribution of natural phenomena, by and large, and there is nothing "natural" about income inequality. Those with the most money have the most power, and so can influence legislation and the market to ensure that they make even more money by what are essentially "non-random means". With more money comes more power, and the vicious circle intensifies. As the income and assets of the rich steadily increase, the greater the distance they will put between themselves and the contemptible middle class. If everyone's real income was rising - as might naturally occur in any but the latest "economic boom" - the modal curve would be expanded, but with minimal distortion. Suppose the poorest family earned 1 dollar in year X, the richest family earned 1 billion dollars, and the average family earned 40,000 dollars. Suppose, between year X and year Y, the income of the richest family increased to, say, 2 billion dollars. The poorest family might still only earn 1 dollar, but wouldn't it stand to reason that the income of the average family might increase at a rate proportional to the increase for the wealthiest - say, from 40,000 dollars to 80,000 dollars? In fact, that is not happening. The richest are gaining their increase by consciously and deliberately suppressing the income of the average family. The effect of this is that, while the richest soars to 2 billion, the average family staggers upward slightly to 42,000 - and while the richest ascend yet again to 20 billion, the average family stumbles down to 41,000. Keep in mind that the very richest are not exactly an anomaly either. The income of the entire top percentile is expanding at a similar rate. Although we may have started out with something that resembles a modal curve, what we have increasingly is an unnatural distribution skewed towards the bottom, with a big hump at the left side of the spectrum, and a long dragon's tail of artificially engineered affluence stretching out towards the right. And I do mean towards "The Right" in more ways than, if you get my drift.

Oh, oh, oh...wait! Now I understand. The modal curve of income distribution is retaining its natural shape after all. That's because so many poor and middle class slobs are in the red that their collective debt is becoming as vast as the wealth of the top dogs (the "geniuses" of wealth, so to speak). The lefthand tail of the curve has not been contracted at all. It has merely shifted past zero down to, say, minus 20 billion dollars - and that's where the poorest and unluckiest of us are increasingly sequestered, indebted unto the far reaches of eternity, never, ever to buy themselves out of slavery. Only such a distribution could balance out the vast gains of the top percentile and allow the income chart to retain that "Bell Curve" shape of which the snooty neo-cons are so enamored.

No doubt, with my ingrained liberal imbecility, I have grossly misrepresented the science of statistics. I am sorry, Mr. (or Dr.) Bowyer, but I am willing to learn. Even, perhaps, able... Here are the GRE scores of my alter ego and bodymate, also a die-hard liberal. I ask, on his behalf, whether he might be worthy of your tutelage...

"Census and Sensibility" from Tech Central Station

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