What are the Wall St Protestors So Angry About?

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Loads of people have emailed asking if we can improve the graphs on the What The Wall Street Protestors Are So Angry About megapost.


Here’s our first stab. A visual about income equality in the USA.

More to follow.

(Check out our Debtris video too)


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Show Comments ( )

  • John

    I wonder what this looks like over time. Have we always been #45 or whatever on this list? How would you demonstrate this over time beginning in, say, 1945? Or whenever the Gini coefficient was developed.

  • Kevin Miller

    It’s visually elegant, but I don’t get what point it’s trying to make. Without knowing anything about the Gini coefficient, I just see the US listed about 3/4 of the way down the graph; I can contextually grasp that that the countries with higher coefficients are less “desirable” (e.g. Haiti, many African countries) but then so are successful countries like Singapore. Long story short, I was expecting to see the US at the very bottom with some outrageously high number.

    • david

      The idea – and the height – of the graphic is to gauge your expectation of where America would be versus where it actually is. You had a very low expectation Kevin!

    • Christine A

      I had exactly the same reaction… The URL and the graphic’s title and legend had me primed to see some giant balloon representing the US. I scrolled down with a sense of expectation and the reality of it was anticlimactic.

      I don’t think the graphic, or even the raw data, tells a story that packs any punch. The CIA’s selective 2010 data table gets the point across more clearly, although the way they select data points is blatantly manipulative; essentially, the way they cherry-pick the countries says “here’s a long list of mostly first-world countries that have greater income equality than we do… and the few countries that are worse than us are dodgy ones known for corruption or racial strife.”

      I think there is a valid point to be made with that data, but the average person looking at that graphic is not going to get it.

  • jonmcrawford

    What does the width of the bar represent versus the circle? What do the colors represent?

  • Mike H

    I would just say that this graph suffers from the same problem as many of the talking points offered by the protesters. While I sympathize with people who are upset about an increasingly stratified society, the gini coefficient tells us only about gross income, which is not net taxes or of government transfers, and isnt really relevant from the perspective of national governments whose main tools are taxes, not wage and price controls. Changing to a more progressive tax system (which I think is one of the demands of the protesters) would address only net income, not gross income. In this regard, there is a fundamental disconnect between using the Gini coefficient in relation to the OWS movement.

    • david

      Thanks for that Mike. The Gini Co-efficient tends to divide economists. And we’re encountering the same broad problem transcoding the protestor data. But we’re working on bringing other metrics to the surface. More later…

  • Aariq

    A link to more info about the Gini coefficient would be a nice addition.

  • Andrew Pennebaker

    Information Is Beautiful is a good cause, but this link-to-a-link-to-a-link crap’s gotta stop.

    HERE‘s the real article.

  • Gert K Nielsen

    This is the barchart that doesn’t explain anything and isn’t news. Are you too busy or what is going on?

  • Bob

    For all the Wall Street protesters, I don’t see any country listed above the US that I would want to move to. But feel free…

  • Dotour

    Some things that would skew the data as represented here:

    A relatively poor country in which there is less wealth overall

    A country in which a larger minority is disproportionately wealthy

    A country with a larger or smaller middle class

    Differences between accounting and census regulations between countries

    Regional differences in the cost of living

    It would be nice to know how much difference in the Gini coefficient is significant. Should we be alarmed at a 1% difference? How about 5%? Is a norm-referenced measure really appropriate at all? It probably doesn’t help that the general public is not too familiar with the Gini coefficient, so some sort of explanation would go a long way.

    This also says nothing about quality of lifestyle. The reader is left to his own imagination to draw conclusions based on distant places about which he likely knows little or nothing. How do I know whether the proletariat in Belarus are better off than their counterparts in the States? You’re probably just going to end up reinforcing a bunch of meaningless stereotypes.

    They had an Occupy Everywhere protest in Taipei recently. Tell me, what were those people protesting? According to your chart, it looks like Taiwan is doing fairly respectably. Except for the (disproportionately abundant) foreigners, they certainly weren’t protesting the American economy. While the Wall Street protestors and their ilk abroad may well have some very legitimate grievances, it seems increasingly more likely that they’re taking advantage of hyperbolic conditions in the news media to pursue hyper-partisan political concessions.

  • Rob Walsh

    I was talking about this graphic with some people in the office – and it wasn’t clear to everyone that the bars spreading out from the number represented inequality. We talked about things a little further and came up with an emendation that we think might aid clarity:

  • Fritz Fibbenz

    As far as Bob is concerned, it’s noticeable that most of the countries below the US are third or second world. Which usually indicates a history of post colonialism corruption, inequality, and general poverty. I guess the ideas of the modern democratic state, general well being, and economic fairness don’t agree with him…

    I would like to see how the Robber Baron era in this country would stack up today.

  • iamjoebob

    I like this, but (of course) have one suggestion: move the circle with the score along the horizontal. I think that would be a more intuitive representation than the color, and would communicate the bias of the distribution. It would also make a comparison very easy, with an open circle with solid number as the historical reference. You could also have fun with an interactive graph, having it change based on the country chosen (or comparing two countries).

  • Jörgen Abrahamsson

    Why are the bars centered? Given that so few people know what GINI is why are there such emphasis on the numbers? Numbers distract from visualizations and should be kept to a minimum. In this case one number, the highest 70,7. It should have been just a bargraph and much much smaller so you could see it all at once. Again, why are the bars centered?
    If you like to make a point you could have made a map and place USA next to Camerun or Bulgaria.

  • OJ Juror

    Made a PDF available of’s graphic megapost it may be easier for some to analyze accordingly. Grab it at

  • Jim Bales

    I find it odd that each country’s graphic is symmetric, regarless of the magnitude of the inequality. I would have expected countries with greater inequality to have greater asymmetry in their graphic.

    Jim Bales

  • Christoffer


    Good forum!!

  • bee

    Nice graphic … not sure it clearly communicates Gini coefficient or relative standings …

    Next problem is that Gini coefficients do not communicate actual quality of life

    Finally, who really knows what is motivating Occupy protestors

  • Permino

    Yea what ARE they mad about?
    Looking at the numbers above – If only the american economy was like Greece, everything would be OK!

  • Shelley

    I write about how people survived the biggest economic crash/ecological disaster of our history, and since I also teach college, I know how important graphics are in quickly and accurately communicating facts to young students. Thanks tje graphics!

  • Will Dwinnell

    The Gini coefficient is only one of a number of ways to summarize this data, and, it is important to acknowledge that, like all summaries, the Gini coefficient simplifies by throwing information away.

    Taking another perspective, consider that, according to this chart, India fares “better”, in that its Gini coefficient is much lower than that of the United States (indicating that, in some sense, distribution of income is “more equal” in India than it is in the United States). On the other hand, other summaries would show that the United States has almost no incidence of the crushing poverty endured by many people in India: To be “poor” in America means something altogether different than to be “poor” in India.

  • Judester

    There are too many variables to justify a graph with the title you have. The distance between high money and low money and calling it income distribution.