Sunday, January 15, 2012

What the 1% does

The Times, apparently pursuing something of a "class warfare" motif today, has published a few nifty income inequality gadgets. My favorite is a breakdown of the top 1% by profession. I can't embed it directly, so you're going to have to go check it out on your own, but I highly recommend that you do. Here's the link.

There's a lot here, but I think the most interesting part of the diagram is how the color of the boxes shows what percentage of people in a profession are in the top 1%. (Darker means more fat cats. You can get the exact figures by clicking on the boxes.) A couple of observations:
  • Most doctors make off like bandits. CEOs do well, too, but maybe not as quite as well as you'd expect.

  • A plurality of the 1% is composed of managers -- but managerial positions don't appear to be especially lucrative. There's just vastly more of them than there are doctors, lawyers, and CEOs -- so the handful of exceedingly well-paid positions still outnumber these other professions.

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the 1% is composed of the very richest members of a huge array of industries. Over 10,000 of them are waitstaff!

  • If wealth is your aim, avoid machine operation as a career. You've got less once chance in one thousand of reaching the 99th percentile.

  • What should you do? Turns out, it doesn't really matter what your occupation is. Just try to work in "Security, commodity brokerage or investment companies." Without fail, the members of a profession with the best odds of being rich are in these industries. It's easy to see: dark red basically signifies "financial industry workers" on the chart. (Excluding banking, which appears to offer more modest rewards.) While this pattern is certainly no surprise to anyone who's been paying attention for the last six years, seeing it in this context still chafes. After all, do the skills of managers, CEOs, lawyers, or supervisors really differ so much across industries? If pay is in any way a reflection of training or ability, this chart suggests that the abilities and training of securities lawyers and financial industry supervisors are more alike than the abilities and training of securities lawyers and, say, judges. Well, maybe. But I don't buy it.

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