Brain Pickings

Occupy Scales of Wealth: Income Inequality Visualized as NYC Map

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From Red Hook to Prince Edward Island by way of the 99 percent.

Since 2004, literary and cultural magazine n+1 has been a flare of hope for intelligent print media. This fall, they embarked upon an effort to capture the dimensionality of the Occupy movement with equal parts awe and analysis (with a dash of healthy skepticism) in an Occupy!, an “OWS-inspired” print gazette, the third and final issue of which dropped last week. Gracing its cover is a wildly intelligent graphic by my wildly talented friend Kelli Anderson, visualizing wealth inequality in America through an unexpected, revealing lens that examines OWS as a physical occupation that unfolded in physical space.

The graphic is inspired by the familiar scales of the universe maps, plotting the relative distances between planetary bodies onto a local map that encourages an embodied understanding of celestial distances by walking local routes. Kelli transposed income inequalities using Wall Street Journal data onto the geography of New York City itself. Zuccotti Park, the center of the map, represents the income of the average wage-earner. Other percentiles’ average incomes — of the top 1%, the top 10%, the top 50% — appear longitudinally from there, with the bottom-earners (the bottom 0.01%) falling somewhere around Red Hook Battlefields and the highest earners (the top 0.01%) bleeding off the map, almost into the Arctic Circle, in Canada’s Prince Edward Island. Walking from Zuccotti park, or the average person’s income, to the bottom of the income scale will cost you a couple of hours, and trekking to the very top of the scale would take more than 18 days of continuous walking — a powerful manifestation of just how imbalanced and skewed our wealth scale is.

Kelli observes in an email:

The scale of the solar system (which is reigned-in by the gravity of the sun) is far less dispersed than the the scales of wealth in the US—which illuminates the propensity for wealth to skew wildly to the top when the financial system is not effectively regulated. Note that almost everyone in the top 1% works in banking or finance.

Also note that the income discrepancy within the levels of the top 1% are vastly greater than the gap between the top 1% and the bottom 1% of income earners. The proportions of wealth in the upper echelons of income are of a scale to which we have no comparable metaphors— the proportions are far beyond what we can see in the physical reality of our solar system.”

All three parts of the Occupy! gazette are available as free PDF downloads. Also highly recommended: n+1’s Occupy!: Scenes from Occupied America — a fantastic collection of essays, featuring Astra Taylor, Slavoj Žižek, Angela Davis, Rebecca Solnit, and other cerebral acrobats well worth your time and dime.

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