< Back to front page Text size +

Income inequality and fractal patterns

Posted by Christopher Shea  September 9, 2010 12:49 PM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

A fractal is a shape whose contours replicate themselves at every scale. If one were to zero in on the snowflake reproduced below, for example (known as a Koch snowflake), the same patterns of jaggedness would be evident however close you got. Mathematicians have long been enthralled by the beauty and elegance of fractals.

fractalsnowflake.jpg

At Aidwatch, Bill Easterly makes the case that the concept of fractals sheds light on the distribution of poverty. Globally, there are pockets of wealth (the U.S., Western Europe) and pockets of desperation (sub-Saharan Africa). Ditto when you zoom in to explore the U.S. (greater Washington, DC, for example, in contrast with Appalachia). And even when you drill down and look at neighborhoods in a single city, similar patterns of abundance and want reveal themselves: Incomes in New York's Lower East Side are roughly 14 percent of what they are in the Lower West Side.\

"At each scale," Easterly writes--making his point with a series of noteworthy graphics-- "there is a remarkably high level of inequality across space." Of course, the social implications of these patterns are considerably less pleasing than are their geometrical representations.

new-york-city-income.gif

A representation of income inequality in New York

Hat tip: Brad DeLong

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

 
About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
contributors
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

archives

Browse this blog

by category