What's our true gini?

2015-02-22 15:00

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It is hard to say for sure if South Africa is the “most unequal society on earth” because, for much of the world, there isn’t enough information to make fair comparisons.

Even determining how unequal South Africa is has become a battleground of ideas, where different versions of the famous Gini coefficient and other measures provide vastly different results.

Depending on the measure you use, inequality might be getting better or not changing at all.

South Africa could be said to have a Gini of 0.65 or 0.77 or 0.59. And no one really knows what the Gini coefficients for much of the world’s countries are. The world’s most-cited source for these figures, the World Bank, has no Gini estimates for about 50 countries – and old ones for dozens of others.

What is completely uncontroversial is that South Africa is very unequal compared with the other countries for which information is available.

Most measured countries fall somewhere between 0.3 and 0.5. A coefficient of 1 means a single person earns all a country’s income, while 0 means everyone earns exactly the same amount.

South Africa’s target under the Millennium Development Goals set in 2000 was a Gini of 0.3 by 2015 – as we now know, that’s a far-fetched prospect. The National Development Plan has a target of 0.6 by 2030.

Depending on who you believe, South Africa’s present Gini could almost be there already.

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