# There is another way of lookin

There is another way of looking at the overall income
distribution . . . It involves thinking of a parade of the whole population
passing before our eyes in a period of one hour. Each person’s height is
determined by their income such that the person with the mean income has the
mean height (say 5′9″). Someone with income half the average would
have a height half the average, and a person with income twice the average
would be twice as tall as the average. Now suppose they pass before us in order
of income (and therefore height) with the poorest (shortest) first until the
last second of the sixtieth minute when the richest (tallest) person passes . .
.
The first few seconds will actually see a few upside-down
people with negative incomes and therefore negative heights. These will be the
self-employed who are making losses from their businesses. And then for the
first couple of minutes tiny dwarfs of under a foot or so will be passing. The
heights of those passing will initially rise quite quickly, reaching 2′4″
after six minutes. But then there will be a long parade of dwarfs whose height
will increase very slowly, only reaching just over 2′10″ (or half
average height) by the end of the twelfth minute. Most of those passing at this
point will be on social security benefits of some sort.
In the next 18 minutes, taking us up to the half hour, the
4′9″ when the half hour is reached. Half-way through and we are
still looking down on people nearly a foot shorter than the average. The
average height is eventually reached in the thirty-seventh minute, with the
height still growing fairly gradually. At this stage, we are seeing mainly
working people. At about the three-quarters-of-an-hour mark, something happens
to the parade. The heights of the people passing by start rising much more
quickly. It took half an hour for everyone under 4′10″ to pass. It
then takes another 18 minutes for the height of the parade to reach
7′8″. This is the height of people passing with just 12 minutes to
go before the hour is up. But over just the next six minutes, the height rises
to nearly 10′, and in the last few minutes, the heights start rising very
quickly indeed. By the time we get into the last minute, 15′6″
giants are passing by. But it is not until the very last few seconds that the
real giants are striding past. A merchant banker or chief executive of a large
company with a gross income of £1 million per year (say) and net earnings,
therefore, of about £12,000 per week would be towering up in the sky at a
mighty 265′ or 88 yards tall, over one-and-a-half times as high as
Nelson’s Column.
Even above the highest-paid executives and employees will be a
few entrepreneurs and aristocrats. The very richest in the country are not
salaried employees. They either own their own companies (like Richard Branson)
or large parts of the country (the Queen, for example). Unfortunately, none of
our data contain information on this particular group of the population. When
Pen first wrote of the parade, he estimated that John Paul Getty was the
richest man in Britain and attributed to him a height of at least ten miles.