/ 7 June 2013

Gini bias denialists defeated by Google

Gini Bias Denialists Defeated By Google

(Letters, May 24). But they lack any semblance of common sense.

A brief recap of the plot thus far: for nearly two decades, newspapers everywhere have been wont to describe South Africa as "the most unequal society" on Earth, as calculated by boffins using an equation known as the Gini coefficient.

On May 10, your intrepid reporter, Ms L Donnelly, revealed that, by several reckonings, the inequality charge is totally unfair. In response, I wrote a letter expressing shock at the South African intelligentsia's unquestioning acceptance of invidious judgments based on skewed Gini calculations. In my estimation, it was almost as if the intelligentsia  wanted South Africa to be seen as a morally deformed and sick society.

In response came two letters accusing me of being "silly" and irresponsible. "No serious commentator has claimed that we are the most unequal society on Earth," said Len Verwey. "Neither Donnelly nor Malan has reported any research that substantiates this conclusion," said Sean Muller of the University of Cape Town school of economics.

I was, like, what? No serious commentator thinks South Africa is the most unjust society? No serious researchers support this ­conclusion? Chuckling incredulously, I went online and googled "South Africa most unequal". I got 54 600 hits. Life is short and time is precious, so I read only the first 20.

Among them, I found the following persons and institutions talking of South Africa as the world's most unfair society: Archbishop Desmond Tutu; the SABC; Cosatu; Moneyweb; Oxfam; AllAfrica.com; Independent Online; the British Broadcasting Corporation; the United Kingdom government; UCT professor Haroon Bhorat; and Wikipedia, whose entry on the subject states that "countries in Africa had the highest pre-tax Gini coefficients in 2009, with South Africa the world's highest at 0.7". Footnotes attribute this claim to the World Bank and the African Economic Research Consortium in Nairobi.

Even this tiny sample suggests that a significant proportion of humanity has been (mis)led to believe that South Africa is a place of unique economic injustice. By mocking me, Verwey and Muller contrive to defend the conventional wisdom, or at least shield it from ridicule. Or maybe they're just social-movement hustlers, bent on salvaging what remains of the "most unequal" argument for use in their grant applications?

That said, I would like to thank Messrs Verwey and Muller for forcing me to educate myself about the Gini coefficient. I was gratified to see that, by some calculations, South Africa is almost as equal as Australia and South Korea and not too far behind social democracies such as Denmark and Germany, where social justice is unparalleled. Given where we started, this is a huge achievement.

We should learn to be proud of ourselves and ignore those who want us to be ignoble and pathetic. – Rian Malan, Johannesburg