National Incomes vs Global Incomes

Some of my favorite data visualizations are the charts produced by Branko Milanovic, which compare national income distributions to global income distributions. So I was thrilled to discover this website (created by Boris Yakubchik) which transforms Milanovic’s data into an interactive format where users can select which countries they want to graph. Below is a sample that I created using some of my favorite countries.

It can take a minute to understand what is going on, so here’s a brief primer and some examples. The vertical y-axis displays PPP-adjusted income and global income percentile, while the horizontal x-axis displays national income percentile. Let’s look at some examples from my chart:

  • An American earning $5,000/year is in the 8th percentile of American earners, but in the 70% percentile globally.
  • An Indonesian earning $3,000/year earns more than 90% of Indonesians, but only more than 60% of people globally.
  • A Dane earning $20,000/year is a very average Dane (~50% percentile), although they are close to the top 5% of earners globally.

It is easy to see that even poorer Americans and Danes are generally wealthier than the richer Indians, Indonesians, and Nepalis. This is just one observation made about a handful of countries, but there are many more ideas to takeaway from this data. Check out the website and create your own!

Giving More, Tomorrow

For one reason or another, people often share with me that they want to start donating money or increase the amount that they are donating. This is always great news, but often accompanied by real and/or perceived challenges. A few common ones that I hear include:

  • I want to start donating, but I don’t feel like I can right now.
  • I’m donating x% of my income. I feel compelled to give >x% of my income, but I don’t think I can do that right now.
  • I want to give $x, but my spouse is not on board with that.

In an ideal world, we could all just start donating our desired amount or increase to our desired amount at any time. Sometimes, we are unable to make these changes immediately or are looking for a more gradual approach. Several years ago, Shlomo Benartzi gave a TED Talk titled “Saving for Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” which relates to saving, but it could just as easily apply to giving.

Benartzi’s basic recommendation is to commit to saving a percentage of future increases in income (like raises and bonuses). Saving a portion of an increase requires no sacrifice today and takes the edge off of future sacrifices because net income still increases (because the new saving is just a portion on the increased amount). As an example, let’s say that I make $50,000 and want to save $5,000. It may be difficult to save 10% of my income immediately, but I could commit to saving 50% of my next raise. If I get a $1,000 raise, then I’ll save $500. Even though I’ve stuffed $500 into savings, I’m still netting an additional $500 of income. 

As mentioned, we could easily apply the same principles to giving. Below are some examples:

  • Someone who’s currently donating 10% of their income could try to get up to 12% by donating 20% of their future increases in income until their overall giving hits 12%.
  • Someone who wants to start donating could commit to donating 100% of any bonus.
  • There are all sorts of derivations and room for creativity. Suppose someone wanted to donate 6% of their income this year. They could donate 1% of income in Month 1, 2% of income in Month 2, and so on until Month 12 when they donate 12%. This is both gradual and would get them to their 6% annual giving target in Year 1 (a great feat). AND, the person would feel some relief when they drop their 12% donation rate back down to 6% in Month 13 (assuming they want to donate 6% each month in Year 2).

Sometimes getting started is the hardest part. Hopefully, the above is helpful in thinking about how to start giving or how to give more generously.