I’m going to go way of the normal track here and do a bit of social commentary. I heard a radio piece on my drive home yesterday about the challenge of paying court and legal fees for low income wage earners. This can trap those guilty of minor offenses (like a traffic infraction) in a cycle of jail and debt that is difficult to break out of. It never made sense to me that financial penalties – which by their nature are punitive – don’t scale with income, as is common in some European countries. I decided to try and visualize how the weight of a penalty for say, a speeding ticket, scales with income. It was tempting to try and scale up, i.e. what is the equivalent of $300 for someone earning $X? I decided however, that it would be more informative to try and scale down.
In this scenario the penalty is $300. Someone earning the federal minimum wage and working 40 hours a week makes $15,080/year, so the $300 penalty is roughly 2 % of annual income. So be it, perhaps that’s a fair penalty. But what would be the equivalent if the same offender earned more? A private/seaman/airman who has just joined the military earns roughly $18,561/year. Paying the same ticket (and I know from experience that the military pays a lot of them) would equate to the minimum wage earner paying $243.72. A graduate student fortunate enough to get a stipend (and own a car) might earn $25,000/year. Paying the same ticket would be equivalent to the lowest wage earner paying $180.96, and down it goes along the income scale. If LeBron James, who earned $77.2 million last year in salary and endorsements (according to Forbes), got the ticket, the penalty would be equivalent to the lowest income wage earner paying $0.06. Salary data came from a variety of sources, including here and here. Salaries marked with an asterisk in the plot above are medians from these sources.
East Africa’s rift valley is considered by many to be the cradle of humanity. In the Turkana region of northwest Kenya, researchers Christopher Lepre and Tanzhuo Liu of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory are cooperating with colleagues to study questions of human evolution, from the creation of the earliest stone tools to climate swings that have affected developing civilizations. Startling new discoveries are coming from this region at a rapid pace. Here are images from a recent field expedition. READ THE FULL SCIENTIFIC STORY or WATCH A VIDEO