|By CATHERINE RAMPELL|
But is the socioeconomic gap between American politicians and their constituents really unusually wide?
That's partly a quantitative question, and partly a philosophical one. Standards of living have obviously improved greatly over generations, making then-and-now comparisons difficult.
I tried to answer this question using a principle from
That's looking pretty good compared to the rest of American households, whose tax returns were also due on Tuesday.
We don't yet have median total income data for all American households in 2011. The Tax Policy Center has estimated that the median tax unit had total cash income of
That means the Obamas' cash income is probably even higher than
If that sounds like a lot, consider that the leaders of plenty of other countries earn significantly higher salaries alone.
Two years ago The Economist looked at how salaries of presidents from around the world compared to their countries' gross domestic product per capita (which is similar to the average, rather than median, income per person).
In 2010, the American president's base salary of
Now consider what the differential was in earlier eras.
A few highlights:
Francein 1788 — just before the French Revolution and the resulting insistence on égalité — the nobility and clergy earned about five times the mean per capita income. That's much lower than I'd expected, given that the country's social unrest grew out of its infamous lack of égalité. Of course, the mean per capita income doesn't capture the condition of the very poorest Frenchmen.
Englandand Walesin 1759, the highest titled classes earned 67 times the mean per capita income.
- In Byzantium in the year 1000, the nobility earned 56 times the mean income per capita.
Romein the year 14 C.E., senators earned a full 100 times (!) the mean income per capita.
Some individual Roman leaders did even better, according to the data on
The rich triumvir Crassus, who lived in the first century B.C., received an income of 12 million sesterces per year, whereas the mean annual income at the time is estimated to be 380 sesterces. That indicates Crassus received an income equal to that of about 32,000 average Romans.
Now of course, these calculations look at income only, and not the wealth accumulated by rulers versus those they rule.
For a more contemporary look at the socioeconomic gap between leaders and constituents using a wealth metric, check out this article by my colleague
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