Monday, August 04, 2008

Share of Olympic Medals = Share of Income

The chart above shows 2006 income shares from the IRS, and medal shares at the 2004 Summer Olympics. Notice the amazing similarity? For example, the top 5% of U.S. taxpayers earned 36% of all income, and the top 5% of the 74 medal-winning countries (the top three: U.S., Russia, and China; and 70% of fourth place Australia's points to total 3.7 countries) won about 33% of the total medal points (598.3 out of 1832).

Perhaps any competitive process, whether it's athletics or the economy, distributes results (medals, income) unequally? And perhaps that unequal distribution, whether it's income or Olympic medals is a natural, expected outcome of any competitive process?

The Olympic medal winners are respected and admired, despite the inequality of outcome in those competitions. We should pay the same respect to the winners of our free enterprise system - the successful workers at the top of our economic ladder.


At 8/04/2008 12:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

World population = 6.7 billion. China = 1.3 billion, Russia 141 million (Wow, that’s low!), U.S. 304 million, Australia 20 million x .70 = 14 million. Total for 3.7 countries = about 1.8 billion people. 1.8/6.7 = 26.9%. (Source: CIA World Fact Book).

26.9% of the world population and 33% of the total medal points. Where's the great medal inequality? I still respect the Olympians, but there are reasons class A high schools and class D high schools don’t play one another for state championships.

At 8/04/2008 12:58 PM, Anonymous ej said...

but australia and russia get a disproportionately high amount of medals, while china under performs.

At 8/04/2008 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The professor’s conclusion rests on the assumption that the only variable is athletic prowess. I don’t think you can rule out population differences or that one country may support its athletes more than another inter alia.

At 8/04/2008 2:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The professor’s conclusion rests on the assumption that the only variable is athletic prowess.

I don't recall the average lefty whining about "inequality" offering caveats of any kind. They deem "inequality" per se bad regardless of the "variables".

At 8/05/2008 3:03 AM, Anonymous bob wright said...

It seems to me that by using country populations you are comparing apples and oranges.

The professor's percentages compares outcomes for participants in the tax system to outcomes for participants in the Olympics.

I would be interested in the opinion of a statistics/experimental design expert.

At 8/05/2008 6:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bob wright,

I'm not the one who initially grouped the data by country. I’m not an expert on statistics, but I think that moved the unit of analysis away from the individual and opens my line of argumentation into numerical comparison by country.

Again, I believe inequality and competition is a normal and healthy process. Likewise, open discussion is a normal and healthy process. Problems are not solved by everyone agreeing about everything. Besides that—it’s boring.

At 8/05/2008 8:36 AM, Anonymous bob wright said...

Hey Walt g.,

I hear you. And I agree that discussion is invaluable.

At 8/07/2008 8:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what the point of comparing these two figures is - one is the amount of money earned by x% of the population, the other is the amount of medals earned by a subset of individuals from various countries with widely divergent population sizes, grouped by x% of the total number of countries that participate in the Olympics. That's like saying four of the largest countries in the world have x% of land mass. Right, so what? Obviously there is a direct relationship between the number of inhabitants in a country and the number of medal winners. How does this help demonstrate that the top income earners deserve their share of a nation's annual income? Also, I don't think most people are as concerned with income differential so much as wealth. Are you trying to say that the U.S. and other top medal winners are "better" countries, and so they deserve to have more medals, just as the people at the top of the income bracket are "better" and thus deserve their pay? If so, I think the comparison of countries adjusted by population is a more appropriate measure (showing that the U.S. actually does very poorly, winning relatively few medals per capita).

If you are interested, here is a table showing the number of medals won by each country per capita:

At 8/13/2008 2:51 PM, Blogger Ehsan said...

I think the number of medals taken by a country is so related to the wealth of it and because those 5 countries got their wealth in a not fair way they got power in economy although they got most of the medals . inequality is spreading all over the world and it'd shown in many areas such as economy,technology and sport.

At 8/21/2008 5:02 AM, Blogger morejamesmore said...

Hi bob,
This discussion is quite essential to finding the "true winner of the Olympics".

At the moment the big issue is - who is leading the race for medals?
China with most gold medals and the US with most total medals.

I think it is a matter of origin whether you prefer to look at one or the other.

What IS interesting in this debate is that there are other ways to look at the medal tally (as the anonymous user points out).

I found a small widget that has the 2008 stats and can show medals won per million dollar GDP.
In addition the view can be changed to - total medals per million inhabitants.

Check it out:-)

Great discussion I'll be following it:-)



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