Infographic: Why The Rich Stay Rich

Information should always tell a story. But when there’s a real narrative? All the better.

Economics are boring. Now sure, there are times you can look at the micro and the macro and see all of the driving impulses of humanity playing out in numbers. But if economics were interesting, The Bachelor would be a stock market game and we’d all be lighting cigars with Benjamins.


Luckily, Inequality Is Fixable feels a bit like mixing economic policy with Saturday morning cartoons. It’s an interactive graphic from the Economic Policy Institute, designed by Periscopic, that pulls out all the stops–everything from Duck Tails-esque piles of cash (there’s no gold, sadly) to the Mr. Potters who are hoarding it–to explain why the rich have become so rich while everyone else was left behind.

“We recognized early on in the project that this information would be difficult for many of the people in the target audience–those most affected by economic inequality–to grasp if it wasn’t presented in a non-traditional way,” explains Periscopic co-founder Dino Citraro.

Like many of Periscopic’s pieces, it begins with a series of questions–how should income be distributed between the most wealthy 10% and the remaining 90%, and how is it actually distributed? This technique gives the viewer an immediate stake in what was to come. But where this data viz differs a bit is in pure tactility: a satisfying soundscape backs every step, little characters celebrate or lament when you redistribute their income, and there really is a moment where a man in a top hat smokes a cigar while the middle class puts boxes on an assembly line.

“Sometimes data is best shown as simply that: data. A well-designed interface that allows visitors to explore at their own pace can be precisely the right approach when developing a scientific visualization or a set of data exploration tools,” Citraro writes. “However, when your data has a very clear story, and your goal is to encourage a specific action, using a narrative approach can be much more effective.”

Indeed, each scene urges you onto the next, so by the end of the experience, you learn that things weren’t always this way. And in fact, it’s only since 1979 that income distribution has shifted so dramatically.

Then again, what do I know? I don’t even own a proper top hat.


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.