PoorQuality: Inequality

The World Takes

Dara Alter

The World Takes

Acrylic on canvas

24" x 24"

The World Takes is a painting that examines wealth distribution and inequality in the United States by considering a small region of New Jersey as a sample of greater America. The artist's experiences, biases, and observations of this place have become intertwined as the painting portrays the town where she lives. And she is unable to separate her feelings and memories from her depiction.

In this work, representations such as architecture and foliage appear alongside areas of abstraction to codify the unseen aspects of the place such as sound, smells, and weather. In this particular region, there is a striking distinction between the extremes of wealth and poverty. This is apparent on a visual level from the proximity of the houses to the upkeep of the neighborhood, buildings, and landscaping.

This work is emblematic of the state of those cities that were once great centers of industry before manufacturing moved overseas. The title of the piece The World Takes comes from “Trenton Makes The World Takes,” a slogan written in large lettering on the Lower Trenton Bridge which can be seen when passing by the city of Trenton.

Recently, there has been some interesting research on the lower-income populations of Trenton, NJ. The basic question that Eldar Shafir and his colleagues investigated was whether the poor are somehow different in terms of their long-term thinking, willingness to take risks, and decision making in general. It could be argued (and often is) that the poor are somehow less adept than the rest of us, that they have a lower cognitive ability and therefore make lousy financial decisions. The research, however, shows no evidence of this, and in some cases the poor turn out to make more rational choices than the non-poor. The root of the differences between the rich and poor stems from the very definition of poverty – the poor simply have fewer resources. It may help our understanding to conceptualize budgets as suitcases. If you are rich, it’s like having a huge suitcase; you can pack whatever you want without any problem. You can throw in an extra towel and four pairs of shoes, just in case. Being poor is like having a very small suitcase; you have to think very carefully about each item you take and for every item that you add, something else has to go. You are constantly making tradeoffs, having to choose between paying rent, the credit card bill, or food and diapers. And finally, you have to spend a lot of time organizing and reorganizing the suitcase so that everything fits, demanding more time and energy to manage complex affairs. If we grasp the constraining nature of this context, we can see that anyone would have a difficult time under such duress.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Born Lucky

Suzanne Broughel

Born Lucky

Bed sheet, makeup, clothesline, clothespins

Dimensions variable

We don't understand how bad our inequality is, yet it seems even more pronounced when broken down racially. “Luck” could also be called “privilege,” and often corresponds with racial lines.

Just as pie charts and graphs use color to represent demographics, Broughel has used color to interpret the U.S. racial wealth gap with materials that also reference domesticity in Born Lucky. She decorated a white bed sheet “canvas” with coin marks made by dipping quarters and pennies in liquid foundation makeup and pressing them on the fabric. The marks on the sheet, totaling $99.96 in quarters and pennies, are in two skin colors – “light” and “dark.” The two colors are applied in a ratio of 20:1 to represent the latest Pew findings that indicate the median of wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households.

The two makeup colors feel closer in hue to each other than to the truly white sheet. The vast disparity in their representation requires close observation.

When it comes to determining a “fair” distribution of wealth, we can't forget the role of luck. We have an impossibly difficult time grasping the luck component of our lives, and we generally attribute success to our skill and effort. If you realize that your current position in life is largely based on luck, then you must also consider the possibility that you could have just as easily been handed a different fate. If this is the case, then you will probably be more willing to redistribute wealth to the pool of the less fortunate. On the other hand, if you follow the assumption underlying the American Dream, that we are all offered an equal opportunity to climb the socioeconomic ladder with endurance and skill, then you're probably less likely to give to the poor. Because, after all, in this case everyone gets what they deserve.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Who Has It?

Addeane Caelleigh

Who Has It?

Handmade book, accordion with hard covers, cave paper

Dimensions variable

Books are containers for carrying collections of graphic symbols. Because in literate societies we become readers while very young, most of us read language symbols so easily that the meaning seems to flow effortlessly, directly from the page (or screen) to our minds. Some of us can read the symbols of mathematics or music just as easily. Only when we are confronted with an unknown “language” do we recognize again that these collections of symbols are conventions, inventions, ways to capture, store, and transmit meaning.

Who Has It? is bilingual: it stores the same information in two different languages. The first is English; the second is a graphical language made up of spaces and proportions.

Because the visibility of inequality is too often clouded by political jargon and ulterior agendas, we have a hard time recognizing the disparity between those who have much and those who have little. In the US we are indoctrinated with the rhetoric of equality and equal opportunity, and this becomes a distorting lens that filters the world around us by blocking some of the inequality information. This suggests that we need a translation in order to bring the situation to light – and until the actual state of things is written in a language that we all understand, little can be done to decrease the wealth gap.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Mi Casa Es Su Casa

Allison Felton

Suburban Village Loop & Bus Route 3 & Mi Casa Es Su Casa

Digital Photography

24.5" x 20.5"

Allison Felton lives in a suburb of Richmond, Virginia. The name of her neighborhood is “Bon Air” or “Good Air,” evocative of a clean, healthy lifestyle. The neighborhood school pulls from a variety of neighborhoods, ranging from half-million dollar homes, condos, apartments and a trailer park. The trailer park is home to dozens of families of immigrants from Mexico and Central America. The children and families in this community have come to this country in search of a better life. The artist hesitates to call them illegal because that evokes criminal intent or malice. These are simply hardworking people.

Why focus on these families? Simply because they are more similar to the artist than they are different. They worry about their children’s safety, they send them to the same school as her children because they heard it was a good school with active parent groups. The children in this neighborhood have no grass to run on, no safe, clean place to play outside. The police and INS regularly patrol the neighborhood and jail residents on suspicion of being illegal and hold them in jail until they can get legal counsel. Felton worries and wonders what their future could possibly be.

An unfortunate byproduct of poverty is a high likelihood of receiving low quality education. And while both rich and poor parents know that it is important for their children to succeed in school, public schools vary drastically by location. More money equals a better education, a greater likelihood of attending and graduating from college, and better future prospects across the board. In fact, parental income is one of the best predictors of a student's SAT score. The chain of effects begins from kindergarten and continues into adulthood. And while improving education in low-income areas is an important long-term goal, the reality is that such broad changes are very difficult to implement – particularly when funding depends on student “performance.”

Dan – Dan Ariely
Inequality in Education

Teri Foehl & Daniel Walzenbach

Inequality in Education

Framed digital prints

8 prints, 16" x 13" each

As education has a fundamental impact on the opportunities available to a person's later life, Teri Foehl and Daniel Walzenbach decided to contrast two schools in close proximity in a metropolitan area in the United States.

While they originally intended to compare teaching materials, they realized during the course of the project that showcasing the feel and comfort these schools convey is far more important and powerful than the bare teaching materials, a nice, new gym or brand new computers. A child can, without any doubt, learn how to use a computer even if it's not the latest model or gain valuable knowledge from a dog-eared book. What makes a child want to learn and come to and be part of a school though is if he or she feels happy and stimulated by the environment the school conveys.

The economist Robert Frank argues that the difference in the quality of schools from one neighborhood to the next is one of the main forces exacerbating the inequality between social classes. In particular, he shows that when parents want to get their kids into better schools, they move to neighborhoods that they can't afford, take mortgages that are too large, and then (all for the sake of a better education for their kids) wind up with debt, domestic violence, bankruptcy and divorce. In the end, the struggle of each family for better schools can become a destructive force in society.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Postcards of a Person

Kimberly Gormley

Postcards of a Person

Digital photography

4 10" x 14" prints and 1 11" x 17" print

Kimberly Gormley is fascinated by the way photography replicates the reality of what our eyes can see but our mind cannot record. In Postcards of a Person, she uses photography to mitigate the lack of knowledge our society has about the effects of income inequality on diverse population groups.

Participants chosen for Postcards of A Person reflect a spectrum of income levels within the artist's generation. Each participant was asked to display the contents of their wallet. Social markers such as insurance cards, fast food receipts, university and gym identification, and food stamp cards reflect the participants' wealth. She was struck by the multitude of advantages or disadvantages affecting her peers based on income; this work will create an awareness of both our own situation, as well as that of others.

During the opening reception, participants will be asked to address a postcard to another person, “sending a message” about their impression of the show, and what they have learned about income inequality, multiplying the reach of the exhibit.

The American banking system has evolved over the years in ways that support the rich and abuse the poor – taking advantage of those who have the least by hitting them with higher service charges and penalties. Think about credit cards, for example. Those who pay their balance on time provide only minimal profit to the banks, whereas those who cannot pay their balance on time (owing a hefty fine and carrying over their balance with interest) are the ones supplanting the income stream to the banks, and by doing so also subsidize financial services for the wealthy. And because of the higher costs of being poor, the unremitting cycle perseveres.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Quintile Class Book

Tanya Hart

Quintile Class Book

Risograph print on paper

15 cm x 19 cm

The USA, like Hong Kong, is a society with extreme inequality of wealth and social stratification, yet Americans believe in a narrative of social mobility. This leads to unhappiness, debt, stress and even social unrest. Many Americans are against governmental interventions so my work proposes an educational alternative: teaching children to “observe degree priority and place.” Embrace the reality of the class system and educate children in a contemporary version of the Elizabethan worldview: “Take but degree away, untune that string, And hark, what discord follows.”*

Chinese education in Hong Kong notoriously requires rote memorization of received ideas. As young children are still open to the values of authority figures, this is an ideal starting point to re-indoctrinate a population.

Tanya Hart has created a set of 5 copybooks in the format used by generations of Hong Kong school children. Each book contains short statements appropriate to the lives and aspirations of children in different wealth ‘classes’ or quintiles. The books were custom printed on a Risograph machine by the ink'chacha print collective and hand bound. They are pre-printed in a follow-the-dots font to prevent errors or creativity. Phrases are in English and Chinese.

* Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida

In one of our research projects, we split Americans into 5 quintiles of wealth accumulation. And while this is an arbitrary division (i.e., the 20th percentile is probably not markedly different from the 21st percentile), it is clear that class boundaries are barely permeable in our current society. As a professor, it saddens me that higher education is unable (or unwilling) to tackle this obstacle. Instead, universities amplify the problem by admitting the best high school students who would probably do well in life anyway. Naturally, leaving behind the students who could really benefit from a good education. Figuring out how to incentivize the education system to sample more broadly from a range of educations and backgrounds is a crucial next step, but I suspect that it would involve redirecting focus away from test scores and performance-based assessments.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Lady Luck

Leila Holtsman

Lady Luck

Steel, resin, ceramics

Triptych totaling 64" x 22"

Taking some wealth from a person who has and giving it to a person who needs it occurs through taxation, nationalization, welfare, charity or robbery. Wealth transfer of any sort hurts both the giver and the recipient psychologically. Our government leaders, guided by generally accepted democratic principles, usually decide who will suffer. Assuming a governmental gridlock, what if you were to assign the cost to our lower, middle and upper classes? Who would you hurt and how much would you hurt them?

While Americans seem to have a fundamental resistance to paying taxes, Americans also give more money to charity than any other country – more than twice as much as France, which ranks second. This is a wonderful thing, both for the receivers and for the giver. As research on prosocial spending shows: spending money on others (rather than ourselves) leads to a boost in happiness for both parties involved. One of the peculiar things about this finding is that while we all recognize that it is fun to receive, it is harder to intuit (and even believe) that giving money away will make us happy. At the Center for Advanced Hindsight, we recently had a gift exchange where each person in the lab spent $20 on another random person in the lab – and I am sure that we were all much happier getting gifts for each other than we would have been if we merely spent it on ourselves.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Outhouse, In House

Carter Hubbard

Outhouse, In House

Unfurled toilet paper rolls joined with forged metal bailing twine

Approx 4' x 8'

Quilts are reflective of a time when people relied on each other for support. Creating a quilt was essential to one of the basic needs of shelter within a home: warmth. This activity, via necessity and tradition, yielded the foundational by-product of close, meaningful relationships through community. In the context of this community and the ensuing conversation, awareness was raised and help was extended beyond the quilting bee.

As times have changed with modern advances and the hurried rush of society, coupled with the materialistic tidal wave of our economic system born out of excessive consumption, less attention is paid to relationships. Awareness of others humanness, as well as our own, has been greatly diminished.

The unfurled toilet paper rolls represent the commonality of humanity; vulnerability, fragility, and bodily process which are contrasted by the metal links made from forged metal bailing twine. The relationship between the two materials is a tenuous one as represented in today's society. The metal holds tightly with superiority to the fragile paper, yet it is dependent upon these small pieces of blank paper for its subsistence and wholeness; the wealthy in relationship to the minimum wage worker. The metal represents a steely, gripping fear of change within the context of history of repeating a dysfunctional past, soon to be epithet of history; telling a story as did many traditional quilts.

When we consider the widespread reluctance to pay government taxes, we should take a closer look at who really benefits from them and in what ways. If you're a poor individual using a government-supported social program, you may directly benefit from taxes through food stamps or Medicare. The wealthy, on the other hand, don’t get such direct and recognizable benefits. At the same time, think about a factory owner and how he might benefit indirectly from taxes. For every employee that is more educated, taking public transportation, using roads and receiving government health care, he spends less for a more qualified and able workforce. From this perspective, it could be argued that the main beneficiaries of taxation are the wealthy rather than the poor.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Wealth Distribution & Allocation Cemented

Michelle Kaufman

Wealth Distribution & Allocation Cemented

Digital video

According to Credit Suisse’s 2011 Global Wealth Report, the global breakdown of wealth is:

World Population Wealth
9% 82%
24% 15%
67% 3%

Michelle Kaufman created an 8-foot wooden cube with a grid at the top that had 100 ribbons hanging from it with ‘coins’ and magnets on the ends. Participants walked through the coins with magnetized jackets. Initially, a winner-take-all situation was anticipated due to the way the magnets were allocated within the jackets; however, because the magnets were sensitive to any sort of movement, the structure developed a life of its own, prompting two separate videos.

1. Four people enter the cube. They speak of who has wealth and who does not and how it should be allocated.
2. The cube (with the help of the wind) allocated the wealth on its own, mirroring the current global distribution. Initially, all the ribbons are hanging straight down: to each his own. Then, as the wind blows, the coins agglomerate, and the ribbons to which they are attached become intertwined and tangled. Once a few large clumps form, the distribution of the coins and ribbons is cemented.

The economist Thomas Schelling showed in 1972 that even small differences in initial conditions can yield dramatically different outcomes over time. In one of his examples, he demonstrated that a neighborhood comprised of people who have a slight preference for others of the same skin color can gain momentum over time such that the neighborhood winds up completely segregated. Similarly, in a world in which money begets more money, it is easy to see how a slightly better starting point could yield substantially different outcomes down the line.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Books to Fill

Paula Krieg

Books to Fill

Watercolor paper, book cloth, watercolor, inks, pencil, colored pencil, watercolor pencil, wallpaper samples, wooden and plastic beads, various papers, and waxed thread

20" x 20" x 20"

Paula Krieg's response to the inequality research was to create blank books that she can give to young children as a gesture of giving what she can. “Creating a gift with good intentions was great fun. Trying to give it away was an education in itself.”

Krieg successfully offered books to a Vermont teacher and a New York State teacher. When she offered books to two other women, both who are involved in education and who have websites with “donate” buttons, she received no response. Turns out that she has to figure out a strategy to give away the rest of these books.

What's coming into focus is that we can't assume that just because we are willing to offer something that those gestures will be accepted. Yes, there are inequalities all around, and we have something to give, but that's only half the story.

The advice, “Don't look a gift horse in the mouth,” is a lovely sentiment, but in a world of little trust it is hard for people to accept anything as it is given. We've learned from years of sneaky marketing ploys and hidden agendas that there is always someone trying to swindle us with the “deal of a lifetime.” So when we try to give away something for free, our noble efforts may be less appreciated or even ignored. In one of our experiments where we tried to give away money for free, very few people trusted that there were no strings attached; most people just continued walking past us without even stopping to see why we were giving away cash. Even when we offered $50 bills, only 19% of passersby stopped and took the money – not exactly a high level of success, particularly when free money is (literally) on the table.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Prae Judex

Gracelee Lawrence

Prae Judex

Painted steel and synthetic twine

Approx 5' x 2.5' x 1.5'

This pair of abstract steel sculptures was created as a commentary about gender inequality. Statistics relating to inequality were used to determine the dimensions of each small part used to make up the complete sculptures. The statistics were specifically referring to literacy rates, food production, salary disparity, and average heights. In the pair, one sculpture is referring to the women's statistics and the other is referring to men's statistics around the same topics. The purpose is to create a visual comparison between each aspect that gives a new understanding of this disparity. The scale of the sculpture draws from the human body, encouraging us to relate to the piece on a personal level, taking in the information behind it in a deeper way.

When we do experiments on simple decision-making, we generally don't find many gender differences. In these cases, men and women are, at the root, very similar creatures. There is an interesting exception where researchers at Stanford gave students a set of math problems and let them determine whether they wanted to get paid per correct answer or enter a competition where they could earn much more, but only if they were the best of their group. Of course, you would hope that the people who are less skilled in math would decide not to compete while those who are more skilled would compete. However, the results showed that men were overeager to enter the competition (regardless of their skills), and women didn't compete enough. While there are many reasons for the differences we see between men and women, this result suggests that one important factor is the tendency to take on competition.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Commodity

Moriah LeFebvre

Commodity

Mixed media and plaster

4' x 2.5' x 1.5'

Dan's research finds that people consistently say they would prefer greater social equality. Yet when it comes down to sacrificing social mobility for social equality, they become more willing to accept inequality. People depend on their belief in social mobility. But is an individual's social position a product of skill or luck?

Moriah LeFebvre found herself pondering what it means to be female. How are young girls and women taught to value and appraise their bodies? Despite coming from a family that taught her that “worth” was determined by heart and mind, she remembers discovering at an early age that there was a booming market for female beauty and sexuality.

As children, there are messages all around that the prettiest girl is the most valuable. As “girls” become “women,” bodies become obvious commodities with certain parts valued more highly than others. The message seems to be:

We are female through sheer luck; yet if we play our cards skillfully, we can profit off our own exploitation.

A crude economic look at gender relations could view (heterosexual) romantic relationships as an exchange where women provide sex in order to get as much as they can extort from men: from dinners to diamonds to security. In this (limited) view, while men stand to gain (sexually) from situations where females are deprived of money, women are in the best (financial) bargaining position when men are starved for sex. Adopting this perspective, Baumeister & Twenge have argued that the suppression of female sexuality does not stem from men keeping women down, but that women keep each other down in order to make their own sex more valuable. Like many other rational economic theories, I am sure it is not a foolproof argument, but there might also be something to it (and it's at least worth thinking about).

Dan – Dan Ariely
Beat Down

Ramona Lewis

Beat Down

Framed digital print

40" x 32"

In Washington DC, the stratification of rich and poor is greater than in almost any other region of the country. The difference between the haves and the have-nots, powerful and powerless is evident throughout the texture of life and lifestyles of the people that live there.

Ramona Lewis explored how people cope with such a disparity by using documentary photography. Initially, she started shooting people going about their lives – friendships, parties, work life. Then, she ventured into the “Occupy” encampments located in DC. Although intrigued by those at the forefront of the movement, she was struck by the number of homeless people that sat on the periphery of these protected spaces. Her focus then turned to this population – trying to understand why and how they came to their particular life situation. She connected with an organization called STREATS (Striving To Reach Educate And Transform Society's views on homelessness).

Beat Down is the result of this exploration. She took this image in front of the John L. Young Center for Homeless Women in Northwest Washington DC on a chilly March afternoon. Poem written by North Carolina playwright, Nathan Ross Freeman.

Mathew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

One of the problems with poverty is that it’s a very hard thing to escape. Imagine that a meal at McDonalds would cost you $6, or you could feed yourself at home for $4. This seems like an easy decision. But what if making this $4 meal meant that you had to equip your kitchen with a frying pan, can opener, some vegetable oil and a dash of salt and pepper? When combined, these initial costs can add up to hundreds of dollars of up-front investment for a future gain. With this in mind, is it any wonder that it's hard to free ourselves from patterns that are immediately satisfying but destructive in the long run?

Dan – Dan Ariely
The Valley: Study of Surveillance Landscapes

Peter Lisignoli

The Valley: Study of Surveillance Landscapes

Stop-motion photography, digital video

4 minutes

As politicians, researchers and activists continue debating the issue of “food deserts” (areas with low access to food), Peter Lisignoli became interested in how one represents the absence of food. Food deserts typically have a lack of grocery stores and an abundance of convenience stores. He photographed a Quick-n-Go market to rethink how space and time are rendered by such a space.

Despite his efforts to tackle the social issue of food inequality, his project changed focus toward the ghettoizing gaze of the surveillance camera.

Quite a few years ago, I was traveling through a poor neighborhood in South Carolina and stopped at a supermarket. Now, I'd been to the same chain before and had a pleasant experience, so I was looking forward to this one as well. However, I was surprised to find that the produce section was almost nonexistent and there was not a single tub of yogurt in the store, which is what I had gone there to buy in the first place. We know that the poor are much more likely to be unhealthy and overweight, but it is less clear whether their decisions about food quality are dictated by what they want and can afford or by what is available to them. Most likely, it's a bit of both. The people in that neighborhood were probably not too excited about yogurt or the price of fresh produce, and the store took this as a sign to eliminate them altogether. And so continues the cycle of poor nutrition.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Intertwined Reactions

Victoria Martinez

Intertwined Reactions

Mixed textile soft sculpture

4' x 13'

Intertwined Reactions is a soft sculpture installation created in collaboration with interdisciplinary artist Victoria Martinez and youth from Yollocalli Arts Reach in Chicago's Pilsen community. Martinez grew up in this neighborhood and pursued her BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Upon her return to Chicago, she has dedicated herself to the advancement of art education and has taught at Yollocalli and the Upward Bound Program at Columbia College Chicago.

The installation is a reaction of her students' interests in education ranging from nature, feminism, Captain America, and aquatic life. A survey was given to youth in relation to their studies in the underserved schools they attend, which includes a ‘Benchmark’ system where students are instructed to fill out a number of worksheets throughout the school year in order to pass to the next grade. There is no assessment in the benchmarks so students aren't aware of how well or poorly they perform.

The collective visited a local library to conduct their research in their chosen subjects, drew imagery inspired from books and screen printed them on table cloths, pants, curtains, and blankets purchased from a local church. Each individual hand stitched a portion and collaged the installation.

One of the sad things I learned a few years ago was that the difference between schools in rich neighborhoods and in poor neighborhoods is not so much the rate of learning throughout the year, but the rate of forgetting over the summer. Basically, most children improve as long as they are in school, and pretty much all of them forget some of those lessons during the summer. But the children without supportive families and enriching activities forget practically everything they've learned over the summer. This is why there is now a movement for year-round schools, which could help with this problem but at the cost of putting a damper on summer vacations and the joys of childhood.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Propaganda for the People

Anthony Heinz May

Propaganda for the People

Screen print

Sizes vary

Regardless of political denomination, the majority of American people would rather be recognized in a socially and economically equal structuring of society. The pressing issue is that Americans desire economic and social equality but are conditioned by distraction – to focus on objectives that divide and sidestep the communal best interests.

The animal mascots that divide the American political populations are Donkeys and Elephants. These mascots were inoculated around the same time over a century ago as banter between political opponents. Anthony Heinz May's representation of “The People” as Cattle and Sheep satirizes redistribution of wealth. The personification encourages the commonwealth to recognize the lack of economic and social equality and to find unification as One People. Mimicking propaganda similar to that used by politicians during the electoral race, the faux campaign uses disrupted barcode tags to symbolize the need to recalibrate balance in product/consumer relationships.

One of the primary differences between human and animal societies is the social hierarchy. Monkeys, for example, have a very strict and organized social hierarchy, which dictates what each animal can and can't do. If monkeys want to break the chain of command (by having sex with a non-dominant male, for example), they must do so discretely (in silence, hidden from the higher-ups). Human societies are not quite as structured, but the similarities are substantial. My friend Laurie Santos conducts research with monkeys at Yale, and spending time with her is always an interesting adventure of comparing the behavior of the humans around us to her monkeys.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Less Is a Possibility & Darwin Economy

Ian Murray

Less Is a Possibility & Darwin Economy

Giclee print of a mixed media and digital original

20.5" x 28.5" each

Responding to the issues and concepts raised at the forum on inequality, Ian Murray explored the personal, rather than global, justifications for “inequality” by focusing on the impact of unequal society on his practice as an artist/illustrator. He endeavored to create a series of personal visual mantras to encourage himself, and hopefully others who see them, to reflect on our insatiable desire for ‘more.’

The image Less is a Possibility reminds us that a bigger car, a bigger house or that new gadget won't make us any happier (in fact it's often the converse), and in striving for these things, it often makes others around us uneasy, envious, or upset. Darwin Economy was inspired by how we deal with issues relating to wealth, status and our place in the world in relation to others. There is an almost universal anxiety that is rarely mentioned directly: whether we're judged by others as a success or a failure, a winner or a loser.

Henry David Thoreau (1817- 1862) purported
‘A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can let alone.’

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's property” is probably the most difficult commandment to follow because it contradicts a basic aspect of our nature. What we really want is not merely what our neighbors have, but one step above. And because of this innate desire to have more than our neighbors, we get caught in a material arms race of escalating purchases where all parties end up overspending. Add high-interest loans, credit cards, and 30-year mortgages to this mix, and now you see how our economic institutions supply us with all the perfect tools to destroy our financial futures with ease.

“There is no good in living in a society where you are merely the equal of everybody else. The true pleasure of life is to live with your inferiors.” – William M. Thackeray

Dan – Dan Ariely
Unveiling the Gini 1, 2 & 3

Catherine & Neil Palomba

Unveiling the Gini 1, 2 & 3

Acrylic on canvas

24" x 36" / 22" x 30" / 20" x 24"

The three heavily textured abstract paintings created for this project represent various stages of wealth inequality – extreme, medium, and no inequality. The “Gini coefficient,” a respected measure of wealth concentration, is illustrated by a three inch wide line across each canvas. This line is steeply pitched in the first canvas, less so in the second, and horizontal in the third. The distribution of wealth is represented by circular shapes. The first painting includes one extremely large circle; the third contains four equal circles. To further suggest inequality, circles are above and below the “Gini” lines on the first two canvases, and all above the line on the third.

The impact of taxes in equalizing society is represented by the degree of “chewing” along the three inch line, with more indentations (bites) as equality increases. The impact of education is represented by book-like shapes on the third canvas. The risk to growth as equality increases is captured by the declining size of the canvases and the decreasing intensity of color. The stress of inequality is illustrated by chaotic shapes – more prominent in the first and second canvas than in the third. Overall, the paintings reflect ideas associated with John Rawls' A Theory of Justice.

The Gini coefficient is one way that economists describe the level of inequality in society. It is basically the size of the difference between what is owned by the wealthy versus the poor (so, a larger value implies greater inequality). When we compare the Gini coefficient of the US to what Americans think it is, we find a distressing result. Think about it for yourself. What percentage of wealth do you think is owned by the bottom 40% of Americans? How about the top 20%? The answer to the first is probably lower than you think (0.3%) and the second is probably higher than you think (84%). While people generally underestimate the amount owned by the rich, they grossly overestimate the amount owned by the poor. The disheartening truth is that almost half of the US population could not come up with a mere $2,000 within 30 days in the case of an emergency, even if they looked to friends, family, and other resources. I suspect that the lack of awareness about the size of the Gini coefficient in the US is partially responsible for the nonchalant approach that the wealthy show toward social programs for the poor.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Who Owns What

Tom Pitman

Who Owns What

Acrylic on canvas

48" x 36"

Who Owns What is a static view of global wealth and ownership based on 2007 data. 20% of people own 85% of the material wealth in the world. The black circle represents that 20% of the global population and the light colored circle the other 80%. The green color field represents the 15% of the world's material wealth that is owned by 80% of us. The blue fields picture the 85% owned by the wealthiest 20%.

The wealth effect and growth of a middle class in China and India has been estimated to be lifting a million people a month out of poverty. Bill Gates in his 2012 annual letter estimates that in the last 50 years the number of humans in extreme poverty has fallen from 40% to 15%. During that 50-year period the world population has more than doubled.

While the material wealth of the class of humans termed “super rich” continues to grow so does the total accumulated wealth of humanity. If the 21st century takes humanity from a fundamental condition of scarcity to one of abundance, will material wealth inequality matter? How will our conceptions of material and non-material wealth change?

What is the relationship between the amount of money that wealthy individuals hold and the total wealth in society? Some people believe that the wealthy will support the rest of society by creating job opportunities for the poor or making advances that benefit everyone. There are some clear cases of this – for example, when Vanderbilt created the American train system or when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, ushering in a new economic era. Moreover, one could also argue that every time a wealthy person buys a private jet or throws a billion-dollar birthday party (even if it appears frivolous), they are indirectly providing jobs and stimulating the economy. This is essentially the logic behind trickle-down economics. In contrast, others believe that concentrating the wealth in a few hands is more likely to produce “reservoir” economics (where the wealthy just keep their money) – and let's not forget those convenient bank accounts in the Cayman Islands. Which set of beliefs is right? There is probably some truth to both, but I am sure that the pure concentration of wealth in the hands of a few is a devastating force for the economy.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Pleasure Versus Happiness

Christina Pruitt

Pleasure Versus Happiness

Mixed media and encaustic

16" x 16" each

Pleasure versus Happiness is an encaustic collage on two panels depicting the differences between these two concepts. Pruitt considered the connotations of these internal (happiness) and external (pleasure) processes within a house. For her, a house is a place, a building, a structure, a verb, and a home; family, community, companionship, comfort.

The meaning of home ownership has been dramatically redefined by the current economic circumstances of her hometown, Phoenix, AZ. As the number of foreclosures grow, the inequality becomes more and more apparent. How many more will there be? How many banks continue to let houses sit vacant year after year, creating areas of blight and greater inequality?

Nationally, young professionals are making choices of apartment living near public transit such as light rail systems in Phoenix instead of purchasing in distant suburbs. Pleasure could mean owning vast amounts of property and happiness can reside in creating home in new ways.

In his book “The Joyless Economy,” Tibor Scitovsky distinguishes between pleasures and comforts. Comforts are the things that give us certain but small instances of happiness, like drinking a nice glass of wine. Pleasures, on the other hand, can bring greater happiness but they can also come with some risk and the potential for things to go awry. In his analysis, Scitovsky argues that Americans focus too much on comforts and not enough on pleasures. For example, imagine you are on vacation and you can choose between sitting on the beach drinking mojitos (safe and predictable comfort) or hiking in the Himalayas (risky and somewhat unpredictable pleasure) – which one would you pick, and would you pursue small comforts at the expense of great pleasures?

Dan – Dan Ariely
Stage 1

Patricia Reis

Stage 1

Fabric, international newspaper, embroidery floss, thread

Approx 21" x 35"

The research presented by Dan concluded that people would prefer to live in a more equitable society, surpassing even the most equitable societies that currently exist. Yet it is evident that communities that have tried to follow “socialism” do not always succeed, potentially because of the lack of competition.

“Competition is one of the most basic functions of nature. We compete against each other, we compete against ourselves, and we compete as groups against other groups. Even when the negative aspects inspire us to attempt to intellectually deny this aspect of our nature, we typically end up competing at being non- competitive.” (Kort Patterson, 2004)

Patricia Reis believes that balanced, conscientious competition between people is the answer for a more equitable world. Therefore, Stage 1 explored the blurred line between constructive and devastating competition.

We have a pretty solid understanding of the desire to one-up our neighbors. But there's another type of competition that we often don't consider: the race away from the bottom. In a series of experiments, my friend Mike Norton and his colleagues have shown that the people who are most opposed to increasing minimum wage are those earning just above minimum wage. Sadly, those who stand to become the “new” poorest if the state of the current poorest improves are those most motivated to keep the poorest at the bottom. Perhaps this helps explain the seeming contradiction when these people vote against their best interests, and why support for redistribution of wealth is so low among the poor.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Reliquary: Constructing Visions for a Trowel

Allyson Ross

Reliquary: Constructing Visions for a Trowel

Porcelain, silver, resin, paper, plexiglass, styrofoam

11" x 19" x 5"

As our society exists today, a majority of humans are completely disconnected with the earth and living out of balance with their natural resources. The foundation of our civilization, agriculture, is now almost entirely reliant upon the easy availability of fossil fuels, supplies of which are dwindling. As Michael Ruppert has claimed, “With declining oil, food production can’t sustain nor can populations or economies.”

This sculpture is part of a larger exploration that will examine a small ecovillage in Carrboro, NC. The community will be presented within the fictional pretense of a future reality where oil production has declined to the point of not being accessible by most of the population. As a result, our world needs to create small, self-sufficient communities and is desperately looking for a model. Ross acted as a courier in Carrboro and filmed the farmers at work to retrieve information about their methods. Her sculptures act as simulacrum for hand tools used by the farmers. These sculptures range from simple tools, such as a trowel to more complex tools like a DIY irrigation system. They also reflect relevant forms of future currency, such as plant seeds.

A substantial challenge to innovation and societal progress is the difficulty of coordination. Take something as simple as the keyboard. The layout of the keys as we know it was designed to slow typing down (at the time this was done so that the hammers in the typewriter would not interact and get stuck). When typewriters were replaced with computers (which are not at risk for jammed keys), the design didn’t change. People already knew how to type with the QWERTY keyboard, and resisted a more efficient layout. And so, today our typing is slowed down without any benefit. In an ideal world, we would all change our keyboards – but it would be nearly impossible to change every keyboard for every person simultaneously (and the benefits of speed would take some time to emerge). This simple problem illustrates the issue of coordination. We can think about how we got to the current state of the economy in a similar way – while it would be nice to start over with many of our financial institutions, the difficulty of coordination stagnates this kind of beneficial redesign.

Dan – Dan Ariely
The Rising of Soraya M (What Does That Make Her?

Leslie Salzillo

The Rising of Soraya M (What Does That Make Her?)

Acrylic on canvas

36" x 36"

The inequality of rights for women is sadly evident after watching the movie, The Stoning of Soraya M., a true story of an Iranian woman who was falsely accused of adultery, then stoned to death. The Islamic law under “sharia” states if a husband is accused of adultery, his wife must prove his guilt. If a wife is accused, she must prove her innocence. Soraya Manutchehri was sentenced to death by a group of men who bound her and buried her from the waist up. Then, shouting “God is Great,” they hurled stones the size of a palm at her so as not to kill her too quickly or too easily. Soraya's husband wanted a younger wife, but rather than lose Soraya's dowry, he had the mother of his seven children stoned to death.

Such an atrocity might not be condoned in America, but beaten and battered women are similarly incarcerated for years or life for being unable to prove they killed their attackers in self-defense.

Today, we are seeing a slow chipping away of women's rights. In February 2012, talk show host Rush Limbaugh publicly called law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” after she advocated for mandated insurance coverage for birth control. “The Rise of Soraya M (What Does that Make Her?)” honors all women who have suffered small and great injustices created by the unequal legal and social double standards misinterpreted to dehumanize women.

There's a book I love called “Women Don't Ask,” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. The basic point is that women feel that others (both men and women) will view them negatively if they ask for what they want, like a higher salary or promotion. So they don't ask. And even more disparaging, they are correct in their assessment. Women are, indeed, deemed aggressive and confrontational when they behave in ways that are interpreted as bold and confident in men. With such real and psychological “stones,” it's easy to see why women end up making an average of 78 cents to the man's dollar.

Dan – Dan Ariely
/____ a Dollar

Jody Servon

/____ a dollar

100 one U.S. dollar bills and text

36' x 46'

There was a time when a single dollar made a difference in the quality of Jody Servon's day. It either bought her food or kept her from a walking a few miles to school in the rain. “/____ a Dollar” prompts people to assess their personal situation and decide if they just want or truly need a dollar.

If in need, viewers are invited to take one of the 100 dollar bills hanging on the wall. Servon hopes people actively consider whether or not having this single dollar will make a difference in his or her life or if they feel the dollar is better left for someone else who needs it more. Perhaps the invitation to take free money will eclipse the question of want vs. need. If this is the case, the dollars may disappear more quickly due to greed.

A few years ago, some of my friends ran a beautiful experiment at Burning Man. They created a plexiglass pyramid and covered the inside with money. They used $1s, $5s, $10s, $20s, $50s, and even $100 bills. For most of the week the pyramid was up, no one touched anything. And then, a day before the festival ended, one of the creators was inside the pyramid pretending to mind his own business when a woman came inside and started peeling off the $100 bills. He politely asked her what she was doing, and her response was that the builders of the pyramid intended for people to take the money. He watched as she continued, stripping hundred after hundred, but from that point on things quickly deteriorated. Others saw what she was doing and, armed with social proof, followed her lead until there was nothing left. I think there's an important lesson here, which is that once something is tainted – once one person has taken a bad step – it is much easier for others to walk down the crooked path.

Dan – Dan Ariely
What Is the Sound of Two Invisible Hands Clapping?

Sharon Sharp

What Is the Sound of Two Invisible Hands Clapping?

Archival inkjet printing, Canson Mi-Teintes, unryu, kozo with water hyacinth, office papers, Irish linen threads, acetate sheets, binder's board

Accordion panel artist book

The artist's book What is the Sound of Two Invisible Hands Clapping? is an exploration of how we, as individuals, expand, blur, and redefine the terms “wants” and “needs” while evaluating our own and society's levels of wealth, well-being, inequality, and fairness. What are the individual and collective consequences when we redefine something as a need that we once saw as a want? What shapes our approach to balancing individual and collective needs/wants? This expanding, multi-part book invites viewers to explore overlapping texts that convey multiple meanings and to consider personal questions framed within societal contexts. The “answers” will generate more questions.

The ceaseless, complex interplay between needs and wants – and the resulting effects in economic terms – called to mind both Adam Smith's “invisible hand” and the Zen koan about the “sound of one hand clapping,” (thus the book's title). The accordion format, the pop-up features, and the fold-down panels all reflect the key terms' interrelatedness and invite viewers into a multifaceted textual experience.

Before Adam Smith wrote his famed “The Wealth of Nations,” he wrote “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” which contained a much more psychological approach to economic life. On top of that, despite its wide usage, the term “invisible hand” appears only a few times in all of Smith's works. My sense is that the invisible hand is an appealing concept that only works in an incredibly restrictive set of circumstances – and as such, it deserves all the respect of every other esoteric notion in economics. What is troubling to me is the broad play that this concept has received and its application to many areas of modern life. I suspect that the popularity of this concept is largely due to the freedom it gives us to justify our selfish behaviors (pursuing our own interests is, after all, the “best” thing for the public good).

Dan – Dan Ariely
Inequality: Marketplace Meditation Mandala from Repurposed Occupy Wall Street Protest Placards

Suran Song

Inequality: Marketplace Meditation Mandala from Repurposed Occupy Wall Street Protest Placards

Repurposed OWS placards, collage, scented paper flowers, meditation cushions

72" x 40"

Four protest placards originally carried in the 10/15/11 Occupy Wall Street march in Lower Manhattan by the Union Leader of the Long Island Sanitation Workers and three NYC yoga practioners are repurposed here into a meditation mandala.

The placards are arranged in a 4-point rotational symmetry forming four “meditation chambers” where viewers are encouraged to sit. Each quarter is installed as a cozy nook equipped with a good cushion and row of fragrant paper flowers. These semi-private spaces created in a public sphere allow viewers to meditate on current perceptions about American wealth inequality.

On the placards and collages, inferences garnered from Dan's “Chart of Actual U.S. Wealth Distribution Plotted Against Estimated and Ideal Distributions” are juxtaposed with the definitions of the market principles practiced in the golden era of the Silk Road and employ images underlining poverty and privilege, emotional forces kind and unfair, head shots and locations of people, institutions, and events that help us to ask ourselves what kind of world we want.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth. During our discussion, I asked what he considered to be the most valuable commandment in Judaism. And without much hesitation, he told me that keeping the Sabbath was of highest importance. He then went on to explain that when we are in the midst of an activity, it is hard for us to critically examine where we are and where we're going – and that taking a break of any type is central to our ability to evaluate our lives and take actions that are in accord with our long-term goals. More generally, I think that demonstrations like Occupy Wall Street are in many ways the civic version of the Sabbath where we are able to remind ourselves where we stand and can think more carefully about where we want to end up.

Dan – Dan Ariely
The Middle Class

Dane Summers & Adrian Schlesinger & Brian Dowtin

The Middle Class

Website and digital prints of images

There is no formal definition of the “middle class,” yet it is used frequently in public debate. Most Americans think that they belong to it, politicians represent it, but what is it? This piece explores this fuzzy notion of “middle class.”

An interactive program was created that asks users to provide a definition of middle class. The program uses 2010 Census data to show how Americans across the country fit into the definition. The user is also asked to provide his/her age and education background to show the user's personal demographic. The images shown here are the results of that work.

Viewers are encouraged to try the program at http://middleclass.pinedesk.biz.

While all societies are financially segregated to some degree, segregation is more readily apparent in some cities than others. If you live in New York City, for example, you cannot escape the realization that there are some very, very wealthy and some very, very poor people around you. When the suited businesswoman strolls by a homeless beggar with her Gucci purse and iPhone, the disparity is striking. On the other hand, if you live in the suburbs of DC, everyone around you is more or less at the same income level, and it is harder to comprehend the range of income and wealth in the metro area. Given the difficulty of observing the range of income and wealth in such settings, it is easy to see how suburb dwellers can lose sense of what the country is really like.

Dan – Dan Ariely
Pull Lever

Lenara Verle

Pull Lever

Mixed materials on wood board

24" x 30"

The artwork invites the viewers to pull a lever, which randomly returns a symbol. At the bottom of the artwork there are blocks of small print presenting one fact associated with each symbol.

Small print text is typically something we don't read, it stays outside of awareness, just like how people are unaware of the true inequality numbers. When they pull the lever and receive a symbol, they become connected in a personal way to one of the facts, the one from “their” symbol. Each fact compares inequality statistics to mundane happenings, and in this way further connects the reality of inequality with real life. To continue this attachment, the viewers can take home a small card with the printed fact.

The endowment effect is the basic finding that we become attached to whatever we are given, and we tend to view it as the way things ought to be. For example, imagine that you were randomly awarded a salary increase tomorrow, and it grew tenfold. How long do you think it would take for you to get used to it, and how long would it take before you believe that you truly deserve your new salary? My guess is that it would not take very long at all, and that you would accept this new reality as the natural order of things both quickly and with little difficulty. I suspect that this proclivity to see ourselves as deserving of our good fortunes contributes to our inability to both grasp the randomness of life and understand the importance of providing more opportunities to those who are dealt less fortunate cards.

Dan – Dan Ariely
The Darwin Economy

Matt Zigler

The Darwin Economy

Oil on panel

15 paintings, 11.5" x 11.5" each

For thousands of years, pigeon fanciers have bred the strangest characteristics into the common pigeon. The genetic code of the bird allows for the teasing out of recessive genes to cause longer or curlier feathers, tufts, long legs, and a variety of colors. The most specialized birds have such short beaks they must be fed by hand. They can no longer survive in the wild.

Humans hold their shape remarkably with little variation. But the specialized human can be identified by its exaggerated living arrangements, ever-younger mates, possession of tangible and intangible goods, behaviors designed to exponentially increase these possessions and remove the influence of lesser specimens.

Different breeds of pigeons can be mixed over generations to eventually return to the common feral pigeon that inhabit cities around the world. The process would take years. The specialized human, however, can return to its base state in a matter of days or hours, depending on the state of its financial holdings and the stock market.

One contributing factor of the gender income gap (the differential pay for men and women with the same jobs) is that men and women tend to view their role in society very differently. One of my mother's friends wrote her dissertation on how female schoolteachers came to pick their profession. What she found was that they did not thoughtfully consider all of their career options, but instead went with something that resembled their idea of their societal role. And since they looked at themselves first and foremost as potential mothers, they chose teaching as a natural extension of motherhood. This means that when we aim to change the gender income gap, we also need to consider the important influence of stereotypical roles, and take a stab at changing them.

Dan – Dan Ariely