Note: This post deals with the proportion of total US income taken up by the households controlling the most income. The percentiles of the income distribution are given in a different post: Household income distribution, 2007.

The chart below is based on data of Saez and Piketty (Table A3), who rely on IRS publications.

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According to Table 129 of the 1901 Statistical Abstract of the United States, immigration to the U.S. in the years 1887-1901 averaged about 420,000 people a year (with significant year-to-year variations). Total U.S. population at the time was about 70 million.

Almost 97% of the immigrants were Europeans, with the UK, Germany, Italy and Russia contributing the largest numbers.


Flyer 2008 elections

November 1, 2008

Lottery-Based Democracy: the Original and Still the Best

In our society elections and democracy are considered inseparable. In fact, this connection is far from clear. The ancient Greeks, for example, thought that elections are part and parcel of an oligarchy1. It was oligarchical Sparta, rather than democratic Athens, that elected its government.

The Athenians had a very different system: political offices were distributed using a lottery. The lottery method – known as Sortition – could be implemented here. If Congresspeople were drawn at random from the U.S. citizenry Congress would not be an elite body made predominantly of rich, male, white, old lawyers. Rather, it would look like a statistical sample of the people: it would contain 50% women, 25% hispanics and blacks, rich and poor, young and old, straight and gay, and very few lawyers2.

More information on the sortition system can be found on Wikipedia at, and other online resources. One such resource is A Citizen Legislature by Ernest Callenbach and Michael Phillips – a book with a specific proposal for using sortition to select the U.S. House of Representatives. The book is available at

Please contact me, Yoram Gat, with any comments at:


[1] “[T]he appointment of magistrates by lot is thought to be democratic, and the election of them oligarchical, democratic again when there is no property qualification, oligarchical when there is.” Aristotle, Politics, book IV, 9.

[2] Of the 535 members of the 109th Congress there were 71 (13%) blacks and hispanics, 82 (15%) women, and 228 (43%) lawyers. The average age in Congress was 57, vs. 37 in the population. Sources:, 2006 population data – Statistical abstract of the U.S., 2008, Table 6, Table 7.