Tuesday, 30 October 2012

All things being equal..........

..........but, of course, they aren't!

A few years ago (2, 3?) I was impressed by a book entitled The Spirit Level written by two academics, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. It was/is a data-rich read in which the authors posited that rising levels of inequality were leading to unhappier and unhealthy societies. For each of eleven different health and social problems (physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies, and child well-being) outcomes are significantly worse in more unequal rich countries. They presented a lot of information to support their hypothesis and it struck me as a pretty sound piece of work. It also struck me as being profoundly depressing. At one level it was a damning indictment of free market capitalism: at another, a pointer about what needs to be changed to make our society more equitable.

Recently, the New Statesman decided to repeat the exercise and look at the latest data. Do the conclusions of Wilkinson and Pickett still hold? In short, they do. And it's fascinating to see how the evidence and trends have held up over the intervening period. Things have certainly not got any better for most of us. The main findings of the New Statesman's analysis are given in the chart below. It's long but it's well worth trawling through. 

Collectively these data do not provide a ringing endorsement for the free market practices of the countries rated worse by the criteria looked at. We are among them and when our political masters promise basically 'more of the same', it really shouldn't fill us with optimism for a more equal society in the future. To repeat my mantra "where are the leaders who can articulate a viable alternative?". 


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