Friday, March 13, 2009

All Social Problems Come from Inequality

Very interesting article in the paper about two academics whos research points to inequality as the cause of almost all social problems - now duh, you might say - of course. However it is not (if I understand it right) the fact that some are in poverty that creates the problems - it is the gap between those in poverty and the wealthy that determines the social problems;

Take these random headline statistics. The US is wealthier and spends more on health care than any other country, yet a baby born in Greece, where average income levels are about half that of the US, has a lower risk of infant mortality and longer life expectancy than an American baby. Obesity is twice as common in the UK as the more equal societies of Sweden and Norway, and six times more common in the US than in Japan. Teenage birth rates are six times higher in the UK than in more equal societies; mental illness is three times as common in the US as in Japan; murder rates are three times higher in more unequal countries. The examples are almost endless.

Very interesting stuff:

In Britain, the Labour government, despite its protestations to the contrary, has only maintained inequality at the level at which it inherited it. "They've taken some positive action at the bottom income levels for pensioners and young families," says Pickett. "But the damage has all been done at the other end. Peter Mandelson said early in the Labour administration, 'We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich,' and he's been as good as his word."

What is it about unequal societies that causes the damage? [Richard] Wilkinson believes the answer lies in the psycho-social areas of hierarchy and status. The greater the differential between the haves and have-nots, the greater importance everyone places on the material aspects of consumption; what brand of car you drive carries far more meaning in a more hierarchical society than in a flatter one. It's the knock-on effects of this status anxiety that finds socially corrosive expression in crime, ill-health and mistrust.

I liked this bit:

"I've become gripped by Paris Hilton's Best Friend," [Wilkinson] laughs. "It's the perfect example of a dysfunctional, hierarchical society."



Anonymous said...

Seems Will Hutton has cottoned on to this idea. Although I doubt his solutions are worth listening to:

anarchist said...

Thanks for the link.

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