Monday, August 01, 2011

Book review: The Spirit Level - Why Equality is Better for Everyone

Over a year ago I read the book "The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone" but it's only today I take the time to share my thoughts about it.

First, it's clearly a book anyone should read because of the importance of its conclusions. Some of those conclusions are probably wrong, but the core of them are probably right and it's serious work on a crucial topic for the future of our civilization. Sadly, the book has one major flaw: it's boring. Some writers have succeeded in writing about arid stuff in an engaging and exciting way. They haven't. That said, yes yes, read the book, or at least read the Wikipedia article about it:
The book argues that there are "pernicious effects that inequality has on societies: eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, (and) encouraging excessive consumption". It claims that for each of eleven different health and social problems: physical healthmental healthdrug abuseeducationimprisonment,obesitysocial mobilitytrust and community life, violenceteenage pregnancies, and child well-being, outcomes are significantly worse in more unequal rich countries.
 And the first review on Wikipedia:
In a review for Nature, Michael Sargent said that The Spirit Level used "statistics from reputable independent sources" and was "a brave and imaginative effort to understand the intractable social problems that face rich democratic countries". He also noted that “The idea that income inequality within a society is more unsettling to health and welfare than income differences between societies has been hotly debated for more than two decades. In the past year alone [2009], six academic analyses have been published in peer-reviewed journals, four of which contradict the hypothesis on statistical grounds. Yet Wilkinson and Pickett do not address these criticisms in their book”. He went on to say, "How can inequality affect such a diverse set of social problems so profoundly? The authors make a compelling case that the key is neuroendocrinological stress, provoked by a perception that others enjoy a higher status than oneself, undermining self-esteem".
This book generated plenty of discussions and more research. If you want to dive deeper, you'll find a lot of documentation on The Equality Trust website.

And because you're probably curious to see how your own country fares, see this list of countries by inequality-adjusted HDI.