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The Spirit Level Delusion: Fact-checking the Left's new theory of everything [Paperback]

Christopher John Snowdon
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
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Book Description

17 May 2010
Do Cubans live longer than Americans? Are Scandinavians happier than the British? Do Oscar winners live longer than other actors? Does capitalism cause mental illness? Does inequality lead to murder? Would higher taxes make us slimmer, more trusting and more charitable? The Spirit Level Delusion shines the light of reason on some of the extraordinary claims made in favour of big government in the twenty-first century. Several books (The Spirit Level, Happiness and Affluenza amongst others) have called for a radical shift in power from the individual to the state based on the supposedly devastating effects of wealth, economic growth and inequality. By examining all the available evidence, Christopher Snowdon tests the theory that 'more equal' countries are healthier, happier and more successful. Through a sober assessment of the facts-including some inconvenient truths-The Spirit Level Delusion shows that the theory not only lacks empirical support but also fails the basic test of believability. "If you haven’t read a book that made you laugh out loud on the bus or the Tube in a while, try Christopher Snowdon’s superb release, The Spirit Level Delusion. But the book’s subtle humour is not the reason I am recommending it. The Spirit Level Delusion is, above all, a book that delivers and goes well beyond the promise of its subtitle – 'fact-checking the left’s new theory of everything'... It may well be that the next big battle for a free society will be fought against the new anti-wealth egalitarianism. Christopher Snowdon has provided defenders of freedom with powerful ammunition." — Kristian Niemietz, Institute of Economic Affairs "Snowdon picks so many holes in the theory that were it a building it wouldn’t be passed as structurally sound by the most crooked of third world local government surveyors... I wish that everyone who espoused The Spirit Level would read The Spirit Level Delusion, which explains just how dubious the science behind this grand theory is." — Ed West, The Telegraph "The Spirit Level Delusion not only successfully and dramatically undermines much of the evidence in The Spirit Level, but also takes on the other fashionable opponents of economic growth... His engaging discussion unpicks the evidence of the anti-growth brigade and demonstrates that it is selective and partial. This book is excellent “tube reading”. — Philip Booth, City AM

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The Spirit Level Delusion: Fact-checking the Left's new theory of everything + The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone + Injustice: Why Social Inequality Persists
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Product details

  • Paperback: 172 pages
  • Publisher: Democracy Institute/Little Dice (17 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0956226515
  • ISBN-13: 978-0956226518
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 20 x 12.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 94,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
172 of 208 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Who's dellusion? 21 Aug 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What motivated Christopher Snowden to turned his intelligence and skill to debunking the anti smoking lobby (earlier book) and the anti inequality movement? Perhaps his next book will debunk global warming. I am reminded of the plethora of research in the USA in the 60s which aimed to show that blacks were less intelligent than whites. For what purpose? The Education System should educate all to the best of their ability whatever this is. Similarly, smoking is bad for health, and the huge disparity in wealth and power between those who have and have not, in the UK is, to any fair minded person, unacceptable. And it needs to be addressed now, not, as and when, the free market gets around to it.

Snowden's introduction is in my view a simplistic distortion of what The Spirit Level is about and at times, reads like a rant (p10 3rd paragraph onwards) rather than a rational criticism. What Snowden demonstrates very well in his book is that where data and statistical analyses are concerned, the arguments and counter arguments can run and run. He questions the data and methodology underlying the conclusions drawn by the authors of the Spirit Level and attributes their motivations to left wing ideology. The same accusations could be made about Snowden's cherry picking of data and his obvious anti-left ideology. He is motivated to throw in anything which muddies the waters, creates a smoke screen and under minds his targets - Wilkinson, Pickett, Layard, James and Lawson. Me thinks the man protests too much.

There is much of interest in Snowden's analysis of data but this is spoilt by what he selects, says and how he says it. He uses ridicule, innuendo, personal slurs and takes points of view to the extreme and in doing so, reduces them to the absurd.
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191 of 245 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Read 'the spirit level' first! 14 April 2011
Admittedly, I have only read part of this book, but that was enough. There is a profound asymmetry between these two books, which seems to have been overlooked in a spirit of post-modern relativism. The Spirit Level is the culmination of hundreds of research years of rigorously peer reviewed, intellectually honest research, by hundreds of researchers from many different countries, and many different backgrounds. This book is an attempt to nullify the findings of this research in one fell swoop, based on the prior assumption that market forces are righteous, and governments are evil. It is cynical in its view both of the scientific method, and of the intelligence of the general book-buying public. I recommend reading and making sure you understand The Spirit Level, before bothering to tackle this attempt to retard rationally-directed progress, for ideological ends.
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163 of 215 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Neoliberalism on the Run? 12 Nov 2010
By Zipster Zeus VINE VOICE
After reading Wilkinson's and Pickets `The Spirit Level' I picked up a copy of this rebuttal by Christopher Snowdon, in the interests of fairness.

The problem Snowdon has are first perceptions; what is he trying to say? That Wilkinson and Pickett are wrong and the UK is actually a more equal place than they describe, or that its societal inequalities are actually acceptable, that in fact a small minority of people should be allowed to be `super-rich,' for the `benefit of all', and an increasingly marginalised underclass is a fair price to pay for this, particularly as they usually deserve to be there through their own failings, anyway?

The first stumbling block this book has to get over [and fails] is that any ordinary person [i.e. 95% of the population] can see day in day out that Britain is a very unequal society and we are, frankly, in a social and economic mess where any sense of community is barely a memory now for much of its population. The vast majority of people can sense there is something very wrong with this, even if they cannot fully articulate it.

So again the question begs to be answered: what is Snowdon trying to prove? His association with a right wing libertarian think tank probably explains a lot, and the speed of this rebuttal to the publication of `The Spirit Level' clearly shows Wilkinson and Pickett's book must have disturbed the libertarian right considerably, but having said that Snowdon's book is well written and, as a couple of reviewers have said, is a good `tube read' which is no bad thing, but probably sums up its `academic' weight. The fact is unfortunately, apart from spending a lot of time trying to shoot down Wilkinson and Pickett's figures and methodology, Snowdon comes up with very little counter-analysis of his own.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars War of the Spirit 14 Jun 2012
By Hande Z
Christopher Snowdon, more historian than economist, attacked Wilkinson & Pickett's 2009 book "The Spirit Level". In the process, he hoped to inflict collateral damage on several other books such as Richard Layard's "Happiness: Lessons from a New Science" (2005), and Oliver James' "Affluenza" (2007). The thesis advanced by Wilkinson & Pickett was that physical and mental health suffer most in countries in which the inequality gap between the wealthiest 20% and the poorest 20% is greatest. Snowdon states his case in his opening remark that if Wilkinson & Pickett were propounding a grand unifying theory, "its implications for politicians were obvious: instead of chasing economic growth which will make us sicker, they must divert their efforts towards redistributing wealth."

The rest of Snowdon's book was dedicated to showing up the weakness in Wilkinson & Pickett's book, mainly by pointing to outdated data, excluded data, and the misinterpretation of data. Although many of those criticisms appear valid and persuasive, Snowdon was not postulating a rival theory himself. His was a work of destruction. A neutral reader may conclude that Snowdon might have won on a technicality if the objective criterion was evidence based data. Snowdon had not, however, disproved the claim that inequality in wealth is detrimental to society - that issue has been an age-old debate in which opponents have worn weary from the fight. Wilkinson & Pickett perhaps strode boldly to execute what they thought might have been the "coup de grace", but thanks to Snowdon, their opponents live to fight another day.

Both books engaged in polemics from time to time. Snowdon, for example, claims that Layard was advancing the theory that a "punitive tax system...would restore work-life balance.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars weak and poor
The counter arguments against the Spirit Level are inconsistent and weak. Not a text worthy of serious consideration.
Naive and silly in places.
Published 4 months ago by Will
1.0 out of 5 stars fact checking is good-but not from ideological vested interests
I realize the spirit level and other books covered are not unbiased and present a limited case, but they have a little more credibility than this one. Read more
Published 6 months ago by N. Coles
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a nice book at all
Snowdon's ability to write clearly is not matched by common sense.
It seems that most readers will never find this book persuasive. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Graham Moss
4.0 out of 5 stars Necessary rebuttal
It saddens me that this book had to be written.

The original Spirit Level book showed that inequality of income and wealth was at the root of society's ills once income... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Paul Simister
1.0 out of 5 stars Baseless & Ideological
The methods used in The Spirit Level were very robust, systematically including all countries and deviations from their hypothesis. Read more
Published 8 months ago by James Gibson
5.0 out of 5 stars A Lesson in Myth Busting
This is an immensely valuable corrective to the hugely flawed, misleading "The Spirit Level" and is an essential lesson in critical thinking for anyone who buys into Wilkinson's... Read more
Published 11 months ago by R S Featherstone
3.0 out of 5 stars Very useful
The case as set out in the original 'Spirit Level' is initially convincing, but (as pointed out by this book) some of the statistics are open to challenge. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Liquidator
4.0 out of 5 stars If You Read the Spirit Level You Must Read This
A very detailed and thorough demolition of The Spirit Level. I had not found arguments in The Spirit Level convincing as the supporting graphs did not appear to me to show a... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Doubting Thomas
5.0 out of 5 stars Lies, damn lies and statistics
If you read the Spirit Level and wondered that such a simple solution seemed to cure all of societies ills, this explains how they did it. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Simon
5.0 out of 5 stars Destroys "The Spirit Level"
We live in an age of voodoo "science". There have always been charlatans in supposedly scientific disciplines and academia has provided a safe haven for them, not infrequently. Read more
Published on 29 Nov 2011 by O. G. M. Morgan
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