on 17 November 2009
This book was recommended to me by a Professor of Sociology. You may therefore think that that it would be too dry and dense a read. This is not the case. Whilst not a Steig Larsson page turner it is well written and makes a well argued and for me rather surprising point.
Initially I was concerned that their statistical analysis was incorrect. Having completed the book I now suspect that they have just not presented the detail in order to make the book more accessible.
That more equal societies treat the poorer members of society better is quite logical and commonly understood. That more equal societies improve the lot of everyone in that society is a quantum change in thinking. The authors of course do not consider that having the second £billion materially improves anyone's happiness, health, longevity etc. You have to decide for yourself if this is true or if you even care. However, from my observations it is true.
I would make this book compulsory reading for all political candidates. For every one else I would suggest that they ask their MP what they intend to do about it.
on 5 January 2012
The authors of The Spirit Level use financial data from well established sources such as the UN and the World Bank together with health and sociological data from equally well-established sources to form graphs that point out how, where and why among developed countries, the countries with the greatest level of income inequality (the most extreme cases being the UK and the USA) have worse sociological problems. The authors make convincing graphs using data on all developed countries. These graphs show the strong link between growing income inequality and growing sociological problems, such as violence, bad health, child mortality, teenage pregnancy and depression. Furthermore, they show us that these problems are worse in more unequal countries for people with almost any amount of income - even the rich suffer because of income inequality.
We are also treated to fascinating evolutionary reasons why human beings suffer in the ways and to the extent that we do from the perception of relative deprivation.
One of the best books I have ever read in my 10 years of academia.
on 18 March 2010
I guess for an economist not knowing about paleontolithic research its a good book. The book is working on new data made available by world bank - I guess only now we have got data to make such a wide comparison over that many countries.
They say that inequality is not good for society as a whole and back it up with a large chunk of data. As far es I am concerned, I would have prefered numbers on the charts - but here you go, probably not good for popular demand.
The analysis itself disregards any evolutionary research there is. Man is not, like any vertebrate living in groups, a completely equal "animal". Rather there is a complex relationship in groups between alphas and betas. You would probably learn more on human group behavior reading Franz de Wall or any the moral Animal by Robert Wright.
But than again - for economists its sufficient. They normally cant handle more than one perspective. Just a bit strange, that the authors themselves are not economists.
on 1 March 2013
Most of the text is taken up by the data and examples the authors have amassed to show that inequality is the root of many social problems, and that ultimately extremes of wealth and poverty do not benefit societies. It can feel like they are bludgeoning you with graphs, but it's entirely convincing.
The remainder, and more interesting, part of the text is an examination of ways that politicians and companies can try to reduce inequality in society. Some moves they suggest are quite bold, some are much simpler to implement. It's an inspiring book, in many ways, not just because it so convincingly identifies a problem, but because it attempts to show how we might deal with it.
I would recommend, but you might find yourself skipping some of the earlier pages as the weight of data can be a bit exhausting.
on 21 March 2013
To any political thinkers or sociologists this is well worth a read. It is not quite groundbreaking in its ideas but it is certainly valiant and meticulous in its compilation of research. The book is in one word... impressive. It uses a variety of different and largely reliable sources to push home its point; any claim, and I know some people have criticized this book, that data from the World Health Organisation and the United Nations (which are used frequently in this book) is bias or wrong is probably rather unfounded and I would also guess rather well funded. It provides an excellent argument for greater equality, though it does not really suggest which way to go about it, an argument which is especially relevant now as austerity measures across the Western world drive the wealth gap further apart.
on 15 July 2009
Ever wondered why many people in Western societies are getting richer and feeling worse? Here is one approach to explaining the phenomenon. Written in clear prose for the non-scientist/non-epidemiologist, the book demonstrates how unequal societies foster problems that affect both rich and poor. They use data from a number of Western countries and from various US states to show where the negative effects of inequality between nations and within nations exert their effects. The book makes a reasoned, unemotive case for making some radical but achievable changes in the way we live - changes that are likely to benefit people at every level of society. Combined with Peter Singer's "The Life You Can Save", the authors provide a raft of ideas about individual, social and political changes that could reshape society in ways that improve the wellbeing of all.
on 3 January 2011
Unsurprisingly the hard-back copy of this book sold over 100,000 copies. It addresses something we are all aware of: the shocking levels of inequality in our society and the way that this is connected to many ills, from poor mental health to higher prison populations. I was ahamed to see the UK up there with the US as one of the most unequal societies. Perhaps one of the most surprising discoveries was how affected by inequality people at every level of society are, not just the poorest or those at the bottom. It is literally in all our interests to mkae our societies more equal.
on 11 March 2009
I actually think this book has a rather hopeful message. Whilst the scale of the problems caused by inequality are vast and sobering, it is made clear by the authors (who are known to me) that relatively small moves towards greater equality can yield great benefits - and it doesn't really matter how you achieve that greater equality, just as long as you do. This has profound implications for politics showing that tax and spend is not the only solution, narrowing the gap in incomes before tax can work as well. Therefore, a real chance for a broad political consensus in favour of equality exists here - a hopeful message if ever there was one.
The book also points out that all the levers necessary to move towards more equal societies already exist and can easily be grasped given political will. We don't have to aim for utopia, we don't have to have a full-blown revolution to massively increase well-being and sustainability throughout the world - and not just the developed world. The authors point out that more equal developed countries are more nurturing and collaborative, so they give far more to the developing world in terms of overseas aid and score better on the Global Peace Index and are more likely to abide by international treaties.
This book poses the big questions about what it means to be human and what we now need to do to survive. These are the big ideas that the world's current leaders are failing to seize upon. This is much more than an academic book; it is a call to action.
on 2 June 2009
This is the most important book yet on inequality's effects on society. The authors, Richard Wilkinson (Professor Emeritus at the University of Nottingham Medical School) and Kate Pickett (Senior Lecturer at York University) show how inequality affects the vast majority of the people in every country.
They show that the way to deal with society's problems is not to preach at individuals, or to blame young people, parents or teachers. As they write, "The evidence shows that reducing inequality is the best way of improving the quality of the social environment, and so the real quality of life, for all of us."
They point out that more equal societies have lower levels of mistrust, illness, status insecurity, violence and other stressors. "Social structures which create relationships based on inequality, inferiority and social exclusion ... inflict a great deal of social pain", worsening all society's problems. Over and again, the USA does worst, and Britain next worst.
As they prove, health and social problems are more common in countries with bigger income inequalities. Sweden has lower death rates than England and Wales for working age men and for infants, across all occupational groups. The death rate in its poorest 20 per cent is lower than in our richest 20 per cent! Obesity rates are lower in more equal societies.
Women's status and child wellbeing are better in more equal societies, which provide more paid maternity leave. In more equal societies, children experience less bullying, fights and conflict. More equal societies like Finland and Belgium have better educational levels across all social groups than Britain or the USA.
Drug use and mental illness are less common in more equal societies; so are teenage births and divorce. More equal countries have shorter working hours.
More equal societies also have more social mobility: of eight developed countries, the USA had least social mobility. US bankruptcy rates rose most in those states where inequality had risen most.
Less equal societies are more punitive. California has 360 people serving life sentences for shoplifting. In Britain, every day 40 people are sentenced to jail for shoplifting. Countries that spend less on education spend more on prisons. Since 1980, US spending on prisons has risen six times faster than spending on schools. The authors note, "More unequal countries also seem to be more belligerent internationally."
If Britain were as equal as Japan, Norway, Sweden or Finland, we would all live a year longer, we would have seven more weeks of holiday every year, mental illness, teenage births, obesity, imprisonment rates and murders would all be halved.
The authors conclude, "If you want to know why one country does better or worse than another, the first thing to look at is the extent of inequality. There is not one policy for reducing inequality in health or the educational performance of school children, and another for raising national standards of performance. Reducing inequality is the best way of doing both."
How do we achieve this more just society? To their credit, the authors don't suggest by just voting for it, or waiting for the government to do it for us. They write that we must "stand up to the tiny minority of the rich." We need to recruit to our trade unions, because the more trade union members there are, the more equal the society. If we want a better society, we will have to work for it.
on 16 October 2010
There's been no shortage of reviews in praise of this book, but still I felt compelled to add yet another, quite simply because this is not just a thoroughly researched, finely written, lucid and insightful book, but most of all because it is such a profound and important book. As the authors say, many of us must at times have felt intuitively that the path our Western society is currently set upon is ultimately a harmful one for all mankind and this unique planet we inhabit.
I'll readily grant that life has become ever so much better for most of us in the last decades, and I for one would not want to change places with my grandparents and do without the myriad of things that have been invented since. But - and that is what this book so undeniably proves - there is an end to the added value of ever more financial and material success. There's no denying the evidence presented in this book, and contrary to many other books on the subject, I feel that the authors also provide pragmatic, feasible alternatives.
Being a teacher in advertising and marketing, one could in fact argue that I'm not helping matters along by teaching other people how to advertise most effectively the next new fad. But I wasn't even halfway into 'The Spirit Level' when I decided that in next year's course this book will be obligatory reading for my students. Who knows, maybe one of them will feel compelled to use his advertising talents to promote the manifold benefits of a more equal society?
If it were in my power and not against my principles, I'd even make this obligatory reading for every single student, teacher, manager or politician.