Top critical review
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Important topic; inadequate treatment
on 2 June 2010
What are the effects of inequality? Is it damaging in itself, or only indirectly through waste of resources? If the former, what are the processes involved, and what can be done about them? What are the forces that have led to growing inequality, in the UK and the US at least, over the past 50 years? How do we justify inequality anyway, since the value of each pound to the rich is very much less than the value it would have if redistributed to the poor?
These are the questions that I had hoped the book would address. On the whole, it doesn't. Most of it consists of graphs of various measures of well-being against degree of inequality, using data collected mainly for industrialised nations, with a downward sloping regression line imposed on the data.
Even at this naive level of analysis, the authors could have done a better job. At the least, they could have given us r values, and normalised the data in some way so that we could compare different slopes for different measurements.
In addition, the authors pass over some of their most interesting findings in silence. For instance, greater inequality correlates with a less favourable environment for children, but the UK turns out to be the worst place to be a child, falling far below the regression line. Even if the reasons for this are beyond the scope of this particular book, surely the authors should have drawn our attention to this. Likewise,we would like to know more about why the US is so very much more violent than even its high levels of inequality would have led us to predict.
Moreover, there are very serious questions about the structure of inequality. Both the US and the UK have a hereditary lower class, defined in US largely by race, and in the UK by occupation (or lack of it), speech patterns, and level of aspiration. Are these factors special to these two particular countries, or do they have correlates elsewhere? Are misery and relative poverty concentrated at the very bottom, or do we have a uniform gradation throughout society? The authors do not even ask.
In summary, this book deals with extremely important questions, but its methodology is too crude to draw implications for policy, or even for further information gathering.