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168 of 220 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Neoliberalism on the Run?, 12 Nov. 2010
This review is from: The Spirit Level Delusion: Fact-Checking the Left's New Theory of Everything (Paperback)
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.

Wilkinson and Pickett's `The Spirit Level' is far from perfect, but its overall findings are solid and its argument is convincing, striking a cord I would imagine with the underlying feelings of very many people. Snowdon's rebuttal is interesting but at the end of the day, a paper tiger. Certain points made in the `Spirit Level' are obsessed over as incorrectly/disingenuously presented, yet they are nonetheless fully explained by Wilkinson and Pickett in their book. For example much is made of the sample group of rich countries, yet the criteria for their selection is fully explained by W & P, so places like Singapore- small city states with fairly authoritarian governance anyway, are understandably left out of a study that says from the outset it is concerned with the larger populated democracies of the developed world..

The fact remains, despite its occasional airbrushing over of a few details, `The Spirit Level' is a highly successful, peer reviewed work that will have a positive impact for years to come. Snowdon's critique though, cannot escape the feeling of being an exasperated bleat of indignation from the neoliberal right, who are trying to maintain their well-worn strategy of the past 30 years of muddying reality with disinformation and spin. It has worked for a couple of decades, but this book shows that these techniques may well now have run its course, and neoliberalism is on the run. And it is the majority of the UK/US population who will benefit from this, which is no bad thing.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 21 Nov 2010 13:52:16 GMT
A reader says:
"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"

Neither. He is saying that Wilkinson and Pickett are wrong when they claim that inequality leads to all sorts of bad outcomes (e.g. life expectancy).

Snowdon shows quite clearly that W&P cherry pick and misrepresent their data. "The Spirit Level' is a highly successful, peer reviewed work" - it is not peer reviewed. If it had been W&Ps lying about data would have been exposed. See the work of Tino Sanandaji, who attempts to recreate some of W&Ps findings. He gets the data they reference, does the number-crunching they describe, and gets different results. The only conclusion is that W&P are fraudsters.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Dec 2011 02:30:41 GMT
S. Humphrey says:
I found out Tino Sanandaji is a Post-Doc researcher at the University of Chicago. His particular interest seems to be in self-made billionaires, and the unremarkable finding that low taxes and low regulation economies seem to favour the creation of such vast fortunes.

It seems hardly surprising that Mr Sanandaji should want to 'disprove' the thesis of the Spirit Level, or that he should use statistical methods to undermine it.

Posted on 17 Jan 2012 21:07:13 GMT
A. Brereton says:
There are many other problems with W&P's work discussed in the book (or in his blog for readers who might not want to pay for the book), the most important of them being the misrepresentation of the academic literature. Claiming a "consensus" when one does not exist is not a small matter. The claim that very little counter-analysis if presented is just bizarre and strongly suggests you haven't actually read the book

You only offer one clear example of a criticism from Snowdon, which concerns the selection of countries made by W&P in the data analysis presented within the book, and then present a weak objection to it. Firstly, Snowdon and other have shown that the significance of the coefficient on inequality is not at all robust to fairly small changes in sample size. This is not a minor point, but demonstrates one of the drawbacks to cross country regressions of this sort and the danger in restricting the sample size. If a researcher feels that authoritarian governance (and the structure of political institutions in general) or the size of a country is important, they can and should run a regression with these variables included. Similarly, we can test for changes in the nature of the relationship between subgroups of countries (developing and developed countries for example). The use of simple one variable regressions with a cooked up set of countries strongly suggests that W&P were less interested in accuracy when they wrote their book, and more interested in duping less sophisticated readers with compelling graphics...

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Sep 2013 16:26:06 BDT
Last edited by the author on 18 Sep 2013 16:26:59 BDT
"self-made billionaires" is really an oxymoron - noone makes billions by themselves and most "SMBs" make their billions on the backs of many much lower (ie underpaid) workers who create the wealth. Capitalism is predicated on distorting reality, and there is always a price to pay when we do this - our own conscience and self esteem and/or disgruntled employees or the poor/unemployed. The price may not always be felt by the rich, especially if they have little conscience/sense of reality/justice, but the price has to be felt somewhere else, because all financial wealth directly affects the wealth of others. Anyone who thinks contrary to this is either an idiot or a willful fool. The importance of recognizing these truths is to explode the false myths that give these SMBs and their like the false status that they assume in society. Thinking themselves as heros when in fact they are exploiters and therefore not fully actualized human beings.
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