Top critical review
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on 21 August 2011
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. Such tactics render him far from an objective reporter/analyst. By comparison The Spirit Level is a scholarly book. Snowden correctly says we should be cautious of any claim that is too neat to be true but his total dismissal of all that The Spirit Level offers, is equally suspect. Snowden doesn't have one integrated point of view he takes any point of view which is anti the ideas put forward in The Spirit Level . He says, correctly, that The Spirit Level is a political book - as if his book isn't! Arguing for the maintenance of the status quo in not apolitical it is a hugely political viewpoint.
To me Snowden's book misses the point. In the UK the prison population is rising, obesity levels are increasing, depression and anxiety levels in adults and children have skyrocketed (even if this is due to self-diagnosis, the question is, how come?) Profits from the diet and cosmetic surgery industries are rising dramatically year on year. This information hardly adds up to a contented society. Isn't it a about time we tried something else? A mistake is something hindsight reveals. Folly is when you persist with a course of action which is demonstrably failing but this can't be admitted because deeply held beliefs would be seriously challenged. So is more not less unrestrained capitalism the way forward? Folly indeed.
The most telling omission in Snowden's book is the lack of any attention to global warming, something which is mention often in the Spirit Level. So, Christopher Snowden, how is free market global capitalism going to solve this major problem? Ah, perhaps this is going to be his next book!