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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!
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on 27 July 2016
Really good expose of how cherry picking can be used to support a thesis. Obviously any theory that says all the differences between the US and Japan are due to factor x alone is a bit dodgy, but this really shows how poor it is.
If equality is so important why not choose Latin American countries with similar language, religion, culture, climate, history etc to study it? I guess that as the most violent South American country (Venezuela) is also the most equal then it would disprove the theory.
Certainly Venezuela has a lot more in common with its neighbours than Japan does with the US.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 June 2012
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." Readers will fairly conclude that the only clear point to derive from both books is that there is a need for a more efficient and comprehensive collation of statistics from a wider category of nations for future studies on Wilkinson & Pickett's fascinating and captivating theory. A revised edition of their book with new ammunition may answer the Snowdon criticisms. At the moment, their gunpowder seems a trifle wet.
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on 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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on 12 November 2010
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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 November 2013
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 reached a reasonable level. After that equality mattered more than pushing up the average GDP per person statistic.

The book made sense and for those left of centre, supported their existing views and for those on the right who were prepared to have an open mind, it will have given them cause to challenge their views.

But this book shows that the original is not the unbiased presentation of research data that it first appears. Instead data has been cherry picked to create the trends that the authors wanted to show to justify their doctrine.

The Spirit Level Delusion isn't a good book. Its premise is negative... to destroy an argument rather than to advance an alternative. However it is necessary.

Manipulation and distortions of the truth must be challenged.

Remember the quote "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing" by Edmund Burke.

Politics dressed up as science and empirical economics is dangerous to society no matter whether it comes from the left or the right.

Personally I believe inequality is a serious problem but I'm disappointed that The Spirit Level is constructed on such a fragile basis.
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on 19 July 2010
This book is basically a big lie attempting to discredit the important book The Spirit Level for rightwing political reasons. It pretends to disclose evidence when in fact it fails to acknowledge that The Spirit Level's evidence was widely peer reviewed and praised by many, including David Cameron and David Willets!
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on 17 June 2010
This book is a very simplistic attempt to refute the thesis presented in The Spirit Level - that inequality in society is divisive and has corrosive effects. It will appeal to readers who are instinctively anti-egalitarian (see the five-star reviews). It will not appeal to readers who prefer hard data and thought-provoking ideas. I should declare my own bias - I'm instinctively egalitarian.

Read the original:

The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better
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on 11 April 2011
The Spirit Level Delusion ... frivolous if not vindictive; either way damaging to progress. Latently egotistical and lacking humility, Snowdon presents another attempt - spiteful and perfidious - to undermine society's self-belief and its confidence in what is plainly intuitive and common sense.

As an example, in his habitual smug manner, Snowdon delights in challenging the assertions made by Wilkinson and Pickett relating to comparative mental disorders in more and less equal countries. Snowdon (in the cherry-picking fashion he is so derisive of in Wilkinson and Pickett) focuses his criticism on Scandinavian countries. As a Historian it is, perhaps, to be expected that science might elude Snowdon; disappointingly, as only half- or pseudo-scientists, Wilkinson and Pickett seemed to have missed a trick here too, but at least real science (medical and physiological) would tend to support their position. Real science shows irrefutably that a significant proportion of mental illness is very closely and directly associated with exposure to sunlight - a physiological fact. In a self-report study asking respondents if they have suffered in the past 12 months from any anxiety or depression disorder, it is hardly surprising that Scandinavians in the midst of 24 hour darkness, might have suffered more than someone in Florida or California, for example. Furthermore, as an adjunct and admittedly un-scientific, but nonetheless an interesting point, Scandinavians attach far less stigma to mental illness and are therefore more likely to report truthfully on their experiences.

Touche, Snowdon. And can you please explain why personal number plates?

Matthew Lewis
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on 9 November 2010
A very clever book and contains interesting information, but it unwittingly reveals what the wealth parties hate about equality - that to make the majority happier the minority must lose some of its power. In using the usual 'freedom' arguments, the book claims that the movement against inequality is a demand for big government. The Spirit Level makes it clear that heavy taxation is not necessary; Japan is one of the least unequal countries in the world, but on a basis of social consensus, not of coercion by the State. Government by big corporations is in fact just as hostile to freedom as government by a top-heavy state.
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