'Injustice: Why Social Inequality Persists' is Daniel Dorling's attempt to take further the contemporary debate on inequality in prosperous societies by moving on from the mere fact of rising inequality to the causes of its continuation in countries that clearly have the means, but apparently not the will, to make their citizens' lives more equal. In essence, his argument comes down to two factors: the operation of intrinsic structural forces of capitalist economics in rich countries; and the triumph since the 1970s of an ideology that explains that economic system as not merely natural, but a necessary consequence of free-market capitalism, which is itself treated as self-evidently the most efficient and moral economic system possible and thus the greatest guarantor of the general good.
In five substantial chapters, Professor Dorling examines the way in which unjust principles have been embedded in contemporary thinking and discourse. These five principles - an obvious and acknowledged parallel to Beveridge's five 'Giant Evils' - are elitism: social exclusion; prejudice; greed; and despair (and its political consequence - apathy). Dorling produces a wealth of argument and well-documented evidence to show how increasingly general acceptance of these inequities underlies and reinforces gross social inequality. The resultant disparity in life chances for individuals is excused by making them appear the necessary, inevitable and even desirable consequence of capitalism's alleviation for most of the very worst aspects of human existence.
So far so good, and it's hard to imagine anyone with an open mind reading this book entirely without profit. However, Dorling's cause is damaged by an uncertainty of tone that seems to be rooted in an underlying uncertainty about the composition of his intended audience. Dispassionate, objective exposure of social evil suddenly gives way to polemic in a way that suggests some brutal and unwilling fusion of the pamphleteering tradition with the academic monograph. The tone veers unpredictably between that of a lecturer addressing students and that of a firebrand addressing a public meeting.
Dorling is an acknowledged expert in his field: he seems however to forget at times that many of his readers will not be so familiar with statistical methodology, and as a result I often found it necessary to pay very close attention to the text in order to understand graphs that the author appears to think self-explanatory. This would matter less if the information conveyed were not so vital to the argument.
The result is that the perfectly rational case that Dorling is making is somewhat damaged by the manner of its presentation. Those who most need to hear what Dorling has to say are those most likely to be frightened off by the entirely justifiable, but impolitic anger. The author also offers hostages to fortune by employing on occasion the kind of rhetoric that will allow the ill-disposed to dismiss him as a polytechnic Marxist. (Dorling is not explicitly a Marxist, but 'Injustice' clearly stands in a long tradition of ideological critique). A book of this kind, if it is to have the intended effect, has to reach further than the ranks of the true believers. For me, admirable in some respects as 'Injustice' is, it falls between two stools.
Recommended nonetheless, especially for readers who may be unfamiliar with the results of research in human geography, sociology and economic history over the last decade or so. My three-star rating is a compromise between four stars for content and two for presentation.