|The Spirit Level
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
23 Nov 2010
Bridge those gaps
Epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have gone under the skin to diagnose the disease that plagues the modern society. Crime is on the rise; mistrust amongst people is increasing; health is deteriorating by the day and self-esteem is at its lowest. Far from curtailing such trends, economic growth is indeed fuelling it further.
Sample this: America, one of the world's richest nations, has the lowest longevity and a high level of violence - murder, in particular. Add to it a growing mistrust amongst people and an increasing number of teenage pregnancies to get a picture of economic growth that belittles health and happiness of its people. Yet, economic growth is pursued as an antidote to social ills.
We know there is something wrong, and this book goes a long way towards explaining what and why. Pulling information from as much as 200 sets of data, the authors conclude that inequality is at the root of social crises. Inequality not only causes shorter, unhealthier and unhappier lives but destroys relationships between individuals born in the same society but into different classes.
The scale of economic inequality which exists today is less an expression of freedom and democracy as of their denial. If the cooperation of the masses was thought to be essential, the State would have reduced inequalities and flattened the pyramid of social stratification. But to persist with it seems deliberate, as it continues to generate illusion of hope in the State.
It is brave to write a book that questions the premise of economic growth. The speculative element in the cycles of economic boom and bust shift attention from environmental and social problems and make us worry about ‘how to get the economy moving again’. Whereas, in reality, reducing inequality would only make the economic system more stable.
Calling for our generation to make one of the biggest transformations in human history, The Spirit Level leaves on a note of optimism: ‘Greater equality will help us rein in consumerism and ease the introduction of policies to tackle global warming’. Unless progressive politics strengthen the concept of an equal society it will rarely provoke more than a yawn.
Anyone who believes that society is the result of what we do, rather than who we are, should read this book. Wilkinson and Pickett have backed their thesis with inarguable battery of evidence that ends with one of the simplest conclusion: we do better when we're equal.
The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Always Do Better
by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett; Penguin, London, 352 pages, $ 28