Wilkinson and Pickett’s book ‘The Spirit Level’
I’ve read this book a couple of times now and think that, ultimately, the book bravely attempts to prove the philosophical and normative statement: ‘equality is better for everyone’. Perhaps the book is right. But, the methodology has some shortcomings, and rides on a few assumptions. Despite that, it is ‘eye-opening’ and worth reading. Here is an introduction and a few thoughts:
Wilkinson and Pickett’s book, The Spirit Level, begins with a remarkable paradox. Despite being at “the pinnacle of human material and technical achievement, we find ourselves anxiety ridden, prone to depression, worried about how other see us, unsure of our friendships, driven to consume and with little or no community life”. The book is fascinating, provocative and has become very influential. Fundamentally, the authors asserts that: “among rich countries, the more unequal ones do worse according to almost every quality of life indicator”. Mental health is one of the ‘quality of life indicators’ the book specifically examines, along with obesity, teenage births, imprisonment and more. In line with the rest of the argument, the authors shows that: “a much higher percentage of the population suffer from mental illness in more unequal countries”. At first glance, the book is convincing as there is a mono-causality between income inequality and the health and social issues examined. The simplicity of the conclusions help explain why the book has become so popular and influential, it implies that “by reducing income differences in a society, it is possible to eliminate all social problems and ills”. Unsurprisingly, skepticism can also arisen at such a simple solution to a complex problem.
The book has lead to the development of a Trust:
“The Equality Trust is working with others to build a social movement for change. We analyse and disseminate the latest research, promote robust evidence-based arguments and support a dynamic network of campaign groups across the country.”
By Ian Harper