Money doesn’t buy you happiness but equality might

Jay Owen Reforming Global Finance

ISIS Report 28/07/14SiS ReviewEquality is Good for You########################RG Wilkinson and KE Pickett. The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better forEveryone. Penguin Books.  Pp 349 £9.99. ISBN 978-0-141-03236-8.Prof Peter Saunders:  Money doesn’t buy you happiness but equality might. It seems obvious that the way to improve the lot of most people in a countryis to increase its national wealth. Some will do better out of this thanothers but everyone will gain something; a rising tide lifts all the boats.Certainly, if a country is really unable to provide its people with thebasics like food, clean water, sanitation, health care and education, thingsare unlikely to get better until there are the resources to put this right.In The Spirit Level [1], however, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett showthat this works only until there is enough to provide everyone with themeans to live comfortably. Beyond that point, making the average personbetter off financially does not improve their quality of life. In countriesat the level of Western Europe and North America, there is little or nocorrelation between national average income and a whole collection ofindices of well-being:  health, social problems in general, child happiness,the incidence of mental illness, life expectancy, the murder rate, obesityboth in adults and in children, teenage pregnancy rates, average scores inmathematics and literacy tests, and more.

There are, on the other hand, significant correlations between the sameindices and income inequality, as measured by the widely accepted Gini index[2]. They find the same picture by comparing either 23 of the richestcountries in the world or the 50 states of the US. What is more, the betterindices of well-being do not merely reflect improvements in the lot of thepoorest; the higher income groups also do better when the country or statewhere they live is more equal.In all the comparisons, the US stands out as the country with the highestnational average income and at the same time both the greatest inequality(apart from Singapore) and the worst scores on most social measures. Butit’s not just the US; if you omit it from the calculations on the grounds of‘exceptionalism’ (the view held mostly by Americans that the US is such a very
country that it must not be compared with any other) you get pretty much thesame correlations. Put another way, if you work out the regression lineusing the other 22 wealthy countries, you find the US to be about where youwould expect it to be.It’s not just about the poor.  The usual arguments for reducing inequality have
to do with its effect on
the poor.  When the Bible says “You shall open wide your hand to yourbrother, to the needy and to the poor in your land,” (Deuteronomy 15:11) itis telling the better off to give some of what they have to help those withless. When Marx wrote, “Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing tolose but your chains,” he was concerned with the plight of the proletariat, not the
well-being of 
the bourgeoisie.Wilkinson and Pickett suggest something quite different. Those of us who arerelatively well off should support measures that reduce inequality notbecause they are good for the poor (though they are) but because they aregood for the rest of us too. It is a matter not of charity but of enlightened self-interest.The critics:As you would expect, The Spirit Level has been sharply criticised by manywriters, mostly in right wing media and think tanks. Some have challengeddetails of how the data were collected and analysed, but there are so manydata and the conclusions are so robust that those objections are readilyrefuted.Read the rest of this report here read other recent reports from ISIS here you find this report useful, please support ISIS by subscribing to ourmagazine Science in Society, and encourage your friends to do so. have a look at the ISIS bookstore for other publications article can be found on the I-SIS website at new articles are also announced on our RSS feed website is now archived by the British Library as part of UK nationaldocumentary heritageIf you like this original article from the Institute of Science in Society,and would like to continue receiving articles of this calibre, pleaseconsider making a donation or purchase on our website is an independent, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing critical
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