It’s not my idea really, even if it does seem quite logical to me. It is however the main idea of a booked called The Spirit Level. Who is behind the book? It’s the same man who said that if Americans want to live the American dream, they better move to Denmark.
The New York Times has been asking this week: “Is the US still a Land of Opportunities”?
The article in The Times states: “There is a growing consensus that it is harder to move up the economic ladder in the United States than in many other places.” Compared to most European countries – especially the ones in the North – the US are extremely unequal. What does it mean for society? In the book, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett describe a research which showed the following:
“In a random sample of more than 5,500 Americans, researchers from Duke and Harvard Universities investigated views of the distribution of wealth (rather than income) in society. People were shown three pie charts illustrating three different distributions of wealth – one in which each fifth of the population got the same, another that showed (unlabelled) the distribution of wealth in the United States and another (also unlabelled) based on the distribution in Sweden. Ninety-two per cent said they would prefer to live in a society with the Swedish distribution – and the percentage only varied from 89 to 93 per cent depending on whether they were rich or poor, Democrats or Republicans. When asked what they thought the distribution of wealth is in the US, the average estimate was that the richest 20 per cent of Americans control 59 per cent of the wealth. In reality, they control 84 per cent. Asked what they thought the ideal distribution would be, people preferred the top 20 per cent to have 32 per cent of all wealth.”
Watch this video to find out about the study.
So, OK, people would rather live in an equal society. But what was the part about the problems? The following graph shows the correspondence between inequality and social and health problems:
The graph speaks for itself. The books explains how income inequality leads both to lower levels of health in the society and to higher levels of violence and crime. It’s not surprising that the US have the highest rate of imprisonment. What is more, many research outcomes “strongly suggest that one of the likely costs of greater inequality is increased corruption in government and society more widely” and that “people trust government less in more unequal states”. In this excerpt from the book you can further find the role of inequality in the creation of debt and crises.
Back to the American dream and Denmark. Let us give the microphone directly to the author so he can explain for himself:
Isn’t it time for more equality?