The Spirit Level

“The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better” is a book by Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett that was published in 2009. The book examines several problems that are common throughout the world. The income differences within one society and the size of the gap between the highest income earners and the lowest income earners has an enormous effect on the entire society, eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, encouraging excessive consumption and even the crime and murder rate.

The book shows that for 11 different health and social problems — physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies and child wellbeing — the outcome is significantly worse in those countries that have an unequal distribution of income.
Statistics for the world’s 23 richest countries and for the 50 states in the United States are used in the book, and the results are surprising. We used to think that US is the leading and the most developed country in the world. That might be true in terms of gross domestic product (GDP); however, the US has the highest income difference between the richest 20 percent of the country and the poorest 20 percent.
Why does the high income difference affect the crime rate? This is probably the easiest to explain. If the poorest cannot meet their needs and see the high standards of living of the rich, this might prepare some ground for conflict between them.
In richer countries, a smaller gap between rich and poor means a happier, healthier and more successful population. Just look at the US, the UK, Portugal and New Zealand at the top right of the given graph, which are doing much worse than Japan, Sweden and Norway located at the bottom left. The examples of Japan and the US are the most remarkable. As two of the richest countries in the world, Japan’s position is much better than that of the US. The authors of the book explain this by the fact that income inequality in Japan is a great deal less than that of the US. What is the moral of the story? We have to aim not only for growth, but a more balanced growth that would guarantee equal income distribution.
The major earthquake that hit Japan, the nuclear reactor crisis and the US financial crash in 2008 should make us think more about a sustainable society and environment.
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