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It was an idea that seemed to unite the political classes. Inequality even limits life expectancy itself, they said.
The killer line for politicians seeking to attract swing voters was that greater equality is not just better for the poor but for the middle classes and the rich too. For a book which concludes that either taxes must rise on the rich or their incomes must fall to increase equality, it was an astonishing level of cross-party support.
But this The wreckers book report, something has snapped and if The Spirit Level were a punchbag, the stuffing would be coming out at the seams.
A posse of rightwing institutes has laid into the work with a wave of brutal attacks. Right wing columnists weighed in too.
Wilkinson was shocked by what he believes is part of a worrying trend in political discourse, also happening in the US, where a few people, often attached to right wing institutes, have set themselves up as professional wreckers of ideas.
As Labour enters the autumn conference season searching for a big idea, as well as a leader to unite around, Wilkinson retains hope that his idea could still shape the Labour leadership campaign. Gordon Brown cancelled two invitations for Wilkinson and Pickett to explain their findings to the Cabinet at the end of last year and again in January, but David Miliband, the favourite to become the Labour leader, is a fan.
It is in some ways counterintuitive. But it has profound implications. Using data from 23 rich countries and 50 US states, they found problems are anything from three to 10 times as common in more unequal societies.
Again and again, the Scandinavian countries and Japan are at one end of the scale as the most equal, while the US, UK and Australia are at the other.
A key explanation is the psychological impact of inequality which, they say, causes stress and anxiety. For example, maths and literacy scores are lower in more unequal countries, affected by the issues of health, anxiety and depression and consequent drug and alcohol use.
The way parents react to relative poverty also affects the way they treat their children, affecting education. Violence rises in more unequal societies too. Following psychological studies that say men have an incentive to achieve as high a status as possible because their sexual competitiveness depends on it, the authors explain that men use violence when their status is threatened, and more so when there is little status to defend.
The evolutionary importance of shame and humiliation provides a plausible explanation of why more unequal societies suffer more violence. Crucially, the authors argue that the evidence shows that all levels of society benefit from more equality, not just the poorest.
Whether rich or poor, inequality causes stress, which causes biological reactions that put pressure on the body and increase illness. Arguably the most profound conclusion is that economic growth among rich countries has finished its work because it is no longer increasing life expectancy and the only way to do that is to better share the wealth we have.
Are we fighters — which increases inequality?The largest collection of literature study guides, lesson plans & educational resources for students & teachers. Mar 05, · Reading a warning by BBC Director-General Lord Hall in yesterday's Sunday Times I immediately checked the weather report for signs of frost in Hell.
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