Monday, June 15, 2009

'The Spirit Level' by Pickett and Wilkinson Represents a Vindication of What Marxists and Progressives Have Said for Years

"The Spirit Level- Why more equal societies almost always do better" Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (Penguin, £20)- Reviewed by Mile Pentelow- Courtesy of the Morning Star

IT RECENTLY took an ambulance crew so long to break through the home security system of a wealthy man suffering from a heart attack that he was dead before they could reach him.

The report of this in my local paper confirmed a view that grotesque inequalities of wealth not only lead to homelessness and squalid overcrowding for the poor but also the rich have to practically lock themselves up in miserable, albeit luxurious, isolation.

The life quality of both would therefore be improved if there was greater equality of income distribution - which is very much the theme of this book.

The authors, who are both epidemiologists, produce a wealth of graphs based on official statistics to show that the more unequal countries are, the worse are their health and social problems.

This is done by comparing the records of the richest 23 countries in the world on levels of trust, mental illness, life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity, children's educational performances, teenage births, homicides, imprisonment rates and social mobility.

Britain, the US and Portugal are the most unequal countries with the worst health and social problems, while Japan and the Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden, are the most equal with the least problems.

The authors compare the life expectancy and life quality of people from specific income groups in different countries. Even the well-off fare better in more equal societies than people paid the same as them in richer but more unequal countries.

Records over time in the same countries are also compared. In Britain, for example, over the last 30 years of Conservative and so-called "new" Labour government, inequality has rocketed along with social problems.

Plenty of examples are given of co-operation and sharing being successful and the overall historical trend of society towards equality.

The authors dismiss state socialism as a failed experiment, even though recognising life expectancy has dramatically decreased and chronic stress increased in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe since changing from planned to market economies. { Editorial Note- In a recent interview on Irish TV3 with Vincent Browne, Richard Wilkinson pointed out that health levels in Cuba are equal to that of the USA where there is vastly higher amount of resources dedicated to health expenditure per capita}

"It doesn't take a revolution to put things right," said one author at a conference in an attempt to allay fears about introducing more equality - who was then surprised at how many people thought it would take just that because of the current concentration of power.

The book proposes government support for companies to be 100 per cent owned and managed by employees, but recognises that, if these compete in the existing "amoral" market, anti-social production would continue.

Overall, they conclude, there must be a sustained movement for a better society that is both achievable and inspiring to produce the political will for change.

To arm such a campaign with facts, the authors publish all their latest research on the Equality Trust