A fellow progressive friend of mine recommended that I read The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkinson, Kate Picket because it dealt with inequality and how it explains most of our societal problems which sounded very interesting. After tearing through it over the last day or so I just finished reading it and, wow, was that an amazing and enlightening read! Everyone should read this whether conservative, centrist, or progressive, because this issue affects all of us no matter our ideology, for inequality harms all of us regardless of socioeconomic status – yes even the rich are effected.
After about 500 man-years worth of research they published this book with amazing revelations that clearly show the harmful effects of inequality on a country and its people. It is amazing how consistent the harms are from country to country with the United States being the worst of them all, of course. If they know a country’s level of inequality they can pretty much predict its social and economic conditions from poverty and teenage pregnancy to number of people in prison and existence of specific health problems. They are also able explain why that is too. =O
A powerful reason for most of why this is true is because Humanity has evolved as a social species. Because of that, the powerful psychological ramifications of threats of adverse social opinion or reputation, feelings of less worth than others, are powerfully damaging to all aspects of society from the most rich to the most destitute. Inequality harms trust at all levels which negatively affects all aspects of life due to biopsychosocial effects. All of the rest of the problems follow from that. I have a post that talks about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (MHoN) and the Biopsychosocial model in Psychology (BPS) which can help you understand why this is so important and powerful to understand.
Quotes From the Book
Here are some quotes from this amazing and revelatory book:
It was Thomas Scheff, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who said that shame was the social emotion. He meant almost exactly what Dickerson and Kemeny were referring to when they found that the most likely kinds of stressors to raise levels of stress hormones were ‘social evaluative threats’. By ‘shame’ he meant the range of emotions to do with feeling foolish, stupid, ridiculous, inadequate, defective, incompetent, awkward, exposed, vulnerable and insecure. Shame and its opposite, pride, are rooted in the processes through which we internalize how we imagine others see us. Scheff called shame the social emotion because pride and shame provide the social evaluative feedback as we experience ourselves as if through others’ eyes. Pride is the pleasure and shame the pain through which we are socialized, so that we learn, from early childhood onwards, to behave in socially acceptable ways. Nor of course does it stop in childhood: our sensitivity to shame continues to provide the basis for conformity throughout adult life. People often find even the smallest infringement of social norms in the presenœ of others causes so much embarrassment that they are left wishing they could just disappear, or that the ground would swallow them up.The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (Kindle edition, location 674)
Not only do large inequalities produce all the problems assocated with social differences and the divisive class prejudices which go with them, but, as later chapters show, it also weakens community life, reduces trust, and increases violenceThe Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (Kindle edition, location 754)
We also found that living in a more equal place benefited everybody not just the poor. It’s worth repeating that health disparities are not simply a contrast between the ill-health of the poor and the better health of everybody else. Instead, they run right across society so that even the reasonably well-off have shorter lives than the very rich. Likewise, the benefits of greater equality spread right across society, improving health eve not just those at the bottom. In other words, at almost any level of income, it’s better to live in a more equal placeThe Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (Kindle edition, location 1212)
A second observation that supports our belief that greater income inequality reduces social mobility comes from data on spending on education. Education is generally thought of as the main engine of social mobility in modern democracies —people with more education earn more and have higher social status. We saw in Chpt 8 how inequality affects educational achievements and aspirations but it’s worth noting that among the eight countries for which we have information about social mobility, public expenditure on education (elementary/primary and high/secondary schools) is strongly linked to the degree of income equality. In Norway, the most equal of the eight, almost all (97.8 per cent) spending on school education is public expenditure. In contrast, in the USA, the least equal of this group of countries, only about two-thirds (68.2 per cent) of the spending on school education is public money. This is likely to have a substantial impact on social differences in access to higher education.
The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (Kindle edition, location 2268)
It is a political, social, ethical, and economic imperative that we annihilate inequality which will save many lives, increase social trust, increase social cooperation, increase productivity all while save billions of dollars and saving the climate while doing it. Everybody wins!!
I was rather amazed that most of the methods that they briefly talk about as measures to combat inequality are things I have already thought about or even implemented in my Policies to Transform the World which are the policies I would run on if I ran for office. In my 28+ page document I have very aggressively attacked income inequality before I even fully understood its ramifications through reading this book.
They also have a website which was created to help raise awareness to to work towards reducing inequality: Equality Trust.
Their Follow-up Book – The Inner Level
On January 22, 2019 they released a follow up book which I will read this weekend thanks to the friend same friend that recommended The Spirit Level!