Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On equality

Paul Hanley's piece on equality in the Star-Phoenix (summarizing and commenting on Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone) is definitely worth a read. But it's worth highlighting the sad contrast between the results of Wilkinson and Pickett's research and the current state of political discussion:
(M)ore equal societies -- those where the difference in average incomes is less -- are better in almost every way.

The authors look at almost every social measure, from mental and physical health to violence and educational attainment, from social relations and teen pregnancy to imprisonment and longevity. In all cases, where there is a smaller gap between the average incomes of poorer and richer strata of society, people are generally healthier, happier, better adjusted, better educated and more socially cohesive.
Wilkinson and Pickett argue that equality is actually better for the rich, too. Wealthy people in more equal societies enjoy better physical and mental health and higher security than the rich in unequal societies.

For Wilkinson and Pickett, there are clear limitations to the benefits wealth can deliver. Statistics clearly show that past a certain point, say an average annual income of $20,000 per year per person, there are few benefits to having more money. People with incomes above that level are not happier or healthier, even though they can afford more stuff.
Given that greater equality is indeed a key factor in overall well-being, there should be plenty of room to actually promote and pursue policies that would make greater equality an end goal - rather than accepting the assumption that generating all the more wealth for the already-wealthy has to be the overriding priority for governments at all levels. And hopefully the reminder that a more equal society produces better results for everybody involved will serve as a spur for the Canadian left to develop and present a vision of what that can look like in the future, rather than spending as much time as it does defending hard-won gains against attacks from the corporatist right.

(H/t to @JaimeWGarcia.)

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