The mysterious SocProf, who writes The Global Sociology Blog, offered a nice review of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett‘s book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. Wilkinson and Pickett offer transnational research showing how, exactly, income inequality is related to bad outcomes on average. In other words, as SocProf puts it, “…egalitarianism is not a bleeding heart’s wet dream but rather the only rational course of action in terms of public policy.” The 11 graphs, available at the Equality Trust website, speak for themselves.
Societies with more income inequality have higher infant death rates than other societies:
The authors sum it up pretty simply: : “Th[e] dissatisfaction [measured in this data is] a cost which the rich impose on the rest of society.”
And they have a clear policy proposal relevant to the current economic crisis.
[This is] a clear warning for those who might want to place low public expenditure and taxation at the top of their priorities. If you fail to avoid high inequality, you will need more prison and more police. You will have to deal with higher rates of mental illness, drug abuse and every other kind of problems. If keeping taxes and benefits down leads to wider income differences, the need to deal with ensuing social ills may force you to raise public expenditure to cope.
Readers Ana and Dmitriy T.M. sent in a TED talk of Richard Wilkinson discussing the relationship between income inequality and social problems:Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.