“The Spirit Level”, by Professors Picket and Wilkinson, claims that countries with greater inequalities are causing chronic health and social problems for everyone, including the rich.
“The countries with the biggest gap between the rich and the poor have the highest level of whatever health and social problem it is we’re looking at,” said Professor Pickett.
Unequal societies “have more violence, they have higher teenage birth rates, they have more obesity, they have lower levels of trust, they have lower levels of child well-being, community life is weaker and more people are in prison,” adds Professor Wilkinson.
The argument is that inequality actually causes all these social problems, because unequal places like the UK or USA are more socially competitive places to live in than Sweden or Japan.
To support their argument, they use data from 23 countries, and 50 US states – in other words, societies already wealthy enough to provide the basics for their citizens, so it is obesity or heart attacks that are bigger worries than diseases caused by poverty.
If they are even half correct (and their views are contested), the govmin should not look upon measures to reverse the growth in the Gini gap as wasted expenditure (as the social welfare minister implies when he ridiculed the idea of increasing the poverty allowance by $50 by asking if the the poor want to to eat hawker or restaurant food), but rather as an investment. In S’pore, “expenditure” is usually a dirty word, whereas “investment” is a gd word.
Hopefully our ministers will order their staff to read the book and summarise it for them, and people like Kenneth J, Dr Chee, Tan Kin Lian, and Goh Meng Seng read the book. Knowing Eric Tan of the WP, I’m sure he would have ordered the book, if not read it.
In the UK, the PM and leader of the Opposition quote from the book regularly.
And the Chinese Communist Party’s leaders are addressing the issue of narrowing the rich-poor divide. It seems they do not agree with MM that it is inevitable that the gap will grow. [Note this para is an update at 5pm 15 October 2010]