Predatory capitalism makes some of us poor and some of us rich, of course, but it also makes most of us sick, crime-ridden and mad—or so two British social scientists contend.
In a scholarly work that is already exciting widespread discussion outside the academy, Wilkinson (Univ. of Nottingham Medical School) and Pickett (Univ. of York) show that by nearly every measure of the quality of life, societies with high income inequality fare more poorly than those with a more even distribution of wealth. In the United States, writes former labor secretary Robert Reich in the foreword, the top one percent of earners has tripled its share of the economy since 1980—when, not coincidentally, Ronald Reagan came to power and began to deregulate everything. Reich scorns the thought that the Obama administration should be branded socialist for wanting to return some social controls to 1980 and even 1990 levels. Wilkinson and Pickett are measured and even cautious in advancing their interpretations of the data, which are full of curiosities. In unequal countries, for instance, women suffer from greater levels of certain kinds of mental illness than do men, and some diseases—particularly heart-related illnesses and obesity—seem strongly correlated to disparities in wealth distribution. Everywhere, the links between legalized robbery and other kinds of crime are strong. The authors relate much of the problem to the overall phenomenon of anxiety—perhaps not the most scientific of diagnostic words, but one that does the job. Ultimately, they urge a return to the concept that liberty and equality are connected—the idea that they are not “seems to have emerged during the Cold War.”
A book full of dangerous ideas and useful statistics, all worthy of attention, discussion and action.