Over at Alternet, Kate Pickett, and Richard Wilkinson have a fascinating introduction to their new book, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. It’s no surprise to anyone who has been reading this site that I think we all need to re-evaluate ideas like “standard of living” and “economic growth” — here at LivingSmall, I follow Ed Abbey, who said in all the way back in 1977, in The Journey Home that: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”
Picking up on this idea, Pickett and Wilkinson have done a demographic study of countries (and states) in which there is wide variation in ratios of income between the top and bottom 20% of the population. What they found was that:
Throughout the centuries, there have always been those who have believed that inequality is divisive and socially corrosive. That intuition seems to be borne out by our data. In the more unequal countries and US states, only about 15 or 20 percent of the population feel they can trust others, compared to around two-thirds in the more equal ones. More equal societies are also more cohesive, with stronger community life. Coupled with the evidence on violence, this confirms that inequality damages the social fabric of society. If you have to walk home alone late at night, you’d feel easier about it in a more equal society.
They examine the ways in which those societies which have greater economic equity enjoy better health, longer life, and lower carbon emissions among all social classes than do those with more economic inequity. It’s well worth clicking over to read the full article here, since my paraphrase hardly does them justice. But for those of us who are tired of our more wealthy or Republican friends and family telling us that we’ve got our heads in the clouds for instinctively believing that social and economic equity leads to greater social benefits, Pickett and Wilkinson have mustered a lot of empirical evidence to back us up.