The Spirit Level – Why Equality is Better for Everyone is a book that sets out some sobering facts about the damage done to people by living in unequal societies, such as the USA, UK and Portugal, compared with more equal places like Japan and Scandinavia.
The amazing thing is that this is true for even the richest people, i.e. the well-being of the (very) rich in unequal societies is less than that of the rich (but not as rich) in more equal countries.
‘Well-being’ covers things like: mental illness, obesity, teenage pregnancy, violence, interpersonal trust, self-esteem, life expectancy, literacy and much more.
The reasons are complex but rooted in the deep but conflicting human needs for status and social integration. We measure our self-worth against other people and so want to do better than them. This is stoked up by marketing and media that are designed to set aspirations artificially high, and make us feel inadequate unless we have the latest material goods.
The book talks about how greater equality can be achieved. In countries such as Sweden it is mainly by using fiscal policy (e.g. taxes) whereas in Japan incomes and wealth are more evenly shared to start with.
At K&H we are heavily involved with the Employee Ownership Association and it is interesting that the book focuses on this model as a way to achieve a fairer sharing of wealth. Technology is also likely to provide a levelling off of how resources are shared, and these are very positive signs for the future.
The prizes for more equality are well worth aspiring to. For example in the UK we would have 75% fewer murders and seven weeks more holiday every year if we could get to the position of the more equal societies.
Do you agree with this book, and do you think it should influence our government’s fiscal policy?
To see all the books I have read and recommended over the last few years, see my reading list on my LinkedIn pages.