By every measure that matters, The Spirit Level helps us understand, relatively equal nations far outperform nations where income and wealth concentrate at the top.
Many of us have read, over the past 12 months, a variety of books that address America’s vast economic gap between our rich and everyone else. Books that trace the roots — in inequality — of our current crisis. Books that explore the political and economic evolution of the inequality that plagues us. Even one book that imagines what will become of us if we let inequality continue to fester.
Of all these fine titles, one stands out, as our most important read of the year. The authors of this new volume, the British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, will be familiar to many U.S. progressive readers. Over the years, their pioneering work has documented the link between inequality and lifespan.
In more unequal societies, Wilkinson and Pickett have shown, people live less long than people do in more equal societies. We’re not talking just poor people here, but all people. Middle-income people in relatively equal societies — like Sweden and Japan — live longer, healthier lives than middle-income people in deeply unequal nations like the United States.
In their new book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Wilkinson and Pickett extend their analysis to every major marker of social decency, from homicide levels and teen pregnancy to educational achievement and economic mobility. The pattern holds in every case: The more unequal the society, the worse the social outcome.
We ran a review of The Spirit Level back last August, after the book’s British publication. We raved about it. So have British reviewers. The widely respected New Statesman magazine has just rated The Spirit Level one of the top ten books of the 21st century’s first decade.
A U.S. edition of The Spirit Level, subtitled Why Greater Equality Makes Us Stronger, is just now appearing. Wilkinson and Pickett will be doing a U.S. book tour this January. If you can catch them in person, don’t miss that opportunity. If you can’t, just get the book. And share it.
Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality.