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The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger Audible – Unabridged

4.3 out of 5 stars 156 customer reviews

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Format: Hardcover
I welcome this book. It is a superb summary of the problems that inequality actually creates. Inequality issues are often presented as being about the poor, but this book shows that we are all poorer for living in more unequal societies. Inequality is as bad for the rich as it is for the poor. Society is poorer as inequality becomes greater.

The impacts of inequality show up in poorer health, lower educational attainment, higher crime rates, lower social capital, lower trust, lower co-operation the more unequal the society becomes. Wilkinson and Pickett give us clear evidence for these statements.

For the last twelve years we have endured in the UK a Labour government that preaches equality (then wonders "equality of what?") whilst actually presiding over increasing inequality and reducing social mobility.

Wilkinson and Pickett present their evidence well, in summary and clearly. I have the benefit of having been reading the research work on inequalities over several years so I recognised their evidence. If you need further evidence then you could follow the references, or read some of Wilkinson's The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier earlier works, or Michael Marmot's useful book, "The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity." Their presentation of evidence is strong, and it is difficult after seeing their evidence to argue in favour of greater inequality at all.

Inequality is clearly a bad thing for a society, and its constituent individuals.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Pickett and Wilkinson have put together a very interesting study of the results of income inequality on societies. They examined the wealthiest countries in the world, comparing the top and bottom 20 percent for income, as well as all 50 US states. What they found in their comparisons, which use data from WHO, the Centers for Disease Control and numerous other reputable scientific organizations, is that those societies where income inequality is greater have increased social problems across the board.

Among the wealthiest nations, Japan was found to have the least inequality between the wealthiest and poorest, and the US and the UK to have the highest. Rates of such problems as lack of trust between people, mental health issues, teenage pregnancy, school dropout rates and crime were found to be higher along the same continuum as the income inequality scale. The continuum was identical among the 50 US states.

Pickett and Wilkinson found that countries or states which expended more public funds on education and welfare also had lower rates of the problems they studied, which flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that using funds in this fashion creates social problems. They provided some interesting possibilities for relieving the inequality gap, including employee ownership of companies and increase taxation of the super-wealthy.

Overall, this is a fascinating look at the sociology of income equality. The problems in unequal societies were not limited to those at the lower end of the spectrum, as one might expect, but were found all the way across the board. Well worth reading for those with an interest in sociology.

(Review based on uncorrected advance proof.)
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book presents the thesis that many ills of today's society (obesity, mental illness, rates of drug abuse, ...) can be attributed to large income inequality. The authors make this point using two-dimensional scatter plots, with income inequality on the x-axis, the prevalence of some form of social ill on the y-axis, and dots in the plot representing individual countries. These plots generally show a positive correlation between income inequality and various social ills.

As a statistician, I would like to comment on the soundness such argumentation: unfortunately virtually all graphs are plagued be a confusion of correlation with causation. The authors typically argue that, since measurements A and B are correlated, either A is causing B, or B is causing A. However, in almost all cases it is easy to find a third factor C that is causing A and B, meaning that the conditional correlation of A and B given C is zero.
(A silly example: Men tend play more computer games than women. Men also tend to be physically stronger than women. Hence, across the population there is a positive correlation between A="the amount of time spent playing computer games", and B="physical strength". But surely nobody would proclaim that playing a lot of computer games makes you physically stronger, or vice versa. In fact, this correlation disappears when controlling for C="gender".)

Figure 7.2 is a prime example of the flawed argumentation in this book. It shows income inequality on the x-axis and obesity rates on the y-axes for various developed countries, together with a regression line that apparently indicates a positive relation between these two quantities.
First of all, the result is entirely driven by a single country, the US.
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