I have recently been reading a great little book: The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.
The title explains a lot of it. People living in more equal societies (they don’t say “equal”) do better on a number of important measures. And this is not just for poor people, which I guess is what a lot of us would imagine. It’s apparently true in general, including for the wealthier people amongst us.
We’re talking about rich countries here – ranging from the least equal: the US, the UK, Portugal and Singapore to the most equal, such as Japan, the Scandinavian countries, Belgium, Austria, Germany and so on.
The measures, and a big part of the book is the statistics and other evidence to support the case, include those on physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, violence, teenage-births, and child well-being.
I guess these are all things, all of us, including the wealthy, would like to improve.
You can read more and join the campaign for change at the Equality Trust website. But something else that really interested was the link to climate change.
The authors suggest that in order to make climate change policies stick, it’s probably also essential that we increase levels of equality in our societies.
The logic of this is that inequality leads to envy and envy drives consumption. It’s a scary thought that even if heavier carbon taxes are introduced and we deploy ever more efficient energy technology, envy amongst individuals may still drive increasing consumption.
Keeping up with the Joneses could still make us go and buy that new car, or go for that ever flashier holiday, whatever the environmental cost.
But what could I do personally to help reduce inequality?
Well, one simple idea is to give your money away. Philosopher Peter Singer’s suggestion on a percentage that we all give away to the developing world seems very reasonable. It’s a sliding scale – the wealthier your are – the more you give.
This has a benefit to the developing world, and, if you are one of the wealthier ones in the country you live in, will also help to reduce the inequality gap.
And secondly, promoting employee ownership seems a very good idea. This clearly helps with inequality, reducing the differential between highly paid “top team” employees and those on the front-line. And in my view, will also help with company performance as more people take more responsibility for the results they generate.