It is common knowledge that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem. Large inequalities of income are likewise often regarded as divisive and corrosive.
This groundbreaking book, based on thirty years' research, goes an important stage beyond either of these ideas: it demonstrates that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them - the well-off as well as the poor. The remarkable data the book lays out and the measures it uses are like a spirit level which we can hold up to compare the conditions of different societies. The differences revealed, even between rich market democracies, are striking. Almost every modern social and environmental problem - ill-health, lack of community life, violence, drugs, obesity, mental illness, long working hours, big prison populations - is more likely to occur in a less equal society.
The Spirit Level goes to the heart of the apparent contrast between the material success and social failings of many modern societies, but it does not simply provide a key to diagnosing our ills. It tells us how to shift the balance from self-interested 'consumerism' to a friendlier and more collaborative society. It shows a way out of the social and environmental problems which beset us and opens up a major new approach to improving the real quality of life, not just for the poor but for everyone. It is, in its conclusion, an optimistic book, which should revitalise politics and provide a new way of thinking about how we organise human communities.
Adapted from the introduction
It seems likely that environmental constraints on economic growth will dominate world politics for the foreseeable future. A pessimistic view would be that this is the beginning of the end of the most prosperous chapter in human history, and that business activity will be submerged if not by storms and rising sea levels then by a rising tide of government restrictions. A more optimistic response is to view the necessary constraints on economic growth as an opportunity to create a new and better post-consumerist society.
As the quality of life is so often defined in terms of material living standards and national income per person, it might seem paradoxical to claim that environmental restrictions on economic growth need not involve sacrificing our quality of life. But if instead we define the quality of life in terms of life expectancy, happiness and well-being, then the data clearly shows that we, in the rich market ...
The Spirit Level will change the way you think about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, especially if you live in the United States. You will reexamine what it means to be successful, how you will seek and achieve personal satisfaction, and what you owe your fellow citizen... Despite the vagueness of the egalitarian future they envision, and the sometime less-than-persuasive data in support of their arguments, Wilson and Pickett leave the reader to grapple with a powerful and disconcerting idea
(Reviewed by Jo Perry).
Full Review (893 words).
Authors Wilkinson and Pickett work to enact the ideas they put forward in The Spirit Level on their Equality Trust website and its campaign for economic equality. Visit this site for blog entries and updates on their work.
Watch a video of Wilkinson and Pickett talking about the ideas in The Spirit Level:
If money doesn't buy happiness, as Wilkinson and Pickett suggest, then what is happiness and how or where do we find it?
If you'd like to seek happiness, Forbes has an article on the happiest places on earth:
"Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands rated at the top of the list, ranking first, second and third, respectively. Outside Europe, New Zealand and Canada landed at Nos. 8 and 6, respectively. The U.S. did not crack ...
If you liked The Spirit Level, try these:
This autobiography of the world-renowned, visionary economist who came up with a simple but revolutionary solution to end world poverty - micro-credit.
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