Friday 11 June 2010

Equality is Better for Everyone

Yesterday I attended a lecture by Richard Wilkinson, joint author with Kate Pickett of The Spirit Level:Why Equality is Better for Everyone. Their thesis is that, whilst a rising physical standard of living obviously improves the quality of life in poor countries, in rich countries, growing even richer doesn't.

The key factor is the level of equality. In the more unequal countries (which include the US and the UK) levels of a whole range of factors:infant mortality, homicides, imprisonment, teenage births, obesity, mental illness, trust, social mobility and even literacy and competence in mathematics, are worse than in the more equal societies (eg Japan and Sweden)

They find that it doesn't seem to matter how the level of equality is achieved, be it by a relatively narrow range of incomes, as in Japan, or high taxation and generous welfare payments as in the Scandinavian countries. And in these more equal countries, it is not just the poor that benefit from greater equality, but the improvements extend to the majority of the population.

If the coalition government gives way to the lobby against raising capital gains tax, or the pleas of the CBI for a reductions in taxes at the top, then our already unequal society will be moving in the wrong direction. Alas, even that part of Liberal Democrat tax policy winch the coalition has accepted will have the same effect. By co-incidence Wilkinson and Pickett were co-signatories to a letter in yesterday's Guardian which concluded:

"Increasing the income tax threshold to £10 itself will not help the poorest 3 million households. If this is paid for by an increase in VAT then inequality will rocket... (and) the health of our communities will be badly damaged."

If the Liberal Democrat Party had resisted seduction by fashionable monetarism we could now be on the side of the angels on this issue. However, there is still a chance, I hope, to prevent an increase in VAT.

PS If you buy a copy of this book, if you do it through the link above, 5% of what you pay goes to a Trust set up to campaign for more equality.

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