Do not overlook the essential info available in “The Spirit Level”, by Dr. Richard Wilkinson and Dr. Kate Pickett, published in the United States this year. The message of this book (which is fully documented, peer-reviewed, footnoted, and with extensive bibliography) can be boiled down for your convenience as follows:
(1) The cumulative evidence of all published, peer-reviewed academic research conducted around the world since WWII unequivocally shows that the greater the inequality of income and wealth in a nation, the worse off will that society and the well-being of its citizens be with regards to all variables that have been evaluated, such as virtually every measurable quality of health and health care, education, social cohesiveness, functionality and effectiveness of the societal infrastructure, criminal behavior and consequences, violence, level of trust and respect between persons and between segments of the population, assessments of personal happiness and security, etc. etc.
(2) Since mid-20th century, none of the many nations (and the families that live in them) focused on by the research presented in “The Spirit Level”, have been improved or strengthened by increasing the average per capita income and overall wealth of the nation. Instead, it is by decreasing the wealth disparity between citizens that all objective measures, as well as personal perceptions of well-being are improved. Very importantly, this is true for ALL segments of society. In other words, people who live in a nation with a more equitable distribution of wealth and income, including those in the top quartile of wealth and income within that country, are better off, for all measured variables, than are people (including those in the upper quartile) who live in a country with a wider disparity of wealth and income – even if the latter country actually has a higher per capita GNP! The important economic characteristic defining a nation with a healthier, better educated, stronger, safer, happier population (even among the wealthiest 25 percent!) is not its per-capita GNP (which is the traditional measure of the well-being of the people in a nation). The most important and defining characteristic of well-being is how narrow is the income and wealth gap between the rich, the middle class, and the poor. A nation with more equality is better for virtually everyone in that nation (except possibly the very few super-rich at the very “top”, who might think they can, even in the long run, escape the general adverse consequences of great disparity of wealth and income in a nation.)
(3) The United States now, and for some time, has the deepest and widest disparity of all modern industrialized nations of the world in terms of income and wealth distribution.
(4) The United States is now (and increasingly in recent years) ranked at the bottom of all modern industrialized nations, in terms of the many variables measuring quality of life.
The point of numbers (3) and (4) above, is that the United States is not an outlier. The U.S.A. is not the exception to the data that proves the rule. We are just the most extreme example of the rule that is established by this very extensive data.
This summary may not surprise every American, and you may be among those who would not be shocked by the evidence presented by this massive study of the relevant research. But the documentation, and the arguments and conclusions, can only be ignored by those hoping for and trying to make a constructive difference in our future at the risk of continuing the American descent into a completely corporate dominated plutocracy, governed for the benefit only of the super-rich and the trans-national corporations, and into an increasingly fragmented, anxious, divided, hoarding nation that is lacking in mutual trust, basic understanding, sustainability, and happiness.
“The Spirit Level” is an essential resource and starting point for building solidarity and purpose around our common values. It authoritatively dispels several disastrous, pervasive myths which continue to afflict us in the United States.
Extracting and producing more gross income will not help solve our growing problems in America.
But reducing the widening disparity in wealth will do so.