It's equality not growth that makes the difference..


I went to an excellent garden party at Hackney Liberal Democrats yesterday afternoon where I learnt that there is solid data that supports the notion that unequal societies are worse for everybody, whether the Lib Dems narrative does or doesn't support that and not to attempt to drive in London on a Sunday. Ever.

Geoffrey J Payne (as opposed to Geoff Payne) is very good at putting together the most interesting speaking events and he had invited Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, the author of 'the Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better' and my husband*, Neil Stockley, on the extent to which the Lib Dems current narrative is one of equality. Neil will be putting what he had to say about our narrative (the upshot being our narrative is not really one of equality, even though our policies support one) on his blog in the next few days.

If you haven't had a look a The Spirit Level yet, I thoroughly recommend you do you can buy it here (via the Lib Dem affinty scheme) or here: especially if you're of the persuasion that it's growth that counts and that as long as those at the top are continuing to get wealthier it will improve things for everybody (i.e. especially if you are a Tory).

It doesn't.

In fact key things that I took from the talk were:

  1. Once you get past a certain amount of wealth (ie. where the richest, most developed countries already are) increased growth makes no difference to overall well being (life expectancy, imprisonment rates etc, etc).
  2. That increased equality means greater well being, not just for the poorest in society but for the richest. So the rich in more equal societies are better off (or rather, have increased levels of well being) than the rich in less equal societies, even though they may not have as much money or purchasing power as the rich in more unequal societies.
  3. The UK is doing really badly and massive increased expenditure hasn't made that much difference.
  4. So is New Zealand...

Don't just take my word for it - go and have a look at the Equality Trust and look at the stats - they're compelling, to say the least.

*novelty value of saying or writing 'my husband' has yet to wear off; perhaps it never will!!

7 comments:

Julian H said...
14 Sep 2009, 13:48:00

Did anyone speak from the alternative viewpoint, or was there any reference to contradictory data?

Jo Christie-Smith said...
14 Sep 2009, 15:30:00

Hi Julian

The best thing to do, to understand the methodology they used is to go to the Equality Trust website.

What they're doing is plotting correlations and relationships, between pre-existing data.

So, there's all sorts of internationally recognised OECD data for such things as ave life expectancy and ave income and different percentile's of income.

As well as looking at the richest countries, they also looked at the data across 50 US states.

Have a look at the data, it's quite compelling.

Tristan said...
14 Sep 2009, 19:15:00

I'm coming to the view that there is something to be said for economic equality - however, the champions of economic equality are also great champions of power inequality and that is far far more damaging in my view.

Not only does it corrode society by setting some arbitrarily above others and by seeking to replace the organic spontaneous society that evolves with something designed and enforced through authority (such systems can never hope to function as they are meant to, and ultimately harm people), but they also result in greater economic inequality.

This is what sets apart liberals and state socialists - liberals seek an equalling of power, recognising that it is inequality of power and authority which creates economic inequality.
State socialists take the view that power must be given to the state in order for politicians and their bureaucrats to enforce economic equality.

The result of this view can be seen in the decrease in equality thanks to Labour - taxing minimum wage to ensure they can pay for their supposedly progressive schemes and then using the money to bail out their allies in big business and giving favours and money to the union bosses.
A big state cannot afford to promote economic equality as it requires ever increasing income to function, so it must tax the poor as well as the rich, and it must not tax the rich and middle classes too much else they will simply leave or cease working so much to reduce taxable incomes and thus tax revenue.

(As for conservatives - they seek to maintain existing power structures and will adopt whatever means necessary - sometimes mimicking liberals to an extent, at other times adopting state socialist methods)

Jo Christie-Smith said...
15 Sep 2009, 09:26:00

Hi Tristan,

I think the point is that it doesn't matter how you get to a more equal society, but that the end result of being more equal mean increased well being for everyone in that society.

The speakers cited the example of Japan & Sweden; two countries you couldn't imagine more different.

Sweden is more equal in the way that it redistributes money from rich to poor via social welfare, childcare and education. Japan is more equal in the first place - the richest in Japanese society only earn 3 or 4 times the poorest - unlike 8-9 times in the UK.

So it matters not whether you are a socialist or a liberal - what matters is the outcome of great equality.

My personal preference would be to tax the very rich more and don't tax the very poor and decrease tax for others - with some notable exceptions around provision of maternity benefits & childcare, I would prefer people to make the choice over how they spend their money not govts.

Left Lib said...
17 Sep 2009, 18:25:00

Hi Julian,
I am not aware of anyone who has done any research that comes to a different conclusion to the one that Richard and Kate make.
Because of the date of the event, I could not invite any MPs. It is true that David Laws wrote a Centre Forum pamphlet recently on equality that made no reference to the work of Richard and Kate. I do not understand why that was, although it is true that the pamphlet was published earlier.
So I do not know what David Laws opinion is on these findings, but I do think a fringe meeting at conference between him and Richard and Kate would be very interesting.
In his presentation Richard did look at the possible objections to his research, and he was able to dismiss them very easily.
Personally I find it hard to conceive that he is fundamentally wrong in his findings.

Left Lib said...
17 Sep 2009, 18:30:00

Tristan, you appear to be in a bind that you accept the findings - which I am pleased to see - but at the same time you are arguing that it is worth living a poorly run country for the sake of protecting liberty.
I think the kind of liberty you want to protect, given it leads to the kind of country we have become, is not worth protecting.
In fact when you consider the attacks on civil liberties, both in this country and (via the Patriot act) the US, it is hard to argue that the more unequal countries have more freedom.
From a liberal point of view, the good news is that a more equal society, at least in western Europe, will have more freedom.

Left Lib said...
17 Sep 2009, 18:32:00

Hi Jo,
It was wonderful to see you last Sunday and I am glad you enjoyed the event. Thank you for blogging about it.

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