Along with a belief that the market has self-evident limits, equality is surely Labour\’s most fundamental idea – to return to Tawney, its creed. Moreover, as Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett prove in their much-acclaimed book The Spirit Level, a society as unequal as ours is simply dysfunctional. Purnell says he thinks \”we need to widen out from a narrow focus on income\”, which is true – but what follows only highlights a glaring omission.
And in The Spirit Level there is an extremely depressing concentration upon income, a \”narrow focus upon income\” you might say.
Everything, but everything, is compared to differences in income. Between US States by the Gini….although they make the error of using market income to measure this, rather than consumption. Across countries by the 20/20 ratio, the ratio between that portion of income garnered by the bottom quintile as against the top quintile*.
This leads them into some remarkable errors. For example, much of the reason why inequality causes problems is because income inequality creates a rigid social heirarchy (so they say). Being at the bottom of such causes stress, a sense of powerlessness and so on. This might even be true but….this leads them, in their insistence upon income inequality as a measure, to describe (repeatedly) Japan as a very equal country. When in fact it has one of the most rigid social heirarchies on the planet (well, OK, in the rich nations).
But to return to Cruddas\’ point: you can\’t use The Spirit Level to argue about not focussing solely on the narrow issue of income inequality: for that\’s all they talk about. They entirely ignore all the ways in which inequality in this country has narrowed: calorie inequality, height inequality, health care inequality, transport inequality etc, etc, etc.
Compare the UK of today to that of a century ago. The poor were subject to ricketts, the rich not, now neither are. Troops in 1916 were seen to be 6 inches shorter on average than officers: this nutrition based class difference has now gone. 1909 health care ranged from the expensive and not very effective to none and free, the rich had a carriage or car, the poor Shank\’s Pony. Now all have a car (the difference between a new Roller and a 15 year old Fiat is a fuck sight less than between a car and walking).
If people want to concentrate on inequality, fine, let\’s do so. But let\’s start measuring it properly, shall we, not just in pure terms of market incomes?
*They take these from World Bank figures which, right there on the page where they get them from, say that because these numbers are calculated a number of different ways they are not strictly comparable across countries. Thus they go and compare them across countries.