Oh dear, yet another book on inequality

Dorling feels that politicians of all hues should be called to account for overseeing such unprecedented rises in inequality that put us on a par with Victorian society. \”In countries like Britain, people last lived lives as unequal as today, as measured by wage inequality, in 1854, when Charles Dickens was writing Hard Times,\” he states.

Even if this is true, which I doubt, it\’s still piffle. What matters is not income (or even wealth) inequality but consumption inequality. And, given that we\’ve things like the welfare state, free at the point of use health care, free at the point of use education and so on it really is the purest piffle to try and claim Victorian levels of consumption inequality.

Think for a moment of what people who worry about inequality say is the problem with inequality. That there are different capabilities, that inequity means stark differences in life possibilities.

In Victorian times this would mean huge calorie inequality leading to again huge height inequality. The poor were short, the rich not. This is pretty much not true now. Anyone and everyone, from the poorest on up, can get (in the absence of the drink, drugs and general incapability problems of parents which do indeed still exist at times) the two to three thousand calories a day necessary to reach genetically possible height. The poor are no longer physically stunted by poverty.

So we\’ve yet another book telling us all how appalling things are while simply ignoring the fact that things are no where near as appalling as they were.

It might be true that the UK is more unequal than many other societies (this is in fact true whether we compare market incomes or post tax and post benefit incomes), it might be true that the UK is more unequal than we\’d like it to be (hey, your moral choice there) but it simply ain\’t true that the UK is anything like as unequal as it was in Victorian times.

2 thoughts on “Oh dear, yet another book on inequality”

  1. “The poor are no longer physically stunted by poverty”: unless you count sphericity as being stunted.

  2. And of course the item seems to beg the question of why inequality per se is bad. If the economic pie is expanding, and even the poorest members of a society are getting better off – what exactly is the problem?

    The egalitarian might argue that relative differences in wealth etc are bad because it fosters envy, resentment, and a “fractured society”; but it is just as easy to argue that a country where people are not allowed to be different and successful in case it triggers the ire of the envious is also likely to be an unpleasant one in a number of different ways.

    The inequality that should bother us, in this election time, is the gap between the public and private sectors: a large, state-funded client class on the one hand (often containing very wealthy, well connected people), and the private, wealth creating and increasingly highly taxed part. That is the real divide in this country that matters. Not surprisingly, none of the political parties seems interested in highlighting this issue directly.

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