When you put it like this Nick it\’s easy to shoot down

Nick Cohen on the Spirit Level stuff.

Their arguments, buttressed by decades of research from around the world, seem self-evident to him. Once countries reach a certain level of wealth, what affects the citizenry is not the growth in GDP but the level of inequality. Man is a social primate and people who worry about their status and feel too keenly the humiliations their superiors inflict on them become anxious, mistrustful, isolated and stressed.

To the first point, the growth in GDP, no, their book and research does not address this in any manner at all. What they do claim is that a higher level of such doesn\’t matter. This is, unfortunately for them, roundly demolished by the work of Andrew Leigh (he\’s a Labor candidate in Australia, harldy some foaming rightist). But more importantly given that Wilkinson claims to be looking at levels he\’s saying nothing about the effect of changes in those levels.

There\’s very good evidence indeed that it is the process of rising GDP which engenders the happiness, not the level of wealth. An economy where GDP is static or falling seems very much to be an unhappy society. Not least because in a static economy the usual rise in labour productivity will mean ever greater unemployment.

As to the second point, status, sure, being low on the totem pole leads to both stress and unhappiness. but they are measuring income inequality, not status inequality. There is absolutely nothing at all which would lead us to the conclusion that equalising incomes would lead to the abolition of status hierarchies….as our own history and the history of every human society shows. Precisely because we are social animals, social primates, there is always a status hierarchy. Without one based upon cash we\’d simply have some other determinant….religion, birth, size, murderousness, blondness, whatever. As we have in fact done in the past.

2 thoughts on “When you put it like this Nick it\’s easy to shoot down”

  1. “being low on the totem pole..”: at last, a general definition of the Socialisms occurs to me. They are attempts to ensure that a society has only one totem pole. Power, wealth, income, status, … all will be aligned.

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