The Spirit Level

“The Spirit Level” is the title of a book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, first published in 2009. the book has been described as “profoundly important,” as “a compass to rebuild our societies,” and as deserving of “the widest possible readership.” The version I would recommend is that published by Penguin in 2010, which contains a chapter reinforcing the book’s original message, in response to the controversy that the first edition provoked. My own view is that this book may well be one of the most important ever written, and should be compulsory reading for all politicians, economists, business leaders, and indeed, anyone who has more than a minor role in shaping or running society.

In an earlier post “With lies, size really does count,” I used as an example the lie that it’s good to have some people earning a thousand or more times as much as others. The main message of The Spirit Level, backed by meticulous research and reasoned argument, is that inequality is bad for everyone, including those on the winning side of the inequality.

The book is by no means an easy read—it is too full of information for that. A good alternative source is the website called “The Equality Trust”. The URL is http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk. The Trust exists to spread the message of the book, and hopes to promote a broad campaign to achieve that outcome. You will find all sorts of free material, including a downloadable DVD of a lecture, and slides. Their task is not going to be easy; in spite of glowing reviews, and admiring comments from numerous highly respectable sources, including many people who are regarded as experts in the field, not many politicians show signs of having encountered the book’s message. Indeed, in countries such as the USA and Australia, which score very high on measures of income inequality, increases in that inequality seem to be seen as evidence of economic success.

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