Written By: - Date published: 7:19 pm, January 25th, 2014 - 39 comments
Categories: capitalism, child welfare, class, crime, david cunliffe, democratic participation, education, election 2014, equality, health, john key, Metiria Turei, poverty, sustainability, workers' rights - Tags: bunji, spirit level
.….. more equality is better for everyone.
With John Key misleadingly trying to deny the significance of the inequality gap,
it looks like this is likely to be an important election issue. Time to revisit the Spirit Level. Back in 2010, Standard author Bunji posted a series of 6 “Digested reads” on the book, The Spirit Level: why equality is better for everyone, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009).
Poverty profoundly damages lives. Adding to that high levels of inequality bring stresses that are bad for all of us. In a hierarchical and overly competitive society we all suffer. Poverty results in poor health and this impacts on all areas of life. On top of that the stresses of inequality can be overwhelming. Bunji wrote:
The Spirit Level authors believe income inequality is largely important as it is our current way of measuring hierarchy in society. Other forms of inequality are probably important too, but income is where the data and evidence is, and it is the way society currently values people. A certain level of wealth is required …
But, for everyone, even with a reasonable income, the stress of competition and “keeping up with the Joneses” takes its toll.
Having less than those next to us makes us anxious and stressed. It affects our self-esteem. We become self-promoting and insecure, as we are constantly in a race and scared of being found out as not as important (ie wealthy) as we make out to be. We have less time to make and keep friends as we spend all our time trying to earn and spend our wealth to maintain our place.
In a more equal society the race isn’t so all-consuming, we have more friends, more trust, more community and more happiness. But no less wealth. He who has most toys doesn’t win, he just makes sure others lose out more.
Bunji followed this post with others elaborating on this main point:
Bunji explained it thus:
Equality does not equal sustainability, but it is much more suited to the task than our current system. Without the constant need to consume more and more as we compete for status, we use up far less of the earth’s resources.
There is a strong link between inequality and consumerism. Everything from advertising (NZ & USA spend twice as much on advertising as a percentage of GDP compared to Norway & Denmark) to working hours (there is a strong trend between average hours worked to how disparate middle and upper incomes are) reflects this.
But that is not sustainable. Even if we develop better technologies, giving us, for example, more fuel efficient cars – we’d save money, and then spend it on more goods that consume more of the planet…
It won’t take a revolution to achieve greater equality… but it will take a transformation, with a sustained sense of direction and a strong view as to how to achieve the required changes. […]
The fact that results of so many studies show better results for the rich as well as the poor in more equal societies definitely helps that goal. Societies do better with a more income-equal framework, but also individuals do too. The gifted get more chance to shine, not less, in a more equal society. Equality does not mean we all become the same.
Bunji then goes on the discuss the above in detail, and provides some examples of ways to bring about a more sustainable and livable society. Some of the ideas amount to more democratic processes, with more cooperative activities and more employee stakes in business enterprises.
It will be interesting to see the extent to which inequalities are addressed in the 2 State of the Nation addresses in the next couple of days:
Metiria Turei at Picnic for the Planet: January 26, 2014 – 11:00am – 3:00pm – Waitangi Park, Wellington