Anybody who has read, or even heard of, The Spirit Level knows that science is finding links between income inequality and the health of the society we live in – and the health of its citizens among other things.
In the UK the debate has gone very mainstream, with all 3 major parties vowing to fight income inequality, and their leaders signing a pledge along similar lines. From that they’ve had the High-Pay Commission working out how to stop those at the top carving themselves ever bigger slices of the pie by awarding themselves ever bigger salaries and bonuses.
They’re working on rules to reduce the ability of CEOs to award themselves salaries largely unfettered by shareholders. RBS’s head is likely to get his bonus cut in the next few days – to below GBP1 million!
The mood has even affected Davos as the wealthy and powerful gather for their annual meeting in Switzerland. Last year the head of JP Morgan was applauded by his peers for his plea for an end to banker bashing; this year – after the Occupy movement has swept the world – no-one would be so bold.
To quote the BBC’s business editor Robert Peston:
The governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, caught the mood yesterday when he pointed to the perceived unfairness that it was the well-heeled bankers who caused the mess we’re in, but it’s those on average and below-average incomes who are paying the price.
Even relatively mainstream economists are questioning the consensus of the past 30 odd years which said that the only way to grow the cake for all is to incentivise the great wealth creators by allowing them to have more and more of that cake
So what’s happening locally?
John Key’s National seems committed to discredited trickle-down theory. Indeed even National’s new MPs aren’t onto new economic thinking; from Maggie Barry’s “we must look after the rich [as they pay our taxes]” when asked about income inequality, to Mike Sabin’s comfort in letting school children starve pour encourager les autres.
It seems it’s not just our business CEOs but also our council CEOs that are taking the mickey, as well as the money with double-digit pay rises in straitened times. They’re getting pay rises bigger than their average employee earns in a year – there’s none of the UK’s rules to restrict public sector pay below the Prime Minister’s here (and our Prime Minister earns more than his UK counterpart too…).
But some outside the left are taking the message on board.
Closing the Gap aims to be an apolitical organisation pushing the message of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (authors of The Spirit Level) in Aotearoa.
Their aim is:
to raise public awareness of the benefits of a more equal society to such a level that our leaders take notice and act.
I’m hoping they do well, as income inequality is one of the major issues of our time. It is a major driver behind child poverty, which will shape the future of our nation. It lessen our democratic values as some get less of a go than others. It affects the very trust that bonds us together as a society.
I’m signing on with them – and I reckon you should too.