Equality of opportunity

Written By: - Date published: 7:20 am, September 13th, 2010 - 194 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, equality, national - Tags: ,

“The Spirit Level” has the right wing faction of politics worried. I’ve written about the book before before, its message: An unequal society is a sick society. It’s a simple, powerful idea. It makes perfect intuitive sense and it explains a lot. It’s the kind of idea that can become a rallying point for the left and a real problem for the right in politics. The Guardian (in the UK) makes the case:

The book that has the Tories running scared

A polemic that blames inequality for most troubles in our society has energised Labour

The Spirit Level, [is] a book which is turning into a cross between a manifesto and a call to arms. At one leftwing meeting recently, a speaker wished everyone in the country could read its argument that societies more equal than Britain enjoy better physical and mental health, lower homicide rates, fewer drug problems, fewer teenage births, higher maths and literacy scores, higher standards of child wellbeing, lower obesity rates and fewer people in prison. If they could just grasp that, he said, then they would see that combating inequality was good for everyone. His was not a lone voice. David Miliband has declared his admiration for its authors. So has Ed. I expect to hear them disputing soon about who read The Spirit Level first and who admires it the most.

If you follow the rule of thumb that no book on a matter of political controversy is worth buying until it has been roundly denounced, then The Spirit Level is an essential purchase. The Taxpayers’ Alliance warns that it legitimises a fleecing of the middle class. David Cameron’s favourite thinktank, Policy Exchange, published a book-length condemnation which claims that The Spirit Level’s authors had produced a shabby, shallow work which threatened to “contaminate” our presumably honest political debate, as if it were an oil slick heading towards a pristine coast.

I know writers who would pay for the attention epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have received, but the authors themselves are politely baffled. Wilkinson is 67, a retired professor from Nottingham University. Pickett teaches at York. When I spoke to Wilkinson, he was still recovering from the shock that their book had made them the targets of raging polemics. 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. This pattern holds whether you look at inequalities within different countries or between more equal or unequal states in the US or counties in Chile. …

The panic about Wilkinson and Pickett on the right suggests to me that just because we have a Conservative government does not mean we live in conservative times. For years, the right could argue that there was no alternative to an economic order that mandated dizzying and ever-expanding chasms between rich and poor. Now its order has been brought down by the wealthy men conservatives in all parties so feted, I think it realises that from now on it will not be able to shout down and shut up egalitarian arguments so easily.

We can see signs of this growing panic and defensiveness here in NZ already. Bill English was very defensive about the way that his last budget increased the gap between rich and poor in NZ, and DPF tried to run the line that inequality between rich and poor didn’t matter as long as there was social mobility (a silly argument easily refuted). DPF has also dutifully repeated the main right wing attempt to discredit The Spirit Level, an attempt that is once again easily refuted [Edit: seems to be down right now see alternative version] (see also here, here). [Second edit – the authors themselves respond in detail here.]

There being nothing new under the sun, the response to the The Spirit Level is just the latest chapter in a long, slow, ongoing debate about inequality. During the course of this debate the right has tried to distinguish between “equality of outcome” and “equality of opportunity” (see eg our own Department of Labour review from 1995). Equality of outcome is impossible, the right would argue, and all that matters is that everyone has equal opportunity to succeed. National are starting to test out a revival of this line, see for example Nikki Kaye, “I’m a National member because I really believe in the equality of opportunity for all, not the equality of outcome” (or eg here, here, here, no doubt following the right internationally eg here).

Make no mistake, the concept of “equality of opportunity” is a crock, a sleight of hand attempt to make an important issue disappear by magic. Across society there is no such thing as equality of opportunity. Yes anyone can enter a running race, but not all entrants have the same chance of winning. Yes supermarkets will sell champagne to anyone, but we don’t all have an equal opportunity to buy it. Yes universities will provide an education to anyone, but socioeconomic status is a major determinant of who will go there. “Equality of opportunity” is an attempt at distraction that only collapses back in on itself — the only way to provide equality of opportunity is to reduce the socioeconomic inequality that predisposes so much.

194 comments on “Equality of opportunity ”

  1. luva 1

    Im guesing we will be getting part two to this post.

    I’m very interested to hear how we “reduce the socioeconomic inequality that predisposes so much.”

    • freedom 1.1

      Like all true answers, it is very simple luva,

      If a few took less, then the many would have more

    • RedLogix 1.2

      That’s actually a decent question luva. Reading “The Spirit Level” gives some answers around that.

      The authors have actually used income inequality as a proxy to measure social inequality. Social inequality is difficult to measure and there is poor inconsistent data available globally; while income inequality has excellent data.They do understand that they are not the same thing, but they show that they are closely correlated in practise.

      In answer to your question though, the book contrasts for instance nations like Japan that has traditionally had a relatively modest spread of gross incomes (ie the gap between the median and average income is relatively small) with the Nordic nations who have achieved it with strongly progressive taxation regimes.

      The authors specifically concludes that it does not matter how income equality is achieved, the effect is the more or less the same.

  2. Bored 2

    I think what Nikki Kaye means when shes says “I’m a National member because I really believe in the equality of opportunity for all, not the equality of outcome” is I dont give a fuck about the damage I doo to others whilst crawling over them to win..

    Nice article ROB, if only Labour might sell the concept of a compassionate and equal society rather than get into the minutae of arguing with the Nats about how to pay for, and how big the “safety nets” are.

    • Tigger 2.1

      Superb piece Rob and agreed Bored, Kaye uses ‘fairness’ as a means to justify damage.

      Still reeling from why Kaye emphasises the ‘not’ in her soundbite or why she even spat this bizarro mantra out in the first place. If Ardern is smart (and she is) she’ll trot that one out at every debate they have in 2011.

  3. jason rika 3

    Great post. Have read the book and agree with it completely however I did find it quite a boring read. Not really into piles of graphs.

    I’m often asked “who is your boss”, and always reply I’m egalitarian and don’t have a boss. Really dislike that word. I’ve even influenced others to use the same reply.

  4. Gosman 4

    Who’s running scared on this issue?

    It is just another badly thought out leftist nonsense idea which uses dubious research methodology and is riddled with bias of all sorts.

    • RedLogix 4.1

      So who’s rejecting sound research when they don’t like what it tells them now?

      • Gosman 4.1.1

        Ummmmm… you really believe that the author of ‘The Spirit Level’ engaged in sound research?

        Perhaps I might interest you in a bridge across the harbour I am selling.

        • Tigger 4.1.1.1

          Why so scared of equality G?

        • RedLogix 4.1.1.2

          Oh come on…. you’re just embarrassing yourself. All you’ve got is feeble assertions.

          Have you actually read the book? Properly.

          As said above, its actually a rather boring read, full of data and references. It’s more in the nature of meta-research project, drawing on literally doezens of other research efforts, sitting on a very broad foundation of sources.

          You just don’t like what it tells you.

          • Gosman 4.1.1.2.1

            It is study in Sociology and as such is as persuassive as how scientific Sociology is, i.e. not much at all.

            • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1.2.1.1

              So, what you’re saying is that you have no argument against it – merely assertions that aren’t founded in reality.

            • George 4.1.1.2.1.2

              Not like economics at all.

              • Gosman

                Yes it is pretty much like economics.

                That is why you have politics to decide what economic and social policy a country should follow.

                You don’t hold elections to determine matters of science.

                • mcflock

                  Nice slide, there.

                  Slipping desired social outcomes, which are intertwined with one’s personal moral philosophy, into the same line as economics (which is based on statistical “best guess”, but when done honestly can actually be refuted for a given level of proof), in order to distract the discussion away from the fact that you implied the authors of the Spirit Level did not engage in sound research.

                  At least they provide references. You just slither around with sophistry.

            • Puddleglum 4.1.1.2.1.3

              No, Gosman, it’s not a study in sociology. It’s a meta-analysis in epidemiology. Epidemiology has a very well-established methodological and statistical basis and is widely employed in health and medical research as well as in analyses of social and economic indicators.

              If you want to argue against it you will have to challenge the outcome of robust methodological debates within the peer-reviewed literature (which is largely why critics of the book have avoided the peer-reviewed literature and gone for ‘think tank’ reports and ‘popular’ books). I don’t fancy your chances.

  5. Andrew 5

    Inequality is a good thing

    It is fair that a doctor earns a lot more than someone who digs holes for a living or that a worker with 20 years experience earns more than someone who is new to the job, that someone with a degree or higher education earns more than someone without this advantage or most importantly that someone who works harder or is more efficient gets paid more.

    It is those incentives that drive us study harder, worker longer and come up with new creative ways to do the same work with less effort. Without these incentives we may as well all do the bare minimum simply be content with mediocrity.

    We have interest free student loans, allowances for those whose parents cannot afford to assist them and there are a great variety of course that are flexible and include correspondence course to all study to fit with work or family responsibilities.

    The wealthy have a big advantage and that will always be the case, but it doesn’t mean to say those without wealth face insurmountable obstacles. The economy is not a running race, just because someone does well, this does not mean he has ‘won’ and the other has ‘lost.’

    • Blighty 5.1

      you don’t get paid more because you ‘work harder’ or even because you create more value, you get more because your skills are rarer in relation to the demand for them.

      who works harder? A sewerage worker or a business analyst? Who gets paid more?

      And don’t say ‘if they don’t like it they should get educated’ We need both jobs filled. The business analyst and the sewerage worker are interdependent. In fact, the sewerage worker is far more necessary for basic quality of life, as Christchurch is showing.

    • RedLogix 5.2

      Some inequality is necessary and essential. Again read the book, nowhere does it advocate complete equality or anything even close. In fact it clearly shows that inequality is not an dominant factor until it exceeds a certain threshold.

      But in the Anglo Western nations inquality has been driven far beyond this tolerable threshold. All the left is talking about here is the reduction in this extreme towards something more moderate.

      • ZB 5.2.1

        Thatcher won, the right won thirty years ago, by winning over workign class people who wanted to be rich.
        They told them that they could earn as much as a Doctor without having to put in the hard work of medical school.
        Then they introduced policies to charge Doctors, and all higher education students, the ‘real cost’.
        In reality the right merely dumbdown hard work. Because a sewage worker does not work as
        hard as a Doctor, a Doctor must not only over come the physical work but must subjugate themselves
        to the mental stresses of a doctrine of medicine and its effects. Similarly for all professions.
        What the rightwing did was open up loose finance to seize the opportunity of the gult of
        middle east oil after the 70s oil crisis. What the rightwing have left us, is an indebted,
        fragile, old economy wasted by greed. Huge amounts of chaos and uncertainty abound,
        just like a any organism that has lost its ability in old age of removing entophy from
        its body.

        And what happens next. Regrowth. A new generation. A new doctrine of government.
        The old doctrine of no government could only hold up with growing oil supplies.
        So the right, conservative, want to shore up the existing old decaying economy.
        The new economy is lower density energy – alternatives, where private cars are a luxury
        not a lifestyle, and broadband is the new frontier of capitalism.
        The problems, the net has no government, no rules, no traffic lights, no parking
        wardens, no police, no nothing – like the no government doctrine it was born into.
        Until public authorities insure the net like they do the public space are accessible for all
        then we will not beable to grow the new economy.

        Inequality has peeked. The right has to go back to work with more than do-nothing,
        no-government, oh-I’m rich-why-aren’t-you-yet.

    • ABC 5.3

      Saying that doctors should get paid more is a brilliant example of how things go wrong i the world. The hippocratic oath as it stood orginally rated medicine as a religious/philosophical vocation, not a way to to make the most money. And certainly not an excuse to think you were owed. In fact it expressly warned agaisnt such a mindset.

      I swear by Apollo, the healer, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgment, the following Oath and agreement:

      To consider dear to me, as my parents, him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and, if necessary, to share my goods with him; To look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art.

      I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.

      I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.

      But I will preserve the purity of my life and my arts.

      I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.

      In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves.

      All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal.

      If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.

      Pretty concise stuff. Compare it to the modern version, which attempts to sit in a zone of limited liability, convienience, politics and relativism. You may not agree with vowing to gods, lord knows many here will spit and froth at the idea of no abortions, but you have to admire that they knew what they were about and why.

    • KJT 5.4

      It is fair that someone like a doctor who does a useful job with a high level of skill, spent years of study gaining that skill and still works hard in a demanding job, earns more than someone who does not do all these things. However a Doctor, along with most equally skilled and responsible occupations, earns around twice the average wage.

      It is socially useless occupations that earn the big money.

      It is not fair that a money juggler or an administrator earns 20 or 30 times the average wage. Especially as it has been shown that the companies with the highest gaps between management pay and employee pay are the worst performing.

      Nor is it fair if many people capable of doing the hard yards to obtain a highly skilled job are prevented because their parents are poor.

      It is also not fair that some useless buggers have fortunes without any effort on their part. They are bludgers!

      • Lats 5.4.1

        I kind of agree KJT. The problem comes where to draw the line, and who decides which professions are valuable and which ones aren’t. You and I might place very different values on certain jobs depending on our individual circumstances and backgrounds.

        Doctors? Sure why not, they have spent many years training, have no doubt come out of med school with a whole lot of debt, and by and large are very competent professionals who perform an essential service. Scientists? Also qualified, probably performing valuable work doing research in their chosen field. Where do they lie on the payscale? Are they valuable? What about lawyers then? Also qualified, and when in need a good lawyer can be very useful. Do they pass the litmus test? What should they get paid? My own field, IT, is one where qualifications don’t necessarily indicate competence or value. Someone who has 10 years experience but no formal IT qualification is probably more useful than a recent graduate with no experience (note that I fall more in the latter category, I’m a science grad who recently retrained in IT, science doesn’t pay particularly well in NZ)

        How about the so-called unskilled jobs? These are the people that, through their work, are the glue that holds society together. The shop assistants, the rubbish collectors, the cleaners, the fruit pickers, etc. Not glamorous roles, but we’d be stuffed if we didn’t have them. What are they worth? Collectively, heaps, but individually sadly not very much. With unemployment being high these people are pretty easy to replace with minimal on-the-job training. There is a large pool of unemployed folk who can easily be called upon, so there is no pressure on employers to pay these sorts of roles a higher income.

        I suspect it pretty much comes down to supply and demand, although at the corporate level it wouldn’t surprise me if there was an element of elitism at play either, jobs for the boys, that sort of thing. Unfortunately it is not a fair world we live in…

    • Puddleglum 5.5

      “It is those incentives that drive us study harder, worker longer and come up with new creative ways to do the same work with less effort. Without these incentives we may as well all do the bare minimum simply be content with mediocrity.”

      Andrew, this simply isn’t true. I know it happens to be an assumption of much economic theory and a certain political ideology but the facts largely don’t support it. People study harder, work longer and are more creative not because of monetary rewards. In fact, unless carefully designed and controlled, in many situations external monetary rewards undermine those virtues.

      They will only ‘work’ if people need more money to meet basic needs or are pathologically materialistic. (And there’s lots of research to support the link between higher materialistic values and lower subjective well-being.)

  6. tsmithfield 6

    There was actually quite a bit of debate about this topic on Kiwiblog awhile ago:

    What was obvious to me, looking at the chart produced by the authors, was that the “trend” was entirely due to the inclusion of the outliers, USA and Portugal. If those outliers were excluded there would be no trend at all. Claiming a trend that relies on the inclusion of two dubious data points is not really a trend.

    Good basic practice in data analysis is to identify and exclude outliers that are skewing the distribution. If the trend was really so strong it should be apparent with the outliers excluded.

    Here is a Wiki article that discusses the problematic issue of outliers.

    I know some of you will point out that the study was peer reviewed. However, it doesn’t say much about the peer review process if something so basic is overlooked.

    • Gosman 6.1

      Thanks tsmithfield. You have highlighted the reason why this book is regarded as nonsense by most rational thinking people.

      • RedLogix 6.1.1

        It was you who was banging on here about how research, data and authorative analysis trumped opinion and speculation everytime.

        Yet here you are….wearing no underpants at all.

        • Gosman 6.1.1.1

          So no reply to tsmithfield’s comments on why the analysis that the authors of ‘The spirit level’ rely on is bollocks.

          • r0b 6.1.1.1.1

            Yes Gosman, plenty of reply, see links in the original post. Since of course you will never actually read them, here for example:

            We made an absolute rule never to pick and choose data points to suit our argument. This is in sharp contrast to our critics who, with the sole purpose of reducing the statistical significance of each association, want to exclude some countries or US states here, others there or, failing that, to alter the picture by adding in poorer countries. However, suppose that, despite not accepting their rationale, we allowed all our critics’ ad hoc exclusions together—the Scandinavian countries, US, Japan, or southern states of the US? Even then, our index combining ten key health and social problems remains strongly related to inequality. So even if the links between inequality and individual problems can be made to disappear by dubious practices, the overall picture is actually extremely robust.

            Our critics also ignore the fact that these relationships have been widely demonstrated by other researchers. For example, as early as 1993 in the Criminal Justice Review, Hsieh and Pugh reviewed 34 studies of income inequality and violent crime and found a consistent correlation between the two—the authors estimated that it would need 58 new studies which found no effect in order to overturn this result. But studies since then have continued to confirm the link.

            • Gosman 6.1.1.1.1.1

              Wow! A rubbish academic attempting to justify their rubbish methodology for cherry picking data to suit their political ends.

              Who would have thunk it?

              • Draco T Bastard

                No, an academic proving that you have NFI WTF you’re talking about – or you’re lying.

              • bbfloyd

                Wow… a rubbish reactionary attempting to cover his lack of depth by the tried and true tory method of transferrence in order to deflect reality… who’d have THOUGHT that!

              • Lanthanide

                I’m not quite sure how you manage to get:
                “their rubbish methodology for cherry picking data to suit their political ends”

                from:
                “We made an absolute rule never to pick and choose data points to suit our argument.”

                I guess you’re just in denial.

                • Gosman

                  How many Academics do you know that willingly admit to picking and choosing data points to suit their arguments?

                  • mcflock

                    About as many tories I’ve encountered who are prepared to admit that they spoke before engaging braincells: 0.

                    I guess we’d have to look at what the “Academics” (damned untrustworthy liers who’ve unfairly spent a lifetime building skills in statistical analysis and coherent thought) did: is leaving all datapoints intact (rather than removing a couple that don’t really affect the wider point illustrated by the graph) closer to “cherry picking”, or is it closer to ‘clearly presenting all data and their sources”?

    • r0b 6.2

      There was actually quite a bit of debate about this topic on Kiwiblog awhile ago:

      Yeah I know TS, I linked to it in the post (which I guess you didn’t read). I also linked to the stuff that refutes the outliers nonsense. Why not go read it?

      • tsmithfield 6.2.1

        Rob, they didn’t need to exclude the outliers necessarilly. This data would have much better suited a non-parametric analysis method. Why didn’t the authors use one?

        • Draco T Bastard 6.2.1.1

          Who cares?

          Or even better – why don’t you go out and do such an analysis? We really are dying (not really) to see if it make s difference.

    • Bored 6.3

      Welcome back TS, I see it has not taken you long to get into spurious arguments etc. The big question you pose on trends and “outliers” ignores the obvious….why is the outlier so different? Whats going on in the “outlier”?

      When the USA is the obvious outlier, would it not incline us to give them extreme critical observation?

      • tsmithfield 6.3.1

        Hi Bored,

        My argument isn’t spurious. It is just basic data analyis technique.

        Bored “The big question you pose on trends and “outliers” ignores the obvious….why is the outlier so different? Whats going on in the “outlier”?”

        You’ve hit the nail on the head. That is a much more important question. But it is not a reason to include it as an outlier in a wider set of data. Not unless a non-parametric methodolgy is used anyway.

        • Bored 6.3.1.1

          Disagree with excluding the outlier when it is as big and nasty as the USA…the minor variations within the rest of the group need to be contrasted with the obvious exception.

          • Gosman 6.3.1.1.1

            And that statement just proves why this is a load of bunkum.

            You use your own political bias to decide what methods are statistically valid.

        • RedLogix 6.3.1.2

          Go do your non-parametric analysis and get back to us with the results. I’d be fascinated, but until you do the work, the mere claim that the method is somehow ‘superior’ is pointless.

          You’re using a carbon copy of the same methods used by climate change deniers, casting doubt and diversions while doing no actual work yourself.

        • Puddleglum 6.3.1.3

          TS, why are you going on about non-parametric statistical methods?

          Most of the variables Wilkinson and Pickett compare do not involve ordinal data (e.g.., life expectancy, homicides, infant mortality, education scores, expenditure on health care, etc., etc.). That is, the data are often interval and, even, ratio. Admittedly, many psychological attributes are, strictly speaking, ordinal but the incidence of (say) diagnosis of mental ‘illness’ is not.

          The inequality ‘rankings’ are actually composites of parametric measures.

          What’s your point? Sorry, I’ve missed it.

  7. RedLogix 7

    What was obvious to me, looking at the chart produced by the authors, was that the “trend” was entirely due to the inclusion of the outliers, USA and Portugal.

    Wishful thinking that is refuted by the fact that the same correlation is reproduced when only the states within the USA are examined.

    Besides simply omitting data points on the sole grounds that you don’t like them, is called cherry-picking. Blatant intellectual dishonesty.

  8. tsmithfield 8

    RedLogix “Besides simply omitting data points on the sole grounds that you don’t like them, is called cherry-picking. Blatant intellectual dishonesty.”

    The data doesn’t necessarilly need to be excluded. However, a more appropriate analysis method should be used. It appears the authors have used something like a least squares regression approach that assumes a normalized distribution, judging by the impact the outliers are having on the slope. However, this sort of approach is not justified when the data clearly does not follow a normal distribution as it appears in this case.

    • tsmithfield 8.1

      RedLogix “Wishful thinking that is refuted by the fact that the same correlation is reproduced when only the states within the USA are examined.”

      If they have used similar statistical methods as in the case I mentioned then it probably doesn’t mean very much. Also, this research would only point out why the US is an outlier. Not anything to do with the global “trend” they claim exists.

      • Pascal's bookie 8.1.1

        Have you read the book ts? Or are you just relying on the impression of it you have gained from reading some of it’s more strident critics, whose talking points you boringly repeat?

        (you do know all this stuff is linked to in the OP right? I assume you read the OP before jumping in and confirming it’s premiss? If so, carry on confirming old boy)

        • tsmithfield 8.1.1.1

          No I haven’t. And my criticism is only focused on the dodgy chart they have produced. I don’t need to read the book to tell that the chart is rubbish.

          • bbfloyd 8.1.1.1.1

            ts..yes you do need to read the book. otherwise tour contribution is just another annoying bigot ranting again.

      • RedLogix 8.1.2

        That’s a complete misunderstanding.

        You first of all argue that the USA is a special outlier case (of what you don’t dare mention) and want to exclude it.

        But of course the USA is a large diverse collection of small nations in it’s own right, with the advantage that many uncontrolled factors (like consistentency of data gathering, legal frameworks, and so on) are reduced. Analysising this subset on it’s own is exceedingly useful because it eliminates many of the spurious arguments of the sort you are raise ts.

        Of course at no point can you explain why you want to ‘exclude’ the largest economy on earth… because you know perfectly well that the USA is the best example of all why extremes of wealth and poverty are an extreme detriment.

      • bbfloyd 8.1.3

        ts… this is boring semantics… if the best you can do is to attempt to bog down the debate with petty minutiae, then i would suggest you have no real arguement.

        And you havn’t even read the book! so you have nothing but idealogical bigotry to go on… you obviously have no conception just how facile that makes you look.

    • RedLogix 8.2

      No answer then for why the same result is attained when only the states within the USA are analysed? It totally refutes your claim.

      In response you’ve simply shifted the goal-posts in the time honoured manner of casting a speculative and wholly unsubstantiated aspertion on the ‘method of analysis’. Getting weary of seeing these tired old tricks being trotted out over and over.

      • tsmithfield 8.2.1

        Red “No answer then for why the same result is attained when only the states within the USA are analysed?”

        I did give an answer in my last post.

        Red: “In response you’ve simply shifted the goal-posts in the time honoured manner of casting a speculative and wholly unsubstantiated aspertion on the ‘method of analysis’”

        Nothing of the sort. The problem with the author’s methods is they have used analysis that is based around the “mean” (average) results. This sort of analysis is very vulnerable to outliers. If they had used an analysis based around the “median” (not vulnerable to outliers) score for example, the line would have been virtually flat.

        The proof is in the pudding. With a robust trend, the trend is clearly apparent even if the outliers are removed. In this case the trend disappears when two outliers are removed. So therefore the trend is not robust.

        • RedLogix 8.2.1.1

          Thread is getting jumbled. Anwer at 8.1.2 above.

          In this case the trend disappears when two outliers are removed.

          No you have merely asserted that. You’ve done no actual analysis to support this claim at all.

          • tsmithfield 8.2.1.1.1

            RedLogix “No you have merely asserted that. You’ve done no actual analysis to support this claim at all”

            Correct. It is just eyeballing the chart. What do you think? Try covering those two data points and see where you think the slope should be. Have a look at that Wiki reference I gave in my first post. They provide an example of a clear trend on a sample chart that is obvious to the naked eye.

            Given the small number of data points involved I would expect any trend to be very obvious, and not reliant on several outliers.

            • tsmithfield 8.2.1.1.1.1

              here is another link that shows some charts where the trend is very clear. Notice that the data points are closely distributed around the trend line, that there are lots of data points, and there are no outliers. This is clearly different to the chart under discussion.

              • RedLogix

                ts.

                Oh dear. You’re trying to tell us that the entire subject of statistical analysis can be trumped by ‘eyeballing’ some graphs.

                You just don’t like what the results are telling you. Be honest, you prefer privilege and increasing inequality, it’s what better people like you deserve. Really.

                • tsmithfield

                  Red, the whole point of a chart is to provide a graphical representation to be “eyeballed”. I have provided plenty of examples for you to look at to compare against the chart provided by the authors. I think there is a fairly clear difference between a strong trend and a weak or non-existent trend that can quite easily be eyeballed.

                  If I was to run a regression analysis over that data (after the outliers were removed) I suspect there would still be some sort of slight trend in the data, either up or down. However, it wouldn’t be a statistically significant trend:

                  1. Because low numbers of data point require very strong trends to be significant.
                  2. There is a very wide spread of data points meaning any fitted line will include a very large proportion of error, in fact a lot more error than explained data.

                  So, answer my question. If you removed the USA and Portugal, where would you draw the line?

                  • RedLogix

                    You are trying to debunk a book you admit you haven’t read. Hopeless.

                    Until you have read the book you’ll keep asking the wrong questions.

                    • tsmithfield

                      I’m not trying to debunk the book. Just the chart. Theres a difference.

                    • r0b []

                      What’s the point TS? You don’t like the chart so you want to randomly remove some data points to make it less scary. But you’re not arguing with all the other reams of data that point to the same conclusions. Really – what’s the point?

                    • tsmithfield

                      Don’t take any notice of me, Rob. Take notice of the links I pointed to with respect to data analysis. Using parametric methods is not appropriate where data is skewed. If you want to use parametric methods outliers need to be trimmed off so that the data is not skewed. Non-paramtetric methods are appropriate where skewed data is included or data does not follow normal distributions.

                    • RedLogix

                      You have to show that using non-parametric analysis will produce a different result before your point has any relevance.

                      Statistical analysis has literally thousands of tools and tests that can be used to derive meaning from all manner of incomplete and imperfect data. If one tool does not give the answer you want, you’ll simply shift the goal posts by demanding another different test would be better. And by doing so divert the debate with ‘paralysis by analysis’.

                      Yet the one thing you would never do, is create some work yourself and put it up for scrutiny.

                  • tsmithfield

                    Alternatively, there are various transforms that can be used to “normalize” skewed data. However, looking at the chart, it looks pretty much like a standard regression has been used without any treatment to normalise the data at all.

                    • RedLogix

                      ts.

                      I also know just enough statistics to know that you are talking half-baked nonsense. It might seem plausible to the non-mathematical, but it’s not.

                      Read the book. Until then you can have nothing meaningful to contribute.

                    • r0b

                      TS – you have a little knowledge. Just enough to be dangerous to yourself. Skewed data is data which varies systematically from a normal distribution (to the “left” or “right”). The other points you are trying to make relate to outliers in a linear regression. Statistically these are two completely separate issues, and conflating them reveals nothing but your ignorance.

        • KJT 8.2.1.2

          The US is an outlier because it most strongly shows the effects the authors of the Spirit level are showing.
          The RWNJ above want to remove the US from the statistics because it is the best evidence for the points made.

        • Puddleglum 8.2.1.3

          TS, if the data are largely interval, which they are, then why confine yourself to comparisons of medians? The advantage of dealing with interval and ratio data is that more assumptions can be made and, therefore, more detailed analysis done.

          Once again, what’s your point here?

  9. Gosman 9

    I think the point here is that the authors of ‘The Spirit level’ have cooked the books by cheery-picking the data.

    • r0b 9.1

      I think the point here is that Gosman has read none of the above.

      • Gosman 9.1.1

        Based on what evidence r0b?

        It is quite clear that ‘The Spirit Level’ isn’t causing anybody on the right of the political spectrum any concern whatsoever. It has already been comprehensively debunked by other commentators and is not remotely ‘Scientific’ in nature by any reasonable meassure of that term.

        The only people who seem to be getting excited by it are the usual lefties who use it to reinforce their preconceived biases about social policy.

        • pollywog 9.1.1.1

          I used to be scaffolder and got pretty good at levelling things by eye.

          And of course being Pasifikan, with all the stereotypes and negative stats that implies, means, without all the supporting data and research, i only have to look around to see how inequality of opportunity caused by intstitutionalised racism and cultural bias/intolerance have caused many of us to become welfare dependant and bred a victim mentality that with each generation becomes harder to escape from.

          I’m reminded of the saying, “I don’t need a weatherman to tell me it’s raining”

          The other thing thats fairly obvious, is that many, particularly those who lean hard right, not only have no idea what it’s like to be caught in the downpour of inequality but openly disbelieve the weatherman that such downpours are more than passing showers of discontent.

          Man…do they have a rude awakening instore. I’m pickin it’ll come in the form of a home invasion to them or someone close to them before they’ll acknowledge we’re in the eye of a storm that’s gathering force and is likely to tear society as we know it apart.

          Oh, and building more prisons isn’t going to insulate them and protect them but if it makes them feel safer in the short term…then whatever

        • Bunji 9.1.1.2

          It has been debunked inasmuch as climate change has been debunked: some people like yourself have put up spurious arguments and seem very pleased with themselves. It doesn’t make it any less true.

          And as far as no-one on the right worrying themselves with it, why in the UK (the book’s primary audience) did so many members of the Conservatives, including the current prime minister David Cameron, sign up to their Equality Pledge if it’s such a load of nonsense?

          Feel free to actually read the responses (links in post) to the spurious arguments if you really don’t understand why they are spurious.

          • Gosman 9.1.1.2.1

            So David Cameron’s government is now undertaking a huge equality of income and wealth redistribution exercise in the UK is it?

            I must have missed that press release.

            • Bunji 9.1.1.2.1.1

              Well they have agreed to run with the Liberal Democrat’s idea of a GBP10,000 tax free income threshold. I won’t hold my breath hoping for too much from a Tory government though, even one with a Liberal sidekick.

              Unfortunately there are large differences between signed pledges and following through; just ask Lockwood Smith.

              But you wouldn’t sign a pledge if you could a) refute their philosophy, or b) ignore it. So I think there might be some concern on the right of the political spectrum.

      • r0b 9.1.2

        Based on what evidence r0b?

        Based on the level of ignorance displayed in your comment.

        It is quite clear that ‘The Spirit Level’ isn’t causing anybody on the right of the political spectrum any concern whatsoever.

        Oh no, no concern at all. Tra la la! Which is why ignorant righties like yourself are all over this thread in desperation.

        The only people who seem to be getting excited by it are the usual lefties

        You mean the usual lefties like say, all those bloody scientists?

        • Gosman 9.1.2.1

          You classify these pointed headed leftist academics as ‘Scientists’???

          Good luck with convincing the rest of the rational thinking world of that viewpoint.

          • r0b 9.1.2.1.1

            And that’s the level of thinking required to be a right wing blog troll ladies and gentlepersons! A big hand for Gosman please, he’ll be here all week…

            • Lanthanide 9.1.2.1.1.1

              I like how he just repeats the same things over and over.

              • Bored

                Lanthanide, repetitious he is, like TS he shares a highly tendentious and mendacious nature, somewhat shuttered from, and in constant denial of reality. Whether these trolls add to the level of the debate is questionable, its a bit like a hidden reek that betrays the existence of something putrifying under the joists.

                Probably best to lay bets on how long it will take for them to be offered time off again. Any takers, I reckon about a week.

                • Lanthanide

                  While I very rarely agree with ts, and a lot of what he says is distraction, he does offer a unique viewpoint that is usually defended. He also has decent grammar, unlike some trolls. I think ts is useful to keep around, and does expand the debate. I cannot say the same for Gosman though.

                  • felix

                    Expand the debate? Please show a single example.

                    Do you know the difference between expanding and diverting?

                    • Lanthanide

                      I did say:
                      “a lot of what he says is distraction”

                      Bear in mind this is my subjective opinion, you obviously have a different one. I don’t have any links available now (and don’t really feel like digging around for any), but certainly nothing he’s posted in this thread has been expanding the debate, IMO.

          • Draco T Bastard 9.1.2.1.2

            You’ve proven that you’re not a rational thinker. You consistently deny reality which is a sign of insanity.

          • bbfloyd 9.1.2.1.3

            Gos..the fact that you have nothing but insults and arrogant posturing to use as debating points has given credibility to the opposing philosophy. keep up the pathetic attempts to convince yourself you have valid opinions. you’re doing a grand job convincing more people to decide against agreeing with anything you say.

    • prism 9.2

      What sort of cheer are you picking? Have one for me.

  10. eyesaw 10

    As long as there is money there will never be equality.

    • prism 10.1

      Don’t know about that eyesaw. There is always going to be a resource that is scarce and cause frustrated desire in those who don’t have it. In the film The Gods must be Crazy the resource was one glass coca cola bottle, new to the area. It stopped being a glass botle and became a bone of contention as everyone wanted it. Seemed a good example of a real human trait.

  11. RedLogix 11

    The argument here is not unlike the one around the Laffer curve.

    Absolute equality can only be achieved at the expense of extreme interventions, the costs of which probably outweigh the marginal benefits involved in eliminating the last few percentage points.

    Absolute inequality, ie where one person owns everything and all the rest of us are his/her chattels is equally undesirable.

    Logically somewhere in the middle must lie an optimum. Exactly where is hard to determine, because although there is a wide spread of GINI coeficients across the nations, there are also a wide range of other uncontrolled variables and data uncertainties that make ‘eyeballing’ the data a completely useless tool. (The obvious parallel with the climate change debate is rather compelling.)

    The argument can only hinge on whether in general NZ is on the positive or negative slope portion of the curve. NZ is in fact one of the more unequal nations, and more importantly over the last 30-40 years our GINI has been increasing at a faster rate than any other OECD nation. During that same period many of our social indicators have detoriorated.

    The chances that we are on the positive portion of the curve (ie that increasing inequality would yield positive social outcomes) is slim to zero.

    • Bunji 11.1

      I don’t think any nation is on the positive portion of the curve – there are no graphs showing more equal nations doing worse. Absolute equality may well have its own set of problems but until some nation gets close I don’t think they are anything we need worry ourselves about…

  12. freedom 12

    You all can argue the ins and outs of data till doomsday. it wil never change the simplest truth

    If a few took less, the many would have more

    Even at a subconscious level, that terrifies almost every individual in our society.

    there will always be inequality in human life, as in nature itself,
    how far that inequality is allowed to extend. we will be remembered by

    • RedLogix 12.1

      Yes there will always be some degree of inequality. No-one is arguing that all differences should or even can be eliminated as in some mad communist dystopia.

      Equally there is no argument that the condition where one person owned and controlled everything, absolute monarchy and total slavery, is possible or desirable

      But we do have a choice about the degree of inequality that we choose to tolerate. And right now the real extremes of wealth and poverty lie a lot closer to the absolute monarchy and slavery model than can be possibly justified… or is good for anyone.

      Humans are a lot more subconciously sensitive to their local social gradient than is realised. A steep inequality harms everyone far more than generally understood.

      As my father put it a few months back after reading my copy of The Spirit Level (and still not returned it….); the 40’s and 50’s were not some kind of golden age, we really wouldn’t want to go back to the petty deprivations of the time, and the social hypocrisies that prevailed. But he said, while we all lived rather narrow constrained lives…. we were all happier because we were all pretty much in the same boat.

      • Carol 12.1.1

        RL said:

        we were all happier because we were all pretty much in the same boat.

        Well, it probably depends on who you were/are – or at least your social/demographic location. For white heterosexual males it may have been a pretty happy time. But for me growing up female & lesbian, in the late 50s-60s, was not a very happy time. I was bordering on suicidal – really didn’t have the will to live. And I did know some other people at the time who attempted suicide (some successfully) or developed debilitating secondary problems eg with problem drinking.

        I’m glad things have improved a fair bit for such social inequalities (though there is still some way to go). But, at times, I also do look back fondly to the relative economic equality & less focus on unrelenting materialistic consumerism (compared with today).

        These days I think financial inequality is the major issue that bothers me, while also wanting to keep moving forward on social inequalities (certainly don’t want to see backward steps there).

        • RedLogix 12.1.1.1

          My argument above, as is the entire argument about social inquality, is necessarily general in nature. It says nothing about, nor excludes any argument around the circumstances of the individual or minorities.

          What has happened though is that the left has been largely diverted into addressing (with perfect legitimacy) the social inequalities that affected specific minority groups, while retreating from the wider issue of ecomomic inequality that affects everyone. Which of course has suited the capitalist class just fine thank you very much; they didn’t care a rat’s arse about minority rights, as long as their privileges and wealth remained untroubled.

          But at it’s heart, and the reason why the right hates The Spirit Level so much, is that it demonstrates conclusively that across the whole of society, social justice and economic justice are inseperable.

  13. Gosman 13

    Brilliant riposte from Toby Young of the ‘Spectator’

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/columnists/all/6200643/if-you-want-something-trashy-to-read-on-the-beach-ive-got-a-recommendation.thtml

    I especially like his idea of shipping the bottom 20 percent of the population off to some uninhabited island. A win-win situation for all.

    • freedom 13.1

      great idea, now whom exactly are the bottom 20%?

      may i suggest it is based on whom society trusts,
      which happily gets rid of bankers, politicians, most of the military and has us looking over to the press corps with relish

      • Gosman 13.1.1

        Was the author’s conclusion that the problem was one of inequality of Trust in society then?

        • RedLogix 13.1.1.1

          Kathryn Busby made a rebuttal to Saunders here.

          Read the book Gosman. Until then you’re just trolling.

          And the first commenter in the thread you linked to responds beautifully:

          As for Toby Young’s point about draconian expatriation of 12 million people… This is nothing short of a ridiculous straw man being constructed to discredit a perfectly defensible point of view put forward by Wilkinson and Pickett. The authors of the Spirit Level offer a road forward to a more equal, healthier and (hopefully) happier society where freedom is positively exercised.

          When reading much of what passes for analysis of contemporary society, particularly from the right of centre, I’m reminded of Hobhouse’s critique of early 20th century capitalism: ‘Liberty without equality is a name of noble sound and squalid result.’

        • freedom 13.1.1.2

          Gosman, Is it tiring being so deliberately obtuse?

      • prism 13.1.2

        I’ll have corn relish on my pressed corps thanks freedom.

        • freedom 13.1.2.1

          you may be interested in today’s special
          a generous plate of fried liberty served on a bed of shredded opportunity

  14. Gosman 14

    All you have in that rebuttal is poor excuses why political bias should be allowed to influence their studies.

    I especially love this part “The Spirit Level explicitly restricts analysis to rich, developed market democracies, where averae levels of income are no longer related to average life expectancy, happiness or quality of life.”

    This could be reworded as “We left out poor countries as they didn’t fit into our preconceived outcome”

    They forgot to add “But we don’t include all rich countries because that would make things too fuzzy. We also fail to take into account differences in culture when making comparisions because heck we are social scientists and we can do what we like”

    • RedLogix 14.1

      This could be reworded as “We left out poor countries as they didn’t fit into our preconceived outcome”

      And if they had left the poorer non-developed nations in … you would have been attacking the result for trying to compare apples with oranges.

      It is well-known that for nations with average GDP/capita of about less than $10k pa there is different set of drivers at work. For nations below this threshold it is well understood that poverty of infrastructure, education, health, security and so-on has the dominant impact on well-being.

      Over that threshold, increasing average incomes clearly has a far less obvious connection to well-being.

      Mixing the nations above the threshold with nations below this threshold would be an obvious mistake, and one explored at length in the book. But of course one that you have flung yourself headlong into.

      But read the book Gosman, until then it’s an astounding arrogance for you to imagine that your opinion about it is worth a damn.

      PS And what r0b says below…LOL.

    • r0b 14.2

      I especially love this part “The Spirit Level explicitly restricts analysis to rich, developed market democracies, where averae levels of income are no longer related to average life expectancy, happiness or quality of life.”

      I especially love this part – where you don’t realise that if they had put those poorer countries in then their results would have been much MUCH stronger. Doh.

    • Bunji 14.3

      They forgot to add “But we don’t include all rich countries because that would make things too fuzzy. We also fail to take into account differences in culture when making comparisions[sic] because heck we are social scientists and we can do what we like”

      Actually I think they put in – “we did lots of work analysing differences in culture, which affected some things, like equality for women, but on a large number of things made little or no difference. Also we set up a strict rule for countries we’d include: only countries with population > 2million to avoid tax havens with skewed statistics and only countries which there is data for. If you insist on cherry picking other countries, putting in Slovenia and Eastern European countries there are only incomplete data for, it unfortunately only strengthens the inequality trends…”

  15. Jum 15

    John Banks talked about ‘THE poor people of South Auckland’ this morning in the University debate as if they were another breed, another race. I live in South Auckland and I almost hope he is right; why on earth would I want to be like John Banks, racist, sexist, separatist, divisive, giving unequal treatment to different districts – more sand for the rich people’s beaches, no Otahuhu pool (I submitted on that; he didn’t even bother to acknowledge it; the plans were finalised, the acquisition of land sorted but that didn’t matter to that cretin).

    Whatever crap he is telling people in Greater Auckland about his wish to be inclusive he’s a feckin liar, just like JKeyll and Hide and shoot-from-the-lip Bill. JKeyll, English riding shotgun, and Banger Banks, out to kill us off.

    I can understand why the authors of The Spirit Level were bemused by the attention; it is so obvious that if we don’t bring everyone along with us in the same boat it will lead to anger, depression, hatred, resentment, theft and murder. We are on a much smaller scale in violence than somewhere like racist African states but change the division from colour to money and the same rules apply.

    This government wants that division; this government wants that anger and resentment because it keeps people divided and more easily controlled. Unfortunately for those at the top, they have to build walls and carry guns to keep the ‘masses’ out, just like those African states.

    Learn the lesson of Lord of the Flies. It matters little whether the civilized to savage occurs in the young or the not so young; New Zealanders will be no different when they are reduced in circumstances, as this government is intent on achieving, in order to line its pockets and maintain a cheap, desperate labour force for foreign investors to use.

  16. nzfp 16

    Equally of Opportunity hah hah hah hah hah ….. f**k!

    Not laughing at your article Rob not at all, but I am laughing at anybody who thinks we have equality of opportunity in New Zealand. To anyone stating that we do maybe you can answer this question.

    Do the children of a low income Maori family where both parents work two jobs each to pay rent and make enough to buy food and essentials, where the kids go to the over populated under resourced and understaffed public school down the road (run by wonderful teachers doing the very best they can with the sweet F**K all resources given them by Tolley) have the same equality of opportunity as Double Dip Bill English’s kids with their silver spoon tax payer rent free housing, private tutors and private education in private schools funding with equality of opportunity Anne Tolley funding?

    Are the Maori kids in this scenario and the Double Dip Bill English kids experiencing the same equality of opportunity? Cos that’s exactly the experience I grew up with in South Auckland and its the same experience the Maori/Samoan/Pakeha/European immigrant etc… kids in my neighbourhood grew up in!!! No private tutors and high teacher/student ratios for us…

    Equally of Opportunity my @$$

    • pollywog 16.1

      No doubt the equality for opportunity is there, but sometimes the sacrifice needed to take the opportunity is too great.

      It’s the equality of sacrifice that isn’t taken into account when choices are made that needs to be considered.

      Some need to sacrifice little, some need to sacrifice their entire culture.

      Have a think about The English doctor 🙂

      • nzfp 16.1.1

        Yeah but come on bro you know what I mean – there were those of us playing rugby for Counties with third generation hand-me-down gray (no longer black) shorts, boots, jerseys etc… against those Northth Auckland lads – damn good players too – with completely brand new kit. It was well recognised at Rollermills and Goldfields level that there was a disparity of opportunity here. Those lads in the North Auckland team all had Mums and Dads who were doctors/lawyers/accountants/politicians etc… whereas those of us in counties all had mums and dads who were factory workers.

        That meant that the aspirations for us – the children – were that we would stay in school and get a good job at the factory and be good honest people – whereas our friends in the North Auckland team had trust funds for Columbia University in New York (or Auckland or Oxford etc…)

        There wasn’t an equal opportunity between us (Counties and North Auckland). Those of us that made it out of the trap had to do so with no financial support and little educational support – but lots of love and encouragement from our friends, neighbours and family.

        The North Auckland lads on the other hand had a far different experience. I’m not blaming those lads – good on them and good luck – it would just be great if the opportunities open to them were open to us in South Auckland too (anywhere in our country).

        • Bored 16.1.1.1

          Great to see that you talk about lots of love and encouragement from our friends, neighbours and family.. I got raised and educated in an era when my working class parents had voted in Labour governments with an electoral mandate to raise the standard all round for the masses, and to provide them with some equality of opportunity. It worked, the middle classes grew hugely. Along the way my generation forgot their parents struggles, and how their parents had expressed love and support for every child electorally. Helping the “lower classes” gain equality has given way to the new “middle classes” trying to entrench their advantage. They have no “aroha”, their love is reserved for “aspirational goals” aka the new Audi or similar, and to live on the “Shore”. And John will deliver..tax cuts anybody.

          • nzfp 16.1.1.1.1

            Yeah mate, I got encouragement and advice (and on the odd occasion my lunch paid for at Uni) from some of those trust fund babies on the north shore too 😉

      • Bored 16.1.2

        NZFP / Polly,
        You both get far too close to the reality that the RWNJs choose to ignore. My good lady sees it up close and personal at the school where she helps out. Wonderful kids from “deprived” backgrounds, largely Samoan and Maori, but not necessarily so, plenty of similar palangis.

        They all have good points, some clever, others practical, the whole gammut, the standard mix. What they rarely have is that “middle class” vision of their future, the possibilities and how to get there. Or the parentals with experience or vision to drive the kids in the same way as “middle class” parents do. Without the vision its doubly hard to achieve in a world where the “good life” is a class based construct. Then there is the implicit question of whether this “middle class” construct is actually one worth chasing, or of implicit cultural value (but that is another whole argument again).

        • pollywog 16.1.2.1

          My Samoan mother didn’t want us to be middle class. She was descended from polynesian royalty and aspired for us to become the ruling elite.

          We probably would have too if she hadn’t have died when i was 13. Shit i could have been well on the way to forming a dynasty by now 🙂

          Middle class isn’t something i’ve instilled in my kids to become either. More that they know who they are, where they came from, where they’re going, what they want to do, know what they have to do to get there and can live with the consequences of the choices they make, like i do with mine. Class doesn’t even come into it.

          Its that culture of success that breeds more success which i’ve said takes at least 3 generations to become entrenched/ingrained. If we take the Mary English example. Her dad married white and did whatever to buy a house and keep the family together, she used the example of that to do whatever to better her prospects and marry whiter just to be sure.

          There’s some sort of selective breeding and evolutionary survival mechanism at play there in adapting to your environment and providing better options for your progeny by inspiring them which a lot of Pasifikans have lost.

          I may have lost a generation but my kids kids are gonna run tings proper and in viewing myself and them as a continuation of a Pasifikan stream of consciousness, and not just the collective experience of a single lifetime, means NZ has a bright future ahead.

  17. Yeah i know exactly what you mean nzfp. Hell, in some ways i’m still living it.

    Its just that, while i’m all for slagging Bill English off for being an incompetent liar and self serving cheat.

    His lady seems self made, worked hard to overcome adversity, deserves the benefits of it and his kids are as much Pasifikan as mine and hopefully will go on to reclaim their culture/heritage and atone for the sins of their father.

    • nzfp 17.1

      You’re right mate (both you Polly and bored) – I shouldn’t be harsh on the English kids just because I have beef with their Dad (just read my comments above – I come over as a bit of an ass)… Indeed that goes for the kids of any of our politicians (or anyone for that matter). I hear your point about the good doctor too and well done to her and to all those that supported her – which I guess includes Bill – damn I have to brush my teeth and wash my mouth (or hands in this case) for saying that.

      The “Te Wa” concept (and art) looks great too!

      • pollywog 17.1.1

        Hah…cheers bro. It’s about time i stopped hiding my light behind a bushel.

        And now back to our regularly scheduled broadcast. This, from that 2001 interview with Mary English.

        Despite the Southland farmer label, Mary English reminds me that her husband has been in politics for well over a decade. Their last year on the farm was in 1996 and political life is embedded in the family culture.

        …seems Bills political sense of entitlement to claiming expenses for living away from ‘home’ has been embedded for 15 years now.

        Lets hope that sense of entitlement doesn’t become embedded in his kids cultural lives.

  18. Gosman 18

    Here’s a recent posting of why the information contained in ‘The Spirit Level’ is a load of nonsense

    http://spiritleveldelusion.blogspot.com/2010/04/20-questions-for-richard-wilkinson-kate.html

    • r0b 18.1

      Slowly catching up there Gosman – good for you! Now you’ve “discovered” for yourself stuff that was discussed and refuted in pages linked from the original post. Sharp work buddy.

      And while the right get all hysterical about The Spirit Level, they seem to have nothing to say at all about the mass of other scientific studies that reach the same conclusions. Any idea why that is Gosman?

      • Gosman 18.1.1

        You haven’t refuted anything in that as far as I can tell.

        Please provide evidence you have.

        • r0b 18.1.1.1

          FFS Gosman, go read the stuff linked from the original post. You were refuted before you even got out of bed this morning.

        • Bored 18.1.1.2

          You are getting a bit in front of yourself Gos, go back and you will see that ROB stated the case and you came by to do some “refuting”….

        • nzfp 18.1.1.3

          Hey Gosman,
          Take some time to read Plato’s “Republic”. Have a good look at the “Allegory of the Cave”, you’re the guy in the cave that is learning that the shadows on the wall are an illusion and that reality is the world outside the cave. Don’t be frightened to go out of the cave. Realising that a strongly held world view is fallacious is difficult and takes time to change.

          • mcflock 18.1.1.3.1

            heh – what makes you think he’s learning?

            • nzfp 18.1.1.3.1.1

              He is – he’s being forced to defend his position. Consequently he is being forced to understand the opposition viewpoint so as to be able to counter the argument. While preparing his defence he is becoming aware that his original argument is flawed and it is through defending this flawed argument that the flaw is being made all the more obvious.

              Bear in mind that self reflection of this sort is painful, iterative and takes time – he won’t be won over today but by this time next year he will have shed the fallacy he holds onto. Hence the reference to the allegory of the cave – he is at the entrance to the cave and afraid to step outside 😀

              Gosman,
              You will earn an awful lot of respect from people here – should you realise your mistake – if you concede!

    • pollywog 18.2

      Nonsense or not…

      …surely you cant deny that shit is getting worse in the real world with crime and violence while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer

      and the only answer your lot can come up with is, slash and burn social services to build more prisons in partnership with private enterprise to put even more gov’t money back in the hands of already wealthy individuals.

      talk about a recipe for blowback on a disastrous scale.

      • Gosman 18.2.1

        Ummmm…. well you can actually.

        The authors of ‘The Spirit Level’ tried to argue that the drop off in the homicide rate in the states since inequality increased was merely a blip and that it was increasing again. However 2008 had the lowest homicide rate in the US since 1965.

        As for more equal societies places like Sweden and Finland actually have higher rates of murder, rape, and theft of any country in their list. Apparently this has nothing at all to do with equality though but their other meassure do.

        • pollywog 18.2.1.1

          Ummmm…. well you can actually.

          Ok then…getting off ‘the spirit level’ for a sec and ignoring what it says about those other countries.

          are you really so blind to the detrimental effects of inequality that you can’t see what’s happening in NZ society and has been happening for quite some time ?

        • Bunji 18.2.1.2

          Umm… no. Sweden & Finland don’t have higher rates of murder, rape and theft than any other country on the list. That’s just plain wrong. Give us some stats to support your random assertions.

          Finland has a surprisingly high murder rate, ’tis true (but still far lower than the US). They also have the world’s highest gun ownership. Coincidence? Who knows. It is indeed an outlier on the graph. But despite that (and Singapore with its low homicide rate / lowest gun ownership), the correlation is still highly statistically significant.

          Next.

      • Bored 18.2.2

        I think the blow back well advanced, look at those idiots who in their denial that they are part of society remove themselves to a gated community so as to lock out the troublesome elements from South Auckland. So much “cheaper and safer”…except it is not as safe as alieviating the conditions that breed “crime”. It merely advertises we over here in the gated community have got what you want……

  19. RedLogix 19

    Just in case anyone has read this far, the authors have responded to the inevitable questions .

    From an article in the Guardian:

    Wilkinson was shocked by what he believes is part of a worrying trend in political discourse, also happening in the US, where a few people, often attached to right wing institutes, have set themselves up as professional wreckers of ideas.

    “Do they even believe what they are saying?” he said today. “I suppose it doesn’t matter if their claims are right or wrong; it is about sowing doubt in people’s minds.”

    The authors fear the attacks have scuppered any chance of removing the inequality debate “from the left wing ghetto”.

    Wilkinson said: “It is now something for the left and we would rather have avoided that. People on the right will feel relieved knowing they don’t have to treat this seriously and will be happy to know it has been rubbished.”

    The crucial question that needs to be levelled at people like Gosman is, if you think the argument in the Spirit Level is wrong, what is your alternative hypothesis?

    And can they make an equivalently researched case to support it?

    • Gosman 19.1

      If you read that supposed answering the questions you will have noted that they have not addressed Christopher Snowdon’s 20 questions.

      I’ll post the first 10 directly here to see if that helps you to come up with something.

      1. Why do you exclude the Czech Republic, South Korea and Hong Kong from your analysis when all these societies are wealthier than Portugal?

      2. Why do you exclude Singapore from your graph of mental illness when you included it in the same graph when it was published in Olivers James’ Affluenza?

      3. Why do you say that the USA’s decline in homicide ended in 2005 when 2008 saw the lowest number of homicides since 1965? As you must know, America’s murder rate has halved in the last two decades despite rising inequality.

      4. Why did you use older data for your life expectancy/inequality graph than you used elsewhere in The Spirit Level? Is it because more recent data shows no correlation with inequality?

      5. You use the high rate of teen births in Portugal (in 2002) as proof that inequality is related to teen births. Why do you not mention that abortion was illegal in Portugal until 2007?

      6. Why do you not include the crime rate in your index of health and social problems? Is it because the crime rate tends to be higher in ‘more equal’ countries?

      7. Why do you say that homicide is inversely related to suicide when there is no evidence for this?

      8. Why do you suggest that people in more equal countries give more to charity when the reverse is true?

      9. Why did Kate make a video called ‘Why Cubans live longer than Americans?’ when all the sources show that life expectancy in Cuba is lower than in the USA?

      10. Why do you write about “increased family break-down and family stress in less equal countries” when divorce and single-parent households tend to be more common in more equal countries?

      I am especially interested in the answers to questions 6, 8, and 10.

      • RedLogix 19.1.1

        Full answers here.

        Specifically:

        6. Why do you not include the crime rate in your index of health and social problems? Is it
        because the crime rate tends to be higher in ‘more equal’ countries?

        It has often been pointed out that homicides are one of the few crimes which can be
        compared reliably between countries. Comparisons of other kinds of crime are affected by
        differences in the law, in reporting, and by other extraneous influences. Car crime, for
        instance, is affected by the number of cars and rape is dramatically affected by reporting.

        While there are some research papers showing relationships between inequality and property crime, there are no sources of data (including those used by Snowdon) which deal adequately with these problems. Hence, we confined our attention to adult and juvenile homicide rates. There are more than 50 studies showing that inequality is related to violence, see for example the review by Hsieh and Pugh and the recent study by Elgar and Aitken.

        8. Why do you suggest that people in more equal countries give more to charity when the
        reverse is true?

        We do not say that people in more equal countries give more to charity – instead we show
        that more equal countries donate more in development aid to foreign countries. We do
        cite Eric Uslaner’s work which shows that people who have high levels of trust are more
        charitable. Snowdon presents data from the Charities Aid Foundation, which suggests
        that more unequal countries (especially the USA) have higher levels of individual charitable
        giving. However, as the Charities Aid Foundation points out, charitable giving in the USA is
        heavily influenced by tax policy, and may also be a response to the exceptional need created
        by the US lack of social security systems. Only 3% of US charitable giving goes overseas, so
        total US donations to overseas development are substantially lower than other rich
        countries.

        Low levels of US government aid are partly a reflection of low trust in government (strongly
        related to inequality) and also of a lack of social security and welfare provision. Together
        these shift the onus of support to wholly inadequate private charitable giving.

        10. Why do you write about “increased family break-down and family stress in less equal
        countries” when divorce and single-parent households tend to be more common in more
        equal countries?

        Although lone parent families are not more common in more unequal countries, changes in
        income inequality are correlated with rising divorce rates in US counties.

        (Footnote references removed for clarity.)

        Full response to critics.

        • Gosman 19.1.1.1

          Ummmmm…. if you had bothered to read the piece by Christopher Snowdon you should have noticed that he has responded to the replies by W + P. Basically they largely avoided answering his questions. If you disagree on this perhaps you will address his points.

          • RedLogix 19.1.1.1.1

            And you haven’t even bothered to read the book you are presuming to debunk.

            Until then why should anyone bother to read anything you link to?

            • Gosman 19.1.1.1.1.1

              I presume you would agree that Christopher Snowdon has read their book?

              Perhaps you could address his points rather than mine 😉

              • RedLogix

                Well I’ve read the questions and the responses. The responses make sense to me.

                But given that most of the questions are a specious sleight of hand then it no-one was ever going to be happy with them.

                As we have seen with the climate change debate, and before that the tobacco debate, dishonest questions are never intended to have honest answers.

                Indeed mentioning tobacco:

                Sinclair believes he has spotted statistical sleights of hand that hundreds of fellow academics who reviewed our research papers for numerous journals have failed to detect. Decades of peer-reviewed epidemiological research, funded by research councils have, he imagines, been torn to shreds by Christopher Snowdon—author of The Spirit Level Delusion. While Snowdon is described as a “public health researcher,” in actual fact he has no public health qualifications and appears never to have published research in a peer-reviewed journal. Instead, his main contribution to public health is a diatribe against tobacco control and a denial of the ill effects of second-hand smoke.

                Funny how the same old same old keeps going round isn’t it?

                • Gosman

                  I was waiting for your ad hominem attack on Snowdon. I take that as an indication that you know he has a point and want to shut down the debate.

                  How about these criticisms from other academics?

                  “The bottom line is that this is a well-written, stimulating polemic. It nevertheless suffers from the same problems as one-trick ponies: if the one trick does not impress you, the show is a failure. Wilkinson and Pickett’s trick simply does not hold up to empirical scrutiny. When assessing this book as a contribution to the debate on the “right” level of income differences in modern society, it is a highly interesting, sympathetic attempt at addressing some of the important problems of Western societies. Yet, when assessing this book from a scientific point of view, one is forced to conclude that it is a failure.”

                  — Christian Bjornskov, Professor of Economics, University of Aarhus

                  “Wilkinson and Pickett have no time for nicely balanced judgements. They believe that the evidence they present shows beyond doubt that more equal societies ‘do better’, and they are also confident that they have the right explanation for why this is so… Their case is by no means so securely established as they try to make out… it has been called into question by other leading figures in the field – a fact that WP might have more fully acknowledged… WP’s inadequate, one-dimensional understanding of social stratification leads to major problems in their account of how the contextual effect is produced.”

                  — John Goldthorpe, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Nuffield College, Oxford; ‘Analysing social inequality’ European Sociological Review, 2009

                  “The evidence in The Spirit Level is weak, the analysis is superficial and the theory is unsupported.”

                  — Peter Saunders, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Sussex

                  “The book will probably irritate most economists, including those like me who are sympathetic to its basic stance… source of irritation is the authors’ apparent belief that the application of regression methods to economic and social statistics is as novel to social science as it apparently is to medicine. The evidence presented in the book is mostly a series of scatter diagrams with a regression line drawn through them. If you remove the bold lines from the diagram, the pattern of points mostly looks random, and the data dominated by a few outliers… An obvious conclusion is that there are many societies which perform well in terms of their own criteria. America, Sweden and Japan are just different from each other. Their achievements are not really commensurable. But Wilkinson and Pickett are not content with this relativist position.”

                  — John Kay, former Director of Institute of Fiscal Studies and Professor of Economics at London Business School, Financial Times 2009″

        • Gosman 19.1.1.2

          An example of how they failed to address the questions asked by Snowdon is their answer to Question 10. As Snowdon points out

          “This evades the question. The facts show that divorce is more common in more equal countries, and the Scandinavian countries have amongst the highest rates of lone parent families (as do some Anglo-Saxon countries). It is simply untrue to say that there is “increased family break-down and family stress in less equal countries”.

          • RedLogix 19.1.1.2.1

            Snowdon seems to have missed the distinction between ‘countries’ and ‘US counties’.

            At first blush the frequency of divorce should have multiple drivers, financial and social pressures, the relative ease of divorce and the severity of the economic consequences for both partners in the years following.

            Therefore directly comparing divorce rates globally across hugely diverse cultures and legal frameworks is likely to present difficulties.

            But within the USA the spread of these drivers is less, so the relationship between inequality and divorce rates becomes more apparent.

            Finally for tonight:

            Our critics also ignore the fact that these relationships have been widely demonstrated by other researchers. For example, as early as 1993 in the Criminal Justice Review, Hsieh and Pugh reviewed 34 studies of income inequality and violent crime and found a consistent correlation between the two—the authors estimated that it would need 58 new studies which found no effect in order to overturn this result. But studies since then have continued to confirm the link.

            Similarly, our review of research papers published in peer-reviewed journals found that the tendency for health to be worse in more unequal societies has been demonstrated well over 100 times (see Social Science and Medicine, 2006). Faced with research papers showing that this pattern is repeated among the regions of Russia, the provinces of China, the counties of Chile, or rich and poor countries together, we wonder what regions, provinces, counties or developing countries our critics would find excuses to exclude to deny a relationship?

            Again in contrast to our critics, we offer a coherent theory of why so many health and social problems are linked to greater inequality. Rather than being caused directly by material conditions or being simply a reflection of selective social mobility sorting the resilient from the vulnerable, the link with income inequality suggests that the problems associated with social status are responses to the stresses of social status differentiation itself.

            We remain puzzled by the stance the Taxpayers Alliance has taken to our work. As we point out, greater equality need not depend on high taxation. Within the US the state of New Hampshire has amongst the lowest taxes. It has no income tax or state sales tax but, like other more equal states, it does well in terms of a host of social measures including rates of infant mortality, homicides, teenage pregnancies, imprisonment, levels of trust and children’s school performance. It stands as an example of the benefits of a fairer and more equal society.

    • nzfp 19.2

      “I suppose it doesn’t matter if their claims are right or wrong; it is about sowing doubt in people’s minds.”

      Well that’s the classical definition of the “Sophist”

  20. freedom 20

    If the ‘free market’ was a sniper and ‘we the people’ were the target, I suspect Gosman would argue that the homicide victim died from a lack of will to defend themselves against a ballistic object and there is no crime to investigate

    though I do have a suspicion The Gosman reloads from GeoffBeck broadcasts
    which as we all know can lead to outburts of nonsensical dribble

    • RedLogix 20.1

      Indeed freedom. Authentic conservatives do have something interesting to say; but not this lot.Their arguments predictable nihilism and their techniques transparently dishonest.

      All we get from them is shouting down, the sowing of doubt, never any actual ideas.

  21. tsmithfield 21

    r0b, “TS – you have a little knowledge. Just enough to be dangerous to yourself. Skewed data is data which varies systematically from a normal distribution (to the “left” or “right”). The other points you are trying to make relate to outliers in a linear regression. Statistically these are two completely separate issues, and conflating them reveals nothing but your ignorance.”

    The issue of skewedness relates to the original data sets. Statistical techniques such as regression assume that those sets are normally distributed, so the subsequent regression does depend on the normality of the underlying data. The issue with outliers relates to the actual regression.

    R0b, you are making assertions here. I have done some analysis of the data for the two variables, age and inequality.

    Age is reasonably skewed: 0.59. A normal distribution should be as close to zero as possible. To be fair, skewedness over levels over one is considered problematic in reasonably large data sets. Although this figure is less than one, it should be remembered that it is a very small sample, so skewedness will be more important.

    Inequality is showing quite a strong negative reading for kurtosis (in the -.7 region), suggesting the distribution for “inequality” is quite a lot flatter than a normal distribution. Again, zero would indicate a normal distribution.

    The r squared for the plotted data is approx .18 which suggests that only 18% of the trend (with the US included) is explained by the data. The slope of the graph is approx -.6, a relatively weak trend that would weaken further if the US and Portugal were removed. Also, given the large amount of error in the fit, I very much doubt it would be a statistically significant trend with only 23 data points. Unfortunately I don’t have the statistical tools in my excel spreadsheet to test for significance.

    I think my point stands. A trend that depends on the inclusion of two variables is scarcely a trend.
    The trend should still be evident if several data points from a larger set are excluded.

    A more valid study would be to investigate why the US is so different to other countries on these dimensions. To me it seems the data breaks quite neatly into a US v the rest of the world study.

    • r0b 21.1

      I have done some analysis of the data for the two variables, age and inequality.

      And the lord only knows what you think you were trying to show with them TS.

      A trend that depends on the inclusion of two variables is scarcely a trend.

      Two data points, not two variables. There are any number of pairs of data points you can exclude that have effects on the trend – some excluded pairs make the trend stronger, some make it weaker, some have almost no effect. You want to choose two particular points that make the trend as weak as possible – but you don’t get to do that TS. Any more than I get to exclude some other data points that make it stronger.

      And again, you’re obsessing about one chart, and ignoring the mountains of corroborating evidence from many other published scientific studies. Why?

      • Gosman 21.1.1

        You mean like the work of Nobel laureate James Heckman (see below)?

        This is what Christopher snowdon has to say on the subject

        “Do not be fooled. Very few of the studies referenced in The Spirit Level claim that health or social problems are caused by income inequality per se (as opposed to absolute income or other socio-economic factors). Of the few that do make such a case, many were written by Richard Wilkinson and/or Kate Pickett (they refer to no fewer than twelve of their own studies in The Spirit Level).”

        nice to see them referencing their own work to support their own politically motivated book.

        • r0b 21.1.1.1

          nice to see them referencing their own work to support their own politically motivated book

          They reference plenty of other work too Gosman, by plenty of other authors. The Spirit Level has been the one that drew lots of threads together, and attracted RWNJ attention and response, but the evidence is pretty uncontroversial in an academic context. Here, go see for yourself.

      • tsmithfield 21.1.2

        Yes r0b, I meant two data points, not variables. Its getting late.

        All I have done is replicate the analysis from the authors that produced the slope.

        The key points are:

        The slope is not very steep, only .6 of a year decrease for every one increase in inequality.
        It doesn’t explain much of the data: only 18%. This means only 18% of an already weak trend is explained by these two variables. There are undoubtably a myriad of factors that contribute to this trend.
        Finally, due to only a very small sample and a high proportion of error, it is doubtful that the trend is statistically significant.

        All this with allowing the US data point to remain in the analysis. So, even in the most positive light the chart is meaningless.

        And, to be fair, r0b, I have kept my criticism focussed on this chart. I am not criticising any of the other research because I haven’t read it.

        • Gosman 21.1.2.1

          tsmithfield,

          You will be pleased to see that other people have made the same criticism of the scatter diagrams as you have done

          ” The evidence presented in the book is mostly a series of scatter diagrams with a regression line drawn through them. If you remove the bold lines from the diagram, the pattern of points mostly looks random, and the data dominated by a few outliers…”

          — John Kay, former Director of Institute of Fiscal Studies and Professor of Economics at London Business School, Financial Times 2009″

          • RedLogix 21.1.2.1.1

            Even tsmithfield knows what simple least squared regression is and why it works on what appears to the naked eye as random points.

            In the real world real data is almost always incomplete, imperfect and uncontrolled for numerous variables. Statistics is a sophisticated set of formal tools that lets us derive meanings from what superficially appears meaningless.

            This is the whole point of statistics, something that on the face of it has completely passed John Kay by.

        • r0b 21.1.2.2

          So, even in the most positive light the chart is meaningless.

          Sorry TS, your failure to understand something doesn’t make it meaningless.

          • tsmithfield 21.1.2.2.1

            Sorry r0b,

            The chart in itself is meaningless.

            The large amount of error along with a small sample size is the reason for this. Look at how far the data points are spread around the regression line. A reliable trend would be indicated by having the data points closely distributed around the regression line. I would argue the same for any chart that met the same conditions. Small sample size and high error are not a good combination for reliable results. Plus the trend depending on the inclusion of several outliers.

            You would need quite a large sample size to rule out the result being by chance. Do some reading on data analysis in the social sciences. I did a paper on that during my masters and did some reasonably sophisticated statistical modelling in my thesis so I do have some idea what I am talking about.

            • r0b 21.1.2.2.1.1

              Sorry TS, I’m not impressed by your thesis credentials, as you’re obviously confused about statistics (witness your conflation of skew and regression above).

              You would need quite a large sample size to rule out the result being by chance.

              You haven’t got a clue have you. The dependent variables that are correlated with income inequality are all significant at p 0.4 or better, usually p < 0.01 – see here (scroll down).

              For the uninitiated, the graph that TS wants to explain away, or claim is meaningless, can be seen here.

              • tsmithfield

                Sorry, but I don’t see how any of this information relates to the interpretation of that particular chart which has been the sole focus of my criticism.

                As I’ve said numerous times, I have no problems with a different analysis method being used. But it is not a good look when statistical methods are being so abused.

                Here is a quote from the authors own notes:

                “We took the richest 50 countries ranked by wealth according to the Atlas method….”

                So why are there only 23 countries in the graph I have been criticising? Why haven’t the authors plotted the whole 50, or are they cherry picking the results that suit them?

                • tsmithfield

                  Furthermore, are you seriously suggesting that data from numerous unrelated studies can simply be summed together and plotted against the IV and give a meaningful result in a simple regression chart?

  22. Gosman 22

    I love this. One of the academics that P + W use to support their leftist nonsense has apparently been contacted and disagrees that his work ever supported the views expressed in ‘The Spirit Level’

    “One particularly stark example of the problems with Wilkinson and Pickett’s use of evidence comes when they cite the work of Nobel laureate James Heckman. The reader is given the impression that Heckman’s work contains evidence supporting Wilkinson and Pickett.

    Heckman’s paper contains nothing of the kind. His study investigates the effect of different parental investments in children on cognitive and non-cognitive abilities, and therefore looks at the effects of different absolute levels of income rather than the effect of income inequality across a society itself. There is thus zero evidence in this paper (or anywhere else in professor Heckman’s seminal work) supporting Wilkinson and Pickett’s claim that other people having a higher income is bad for you. We contacted Heckman and he said that “[t]his is a misrepresentation of my work”.

    http://www.taxpayersalliance.com/research/splvl.html

    • r0b 22.1

      I love this. One of the academics that P + W use to support their leftist nonsense has apparently been contacted and disagrees that his work ever supported the views expressed in ‘The Spirit Level’

      So it is claimed on a right wing web site run by and written for people like you Gosman. P&W knew that this would happen, which is why they say:

      Almost all of the research presented and synthesised in The Spirit Level had previously been peer-reviewed, and is fully referenced therein. In order to distinguish between well founded criticism and unsubstantiated claims made for political purposes, all future debate should take place in peer-reviewed publications.

      Go find the peer reviewed scientific publications that refute the Spirit Level claims Gosman. Until then you are just another echo in the RWNJ chamber.

      • Gosman 22.1.1

        Have you ever read Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science?

        Just because something is published in a peer reviewed journal doesn’t mean it is a good quality scientific study.

        • RedLogix 22.1.1.1

          Same argument the CCD’ers use to dismiss something they don’t like. It’s no more relevant when you use than when they do.

          Of course peer-review is not a guarantee of correctness, but it does mean that the work has leapt over a far higher hurdle of scrutiny than the assertions you are quoting.

          • Gosman 22.1.1.1.1

            This is completely different to the Climate Change debate.

            For a start this is ‘soft’ rather than ‘hard’ science as per that carried out by Climatetologists.

            There is also nothing like the consensus on this topic. I have highlighted a number of Academics who refute the conclusions drawn by W + P.

            Much of the so called supporting evidence used by W+ P are either their own work or doesn’t in fact make the claims they try and say that it does.

            • RedLogix 22.1.1.1.1.1

              I have highlighted a number of Academics who refute the conclusions drawn by W + P.

              No they haven’t refuted it, they’ve merely expressed opinions. Of course there are dissenting opionions, look at ANY science hard or soft, and there are always dissenting opinions. But nowhere have they published any papers suggesting why these relationships exist and why they occur in hundreds of other peer-reviewed studies.

              Much of the so called supporting evidence used by W+ P are either their own work

              Sorry but given that you haven’t read the book, how the hell can you know that?

            • r0b 22.1.1.1.1.2

              Much of the so called supporting evidence used by W+ P are either their own work

              Some of it is, some of it isn’t, it’s all peer reviewed, it’s all worth a lot more than the rantings of right wing web sites!

              or doesn’t in fact make the claims they try and say that it does.

              You’ve found one (count them one) claimed instance of that – and you’re exaggerating it. Same tactics as the CCDs, as RL said.

              • mcflock

                not to mention, to paraphrase G, the old “some academics apparently disagree, so the entire theory is unsubstantiated” 13/9/10 10:04pm, and then playing the “peer reviewing biases the conventional wisdom to the political viewpoints of the majority, not necessarily scientific fact” 13/9/10 9:47pm. Both big CCD argument types.

                The observational values have changed, but the variables remain the same 🙂

  23. clandestino 23

    If anyone is still interested, here is an explanation from the two most overt critics of the book:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/26/response-spirit-level-bad-social-science

    Remember it’s the method at issue here. I personally don’t disagree with the hypothesis that income inequality isn’t good for emotional reasons, but tend to believe much of it has cultural and ethnic origins (shock! horror!). I also don’t buy the assertion wealthier people aren’t better off in income disparate societies. Having lived in a couple, and I realise this is anecdotal, life wasn’t bad for those in a position to enjoy it.

    • tsmithfield 23.1

      Hi clandestino

      Thanks for that reference. Here is a quote from this article:

      Their graphs, too, are deceptive. They fit straight trend lines to plots heavily skewed by single outliers, producing hopelessly distorted results.

      Hmmm….someone else on this thread has been making a similar point. Thats right, it was me!

      • r0b 23.1.1

        For the uninitiated, the graph that TS wants to explain away, or claim is meaningless, can be seen here.

        The y axis measure is a composite of several dependent variables that are correlated with income inequality and are all significant at p 0.04 or better, usually p < 0.01 – see here (scroll down). [Edit: fixed typo that originally read 0.4]

        The range of academic research which supports the claims of The Spirit Level is shown for example here (end of document).

        In short, TS and the other deniers are well out of their depth here!

        • RedLogix 23.1.1.1

          Thanks for that r0b, I was wondering exactly which graph ts was wittering on about.

          Really he’d have to cherry pick off not just the USA and Portugal, but Japan, the Nordics and the UK to get even close to the answer he wants.

  24. tsmithfield 24

    r0b: “are all significant at p 0.4…” [Edit: see above should be 0.04 — r0b]

    And when has p 0.4 ever been significant?

    Another point is that low probability scores in themselves don’t mean much. For instance in some large medical studies, involving hundreds of thousands of people it is not unusual for p values like p < .0000001 or the like just due to the large sample size. However, it whether the associations are meaningful or not that is important.

    If the sum total of the authors study is that they can produce a dodgy graph that effectively explains one month decrease in life expectancy for every one increase in inequality then its not very meaningful at all.

  25. tsmithfield 25

    r0b, the DV is stated on the chart as “life expectancy (years)”. Surely, this is just a measure of the average age of death in that country.

    With all those wonderfully low p values in the supporting literature, then why is their not a very strong correlation in the graph we are discussing?

  26. RedLogix 26

    First of all you selectively quote r0b:: [alas my typo should be 0.04 — r0b]

    are all significant at p 0.4 or better, usually p < 0.01

    You omit the usually “or better, usually p<0.01and then snidely ask:

    And when has p 0.4 ever been significant?

    Well the blunt answer is that you’ve blatantly misrepresented some simple, obvious numbers here. If that’s your usual standard of ‘sophisticated statistics’, you have just burned off a whole bunch of your credibility right there.

    • rosy 26.1

      Is tsmithfield arguing on a typo? It looks to me that p-value=0.04 to p-value < 0.01 all of which are significnant. Or am I reading the wrong bit?

      [no you spotted it rosy, thanks for that! — r0b]

      • pollywog 26.1.1

        This is one case where the devil is not in the details. It’s in the big picture.

        Just look around at all the idle hands making the devils work and ask yourself what this current lot in gov’t are doing to keep idle hands busy and the devils at bay !

        Not much because they are the devils. It’s in them and their demonic ideaologies best interests to create inequality and discontent

        God defend New Zealand because we cant trust Key and his mates to.

  27. tsmithfield 27

    Since when has it been selective to point out nonsense? I accept rosie’s comment that it may well be a typo on r0b’s part tho.

    • r0b 27.1

      Correct, rosy spotted my typo, the measures correlate with income inequality p = 0.04 or better often p < 0.01.

      The combined index is r = 0.87 p < 0.01 which is a massively strong result. Sorry TS, you can't make this one go away by wittering frantically about "outliers".

      As to the rest, too much work to do today, I'll get back to all this tonight.

      • tsmithfield 27.1.1

        But its not what the graph in question is plotting. The “y” axis is life expentancy, not the sum of the composite variables as you suggest.

        • tsmithfield 27.1.1.1

          All the “combined index” is r0b is an extract from the <a href='http://www.statistics.com/resources/glossary/c/corrmatr.php'correlation matrix.

          All this is doing is demonstrating that the Independent variable (the x axis) is a reasonably homogeneous construct, that is there is quite a lot of overlap between the various factors that make up the IV. This is an important part of the research process as it establishes that there is justification for lumping all these things together. Actually do some reading in statistical process as you are showing yourself to be out of your depth.

          However, it does not change my criticism of the regression in the slightest. The regression still shows that only 18% of the variation in the DV is explained by the IV and that there is a very high proportion of error. The trend still depends on the inclusion of two outliers. It is still a meaningless graph.

          • RedLogix 27.1.1.1.1

            Which graph are you going on about? The main composite that r0b linked to here?.

            Just checking because it seems like you are talking about a completely different set of data points. As mentioned above; The combined index is r = 0.87 p < 0.01 which is a massively strong result.

            Then you object to the low p value saying:

            Another point is that low probability scores in themselves don’t mean much. For instance in some large medical studies, involving hundreds of thousands of people it is not unusual for p values like p < .0000001 or the like just due to the large sample size.

            But of course the actual sample of 23 countries (that you have previously moaned about being too small) makes this low value of p even more significant.

            This isn’t goal post shifting, it’s flailing all over the field.

            • tsmithfield 27.1.1.1.1.1

              AAAAh the penny has dropped. Perhaps we have been talking at cross purposes. Here is the graph I linked to in my opening post. It is quite a different graph to the one you are pointing to now.

              I agree with you. The fit of the graph you are linking to looks much better than the one in the original post that I have been criticising. Can you spot the difference?

              However, it is easy to find strong correlations when the researchers pick and choose data to suit their theories and exclude data that doesn’t as appears to have been the case.

              I suggest you read from “20 questions for Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett” in this link.

              [And I suggest you read Wilkinson and Pickett’s answers to the questions in this link — r0b]

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