This is part of a superb counter-blast (see page 4) to the idea – encapsulated in a book called The Spirit Level – that we should aim for more equal societies because they are more cohesive and even happy. The author, Chris Snowdon, attacks the apparently highly selective statistics used in the book and then says:
The only real difference between ‘less equal’ and ‘more equal’ countries is the size of the state and the amount it takes in tax, rising from less than 15% of gross domestic product in Singapore to almost 50% in Denmark. The fact that Singapore outperforms Denmark under almost every measure of what makes a country ‘do better’ only serves to underline the folly of The Spirit Level and, by association, the futility of its political agenda. Nevertheless, the book represents a milestone for those who view the wealth gap as more important than wealth itself. The original aim of the left was to improve living standards for the poor but, paradoxically, free-market economics proved to be the most effective way of doing so. Today, few socialists would argue that their policies would maximise economic growth. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall they have instead drifted towards a position of denigrating growth and fighting for income equality. This agenda is crystallised in The Spirit Level, with Wilkinson and Pickett arguing that economic growth has ‘largely finished its work’ while putting the blame for social problems on the psychological effects of income inequality, rather than the material effects of low incomes.
The two epidemiologists seem indifferent to how inequality is reduced, so long as it does not involve the richer getting richer. Since inequality can be alleviated by narrowing the gap without making anyone richer, their logic dictates that society would improve if the poor got 5% poorer so long as the rich got 20% poorer. A doubling of everyone’s income, on the other hand, would make everyone’s life worse. There are, as George Orwell once said, some ideas so absurd that only intellectuals could believe them.
- The parable of the broken window – one of the most superb arguments ever made
- Are the world’s rich countries turning Africa into the biggest welfare dependant in history?
- Why has the proportion of relatively poor increased?
- State schools damage the poor
- The Tories need to argue that low taxes matter