From DAVE SMITH
To the Editors AVA, UDJ, WN:
In their fine, insightful book The Spirit Level, authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett offer irrefutable, empirical evidence that what matters most in determining not only the health and mortality of any society but also the prevalence of a host of other social problems — including mental illness, obesity and homicides — is how wealth is distributed or, in other words, the extent of inequality.
In the most unequal societies — US, Britain, Portugal and New Zealand — the level of homicides, mental illness, teenage pregnancies and so on is much higher than in the more equal societies, such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Japan. “The reason why these differences are so big is, quite simply, because the effects of inequality are not confined just to the least well-off; instead they affect the vast majority of the population.” Inequality causes shorter, unhealthier, unhappier lives all around.
America is one of the world’s richest nations, with among the highest figures for income per person, but has the lowest longevity of the developed nations, and a level of violence — murder, in particular — that is off the charts. For some, mainly the young, the experience of daily life at the bottom of a steep social hierarchy is enraging. The US has institutionalized economic and social inequality to the extent that, at any one time, a quarter of our respective populations are mentally ill. Yet we are constantly bombarded by the monotonous drone of the “free traders” and neo-conservatives touting low wages, low benefits and low public spending that increases inequality, and imposes unhappiness on us all, as the answer to our ills.
If, instead, we were to concentrate on making our citizens’ incomes as equal as those of people in Japan and Scandinavia, we could each have seven extra weeks’ holiday a year, we would be thinner, we would live longer happier lives, and we’d trust each other more. We can start by raising the minimum wage, social security benefits, and taxes on the wealthy. Then impose stiff tariffs on incoming cheap goods from abroad as we increase small business entrepreneurship by breaking up the hugely destructive monopolies in banking, communications, and retail. When President Carter busted up AT&T, entrepreneurship in America boomed. We have high unemployment now because of monopolies, pure and simple.
The removal of economic impediments will allow a flourishing of human potential. We will all do much better and be much happier when we’re more equal.