THOM HARTMANN'S INDEPENDENT THINKER REVIEW OF THE MONTH - "The Impact of Inequality"
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If the number of dog-eared pages thickening the upper corner of a book on my bookshelves is any indication of how important that book was to me (and it is), then "The Impact of Inequality" is one of the top ten books in my library (and it is).
Wilkinson has, quite simply, identified the One Single Issue That Drives Everything Else.
Obesity, cancer, infant mortality, homicide, gun violence, imprisonment ratios, depression, drug abuse, teenage pregnancies, venereal disease rates, use of prescription antidepressants, workplace satisfaction, trust of one's neighbors – pick from the menu. ALL of them are driven by a single variable.
And that variable isn't wealth. While America is the richest nation in the world with a median income of around $44,000/year, we're way in the back of the pack in all the indices mentioned above. So is the second richest nation, Great Britain.
And it wasn't that way in the period from 1940 to 1980.
The reason it is now, it turns out, is pretty straightforward. While most European and developed nations have a ratio of about 3:1 to 5:1 between the wealth of the poorest 20% of the populace and the richest 20%, the UK and US are running in the neighborhood of 8:1.
The more unequal a society is, the more problems it has. Regardless of how rich it is.
Conversely, the more equal a society is the better it does. Regardless of how poor it is (so long as they're above a baseline survival threshold, which appears to run around $5000/year). Costa Rica, at around $7,000 a year, does better than the US or UK on all of the items on the list above – and more.
And it's not just differences in these indices between nations: they also occur between states or provinces in nations. Wilkinson documents in his book how the most equal of the states of the US and provinces of Canada have the best outcomes in all the cases listed above, and the most unequal of the states have the worst outcomes. The relationship is absolutely definable, linear, and predictable.
Richard Wilkinson builds a powerful and irrefutable case in this book for a radical re-think of the role of wealth – and government and taxes – in society. Without this incredible piece of the puzzle, no other discussion of tax policy, industrial policy, educational policy, or rules of business can make serious sense.
"The Impact of Inequality" is one of the most important books you will ever read. And as a bonus, it's also one of the most readable. I started it on a Friday afternoon, and was so stuck to it that I was finished by Sunday afternoon, complete with having made pages of notes and folded over and marked up at least sixty or seventy pages. Buy two or three copies, because this is a book you'll want to share with everybody you know.
(Note: Wilkinson has published a sequel to "Impact" in the UK, titled "The Spirit Level," which will become available in the US this winter. Its website is here. I ordered it via a British bookseller and read it cover-to-cover, but found it to be mostly a rehash and update of the contents/statistics/arguments of "Impact." While "Spirit Level" will definitely be worth buying when it comes out, I recommend you not wait but get "Impact" now and familiarize yourself with what I predict will become the hottest topic of discussion in economic and political circles over the next few years.)