The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger

Bloomsbury Publishing USA
27
Free sample

Groundbreaking analysis showing that greater economic equality-not greater wealth-is the mark of the most successful societies, and offering new ways to achieve it.

"Get your hands on this book."-Bill Moyers

This groundbreaking book, based on thirty years' research, demonstrates that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them-the well-off and the poor. The remarkable data the book lays out and the measures it uses are like a spirit level which we can hold up to compare different societies. The differences revealed, even between rich market democracies, are striking. Almost every modern social and environmental problem-ill health, lack of community life, violence, drugs, obesity, mental illness, long working hours, big prison populations-is more likely to occur in a less equal society. The book goes to the heart of the apparent contrast between material success and social failure in many modern national societies.

The Spirit Level does not simply provide a diagnosis of our ills, but provides invaluable instruction in shifting the balance from self-interested consumerism to a friendlier, more collaborative society. It shows a way out of the social and environmental problems which beset us, and opens up a major new approach to improving the real quality of life, not just for the poor but for everyone. It is, in its conclusion, an optimistic book, which should revitalize politics and provide a new way of thinking about how we organize human communities.
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About the author

Richard Wilkinson has played a formative role in international research in inequalities in health and his work has been published in 10 languages. He studied economic history at the London School of Economics before training in epidemiology and is Professor Emeritus at the University of Nottingham Medical School and Honorary Professor at University College London.


Kate Pickett is a Professor of Epidemiology at the University of York and a former National Institute for Health Research Career Scientist. She is the co-founder of The Equality Trust. She studied physical anthropology at Cambridge, nutritional sciences at Cornell and epidemiology at Berkeley before spending four years as an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Bloomsbury Publishing USA
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Published on
Apr 23, 2010
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Pages
400
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ISBN
9781608191703
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economics / General
Health & Fitness / Health Care Issues
Political Science / Political Economy
Social Science / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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A groundbreaking investigation of how inequality infects our minds and gets under our skin

Why are people more relaxed and at ease with each other in some countries than others? Why do we worry so much about what others think of us and often feel social life is a stressful performance? Why is mental illness three times as common in the USA as in Germany? Why is the American dream more of a reality in Denmark than the USA? What makes child well-being so much worse in some countries than others? As The Inner Level demonstrates, the answer to all these is inequality.

In The Spirit Level Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett put inequality at the center of public debate by showing conclusively that less equal societies fare worse than more equal ones across everything from education to life expectancy. The Inner Level now explains how inequality affects us individually, altering how we think, feel and behave. It sets out the overwhelming evidence that material inequities have powerful psychological effects: when the gap between rich and poor increases, so does the tendency to define and value ourselves and others in terms of superiority and inferiority. A deep well of data and analysis is drawn upon to empirically show, for example, that low social status leads to elevated levels of stress hormones, and how rates of anxiety, depression and addictions are intimately related to the inequality which makes that status paramount.

Wilkinson and Pickett describe how these responses to hierarchies evolved, and why the impacts of inequality on us are so severe. In doing so, they challenge the conception that humans are inescapably competitive and self-interested. They undermine, too, the idea that inequality is the product of "natural" differences in individual ability. This book draws together many of the most urgent problems facing societies today, but it is not just an index of our ills. It demonstrates that societies based on fundamental equalities, sharing and reciprocity generate much higher levels of well-being, and lays out the path towards them.
In Baltimore's inner-city neighborhood of Upton/Druid Heights, a man's life expectancy is sixty-three; not far away, in the Greater Roland Park/Poplar neighborhood, life expectancy is eighty-three. The same twenty-year avoidable disparity exists in the Calton and Lenzie neighborhoods of Glasgow, and in other cities around the world.

In Sierra Leone, one in 21 fifteen-year-old women will die in her fertile years of a maternal-related cause; in Italy, the figure is one in 17,100; but in the United States, which spends more on healthcare than any other country in the world, it is one in 1,800 (and now, with the new administration chipping away at Obamacare, the statistics stand to grow even more devastating). Why?

Dramatic differences in health are not a simple matter of rich and poor; poverty alone doesn't drive ill health, but inequality does. Indeed, suicide, heart disease, lung disease, obesity, and diabetes, for example, are all linked to social disadvantage. In every country, people at relative social disadvantage suffer health disadvantage and shorter lives. Within countries, the higher the social status of individuals, the better their health. These health inequalities defy the usual explanations. Conventional approaches to improving health have emphasized access to technical solutions and changes in the behavior of individuals, but these methods only go so far. What really makes a difference is creating the conditions for people to have control over their lives, to have the power to live as they want. Empowerment is the key to reducing health inequality and thereby improving the health of everyone. Marmot emphasizes that the rate of illness of a society as a whole determines how well it functions; the greater the health inequity, the greater the dysfunction.

Marmot underscores that we have the tools and resources materially to improve levels of health for individuals and societies around the world, and that to not do so would be a form of injustice. Citing powerful examples and startling statistics (“young men in the U.S. have less chance of surviving to sixty than young men in forty-nine other countries”), The Health Gap presents compelling evidence for a radical change in the way we think about health and indeed society, and inspires us to address the societal imbalances in power, money, and resources that work against health equity.
A groundbreaking work that identifies the real culprit behind one of the great economic crimes of our time— the growing inequality of incomes between the vast majority of Americans and the richest of the rich.

We all know that the very rich have gotten a lot richer these past few decades while most Americans haven’t. In fact, the exorbitantly paid have continued to thrive during the current economic crisis, even as the rest of Americans have continued to fall behind. Why do the “haveit- alls” have so much more? And how have they managed to restructure the economy to reap the lion’s share of the gains and shift the costs of their new economic playground downward, tearing new holes in the safety net and saddling all of us with increased debt and risk? Lots of so-called experts claim to have solved this great mystery, but no one has really gotten to the bottom of it—until now.

In their lively and provocative Winner-Take-All Politics, renowned political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson demonstrate convincingly that the usual suspects—foreign trade and financial globalization, technological changes in the workplace, increased education at the top—are largely innocent of the charges against them. Instead, they indict an unlikely suspect and take us on an entertaining tour of the mountain of evidence against the culprit. The guilty party is American politics. Runaway inequality and the present economic crisis reflect what government has done to aid the rich and what it has not done to safeguard the interests of the middle class. The winner-take-all economy is primarily a result of winner-take-all politics.

In an innovative historical departure, Hacker and Pierson trace the rise of the winner-take-all economy back to the late 1970s when, under a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, a major transformation of American politics occurred. With big business and conservative ideologues organizing themselves to undo the regulations and progressive tax policies that had helped ensure a fair distribution of economic rewards, deregulation got under way, taxes were cut for the wealthiest, and business decisively defeated labor in Washington. And this transformation continued under Reagan and the Bushes as well as under Clinton, with both parties catering to the interests of those at the very top. Hacker and Pierson’s gripping narration of the epic battles waged during President Obama’s first two years in office reveals an unpleasant but catalyzing truth: winner-take-all politics, while under challenge, is still very much with us.

Winner-Take-All Politics—part revelatory history, part political analysis, part intellectual journey— shows how a political system that traditionally has been responsive to the interests of the middle class has been hijacked by the superrich. In doing so, it not only changes how we think about American politics, but also points the way to rebuilding a democracy that serves the interests of the many rather than just those of the wealthy few.
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