The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better was one of the most influential books in policy circles last year.
It struck a chord across the political divide as tough times turned minds to a re-evaluation of economic and social policy in the quest for a fairer distribution of wealth and well-being.
The Spirit Level argued that inequality is not just bad for those at the bottom of the social ladder but affects everyone across the board. Among the rich countries of the world, states with less inequality in incomes perform better on a broad range of social indicators. The authors Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson supported their claim with evidence on a range of indicators such as life expectancy, reported happiness, obesity, teenage pregnancy, drug use and the incidence of violence. They argued that, far from pursuing ever greater per capita GDP, countries should concentrate on reducing the gap between the richest and poorest in their societies.
But a recent report by the think-tank Policy Exchange - Beware False Prophets - has raised concerns over the Spirit Level’s statistical methods and evidential underpinning. The author Peter Saunders argues that The Spirit Level’s conclusions are not based on general observations that hold broadly true across the countries studied, but depend on outlying countries, or small clusters of like-minded countries, skewing trends.
The RSA bring together Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson with Peter Saunders and Christopher Snowden to debate the methodology and conclusions of The Spirit Level and to ask: can egalitarianism be “scientifically” justified, and can we bridge ideological divides to agree policies for achieving fairer, healthier, happier societies?
Speakers: Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, co-authors of The Spirit Level; Peter Saunders, author of the Policy Exchange report Beware False Prophets: Equality, the Good Society and The Spirit Level and Christopher Snowden, author of The Spirit Level Delusion.
Chair: Matthew Taylor, chief executive, RSA
Suggested hashtag for Twitter users: #rsaspiritlevel
Download the Report
Beware False Prophets. Equality, the Good Society and The Spirit Level
Peter Saunders (Policy Exchange Report, 2010)
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