Greg Curtis's Reviews > The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better

The Spirit Level by Richard G. Wilkinson
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Aug 27, 2011

it was amazing

This is a fascinating book that turns the world of economics upsidedown, based on the insights of epidemiology. This is not an economics book. It is a book about a disease, inequality, and its effects on society. In the same way that epidemiologists can use their statistical analyses to investigate the course of a disease and find outcomes and sources, they can apply them to the general human condition, and link it back to the source, inequality. As an epidemiologist myself I found this fascinating.

The key point in this book is not that greater wealth and / or greater poverty are the source of human suffering as many would believe, but rather that it is the gap between the rich and the poor that is most telling. Granted poverty is a disaster, but so it seems is inequality.

The idea behind this is that inequality feeds directly into a variety of social determinants of health and well being. Greater inequality leads to things such as rates of imprisonment, educational achievement, social cohesion, life expectency and so many more.

For me the most interesting part is relating the findings of this book to my own experience as a New Zealander, living through the last three decades where we have progressively moved from an egalitarian society to a moneytarist one, and seeing all of the ills the authors have linked to increasing inequality, happening here. I would imagine that for anyone else reading this book and living in one of the more developed countries in the world, the same will be true.

I applaud the authors of this book for their detailed analysis of a worldwide epidemic, and for having the courage to set it all down in book form. If there is a weakness in the book,it is simply that some of the data behind the conclusions is not adequately displayed, but having said that, this is a book for the majority of people to read. An extra twenty volumes of tables, statistical analyses and data would probably not add to the clarity of the message or change the findings.

I recommend that everyone, but most especially any budding economists, keep a copy of this book on their shelves as a reference work, and use it whenever they consider the advantages of any particular economic intervention.

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