Some “unequal societies” may have greater Gross Domestic Products than other materially poorer countires but significant and growing inequality is no recipe for real riches. Inequality tends to be the mother of troubled and less happy communities and individuals.
Ironically it is not just the poor who suffer from ill health in societies where there are the largest disparities between rich and poor. The poor may not do well because they cannot afford good healthcare or are denied access to medicine. The rich in such counties also tend to suffer from poorer health and die younger than their peers in more equal societies.
Countries where there is greater equality of income tend to have more national desirable indicators like fewer social problems, a smaller percentage of the population in prison and a more literate society.
Worryingly, as the below link to the Guardian inequlity article (inequality .PDF of a centre spread from the newspaper) shows, the UK has been rapidly climbing up the unequal society ladder since the dawn of the Thatcher era. (The slightly more recent Economist article suggests this may be steadying in the recession). How can we reverse this trend and universally benefit from being a more equal society without losing the seeds of the spirit of enterprise that Thatcher planted. Other countries, just as enterprising as Britain, are much higher up the equality league and benefit accordingly. How can we reverse the trend of the last thrity years aand emulate them? Bhutan has “Gross National Happiness” as a measure of national progress instead of GDP. May be we do not need to go that far but we need to work out how we can re-establish a more equal society to ensure a better quality of life and living for all. Who is going to give a lead?
Running in parallel with an increased UK inequality gap has been a decrease in social mobility. (See link to Sutton Report on social mobility within the generations in Western economies.) May be there are some common causes to the both British malaises? The baby boomers generation benefited from post war improvements in equality and social mobility. They may no longer form the economic powerhouse of the country but they could be much more of force for social good if only they stirred themselves. They have the intelligence, the worldly experience and the time. Too many of them are to be found in a constantly decelerating mode indulging themselves in their favourite pastimes or blocking up the isles of our supermarkets as they seek retail therapy and a prolonged chat. This is the group that should be taking on the responsibility for devising and putting into action the plan that puts things right. Better them than the nanny state!. So here’s a call for the baby boomers to stir themselves and sort these problems out for the sake of their own children and grandchildren.
Economist – special report on the rich:
Economist Quality of Life Rankings - Sept 2007
Sutton Trust Intergenerational Mobility Report 2005
Economist - Social determinants of health article -February 2010 www.economist.com/world/britain/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15501633