» Something completely different «

Something completely different” is a new feature on War in Context where you can expect to find items that have little or nothing to do with the Middle East or the United States’ imperial misadventures.

Why greater equality makes societies stronger
Nicholas Kristoff writes:

John Steinbeck observed that “a sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.”

That insight, now confirmed by epidemiological studies, is worth bearing in mind at a time of such polarizing inequality that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans possess a greater collective net worth than the bottom 90 percent.

There’s growing evidence that the toll of our stunning inequality is not just economic but also is a melancholy of the soul. The upshot appears to be high rates of violent crime, high narcotics use, high teenage birthrates and even high rates of heart disease.

That’s the argument of an important book by two distinguished British epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. They argue that gross inequality tears at the human psyche, creating anxiety, distrust and an array of mental and physical ailments — and they cite mountains of data to support their argument.

“If you fail to avoid high inequality, you will need more prisons and more police,” they assert. “You will have to deal with higher rates of mental illness, drug abuse and every other kind of problem.” They explore these issues in their book, “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.”

The heart of their argument is that humans are social animals and that in highly unequal societies those at the bottom suffer from a range of pathologies. For example, a long-term study of British civil servants found that messengers, doormen and others with low status were much more likely to die of heart disease, suicide and some cancers and had substantially worse overall health.

There’s similar evidence from other primates. For example, macaque monkeys are also highly social animals, and scientists put them in cages and taught them how to push a lever so that they could get cocaine. Those at the bottom of the monkey hierarchy took much more cocaine than high-status monkeys.

Other experiments found that low-status monkeys suffered physical problems, including atherosclerosis in their arteries and an increase in abdominal fat. And as with monkeys, so with humans. Researchers have found that when people become unemployed or suffer economic setbacks, they gain weight. One 12-year study of American men found that when their income slipped, they gained an average of 5.5 pounds.

The correlation is strong around the world between countries with greater inequality and greater drug use. Paradoxically, countries with more relaxed narcotics laws, like the Netherlands, have relatively low domestic drug use — perhaps because they are more egalitarian.

Professors Wilkinson and Pickett crunch the numbers and show that the same relationship holds true for a range of social problems. Among rich countries, those that are more unequal appear to have more mental illness, infant mortality, obesity, high school dropouts, teenage births, homicides, and so on.

They find the same thing is true among the 50 American states. More unequal states, like Mississippi and Louisiana, do poorly by these social measures. More equal states, like New Hampshire and Minnesota, do far better.

So why is inequality so harmful? “The Spirit Level” suggests that inequality undermines social trust and community life, corroding societies as a whole. It also suggests that humans, as social beings, become stressed when they find themselves at the bottom of a hierarchy. [Continue reading.]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

6 thoughts on “» Something completely different «

  1. Ian Arbuckle

    Don’t you see an equal society is were we are all heading thanks to our wise leaders. O’k so 0.5 % become remain supper wealthy billionaires, but that doesn’t count. We won’t even have to see them in their securitized, gated, communities on some Caribbean or Mediterranean islands.

    Obama and his administration, and chancellors, presidents and prime ministers of Europe are arranging just that. Systematically gutting the economy of America and Europe and the rest of the world, transferring the wealth from the pour and middle classes to the few extremely wealthy and then we, the 99.5%, all land up equal at the bottom.

    So then we will be happy, and healthy, not suicidal like we are now with all the stress. No competition, no money no place to go. Just like they say, no need for prisons, no more druggies, no more corruption, no crime, no need for violence, why we won’t even need police, even if we could afford them……

    Ya, sure thing! Why didn’t I think of that?

  2. Norman

    This story, links to the NYT, which require one to sign in each time to continue the read, which is a distraction to the story. I find that it makes no difference what blog I come from, that links to the NYT’s articles, each time requires a sign in. I have my sign in there, but, it’s an annoyance to have to do it for each different blog linking to them. I’ve tried to get a response from the NYT’s, but for what ever reason, they don’t respond. This started in December, so it’s something new. I also experience it when they send me their daily tease. They know who I am, otherwise they wouldn’t send me the dailies. I suppose the NYT’s are following the other papers/blogs in requiring such, though as I say, it’s an annoyance. I guess this is the end of the free internet. They lose readership in the newspaper editions they sell on the street, so now want to charge for their online reads. I understand the costs & time these blogs require, but even though they state they don’t use/sell ones E-Mail address, they do. So, I suppose this is one way to impose censorship without stating so. The price to pay, for living in a free society!

  3. Norman

    I notice that your something different is in the new stories. So, I take it that you don’t want the kind of feed back that you have been receiving. I’m sure you have your reasons, but beyond your tag line, it really doesn’t say much. Perhaps you might elaborate in a more telling way? The methods being used are a distraction to the story, whether by design or otherwise.

  4. BillVZ

    Norman it is ‘No ‘blip’

    I have for years been ‘signed’ in or on with the NYT –‘welcome Bill’ on the top of the browser.Then this year whenever I tried to forward one of their articles ‘Email’ it took several attempts to accomplish. Finally my user name and password were required –after so many years my password was not even a memory. ‘Forget your password”? This helpful link was a complete bust over over-time and again. I no longer get a “welcome Bill” on the browser and have eliminated going directly to the NYT time site. I get the Email Times afternoon up date and book reviews via Yahoo mail.
    How sad –there are so many items of interest other than their ‘news’ that are no longer open for me.

Comments are closed.