Equality Means Everything

Every measure of social wellbeing depends on equality. Our increasing inequality is the reason for our declining social conditions.

Mental health, life expectancy, obesity, school performance, violence, teenage births, imprisonment, social mobility—just about everything is negatively affected by inequality. Improving social equality improves them all. Failing to improve equality prevents their improvement.

Every measure of social wellbeing depends on equality.

School performance is a good example. Over the past half century, various plans have been enacted to, in particular, improve the scholastic performance of low income students. All of them have had very limited success, because, we now know, the essential problem is inequality. The inequality of the social situation itself is responsible for poor scholastic performance, and a number of other social ills. Fix the inequality that is has become cemented into our national life, and school performance and all other social elements take care of themselves.

In other words, we can improve practically everything that ails us as a society by increasing equality. This comes as close to a real-live panacea as anything we’re likely to learn about.

Support for this unexpected idea can be found in many places (Inequality.org, Sociosite, the Russell Sage Foundation, and others), but the most comprehensive and convincing is The Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. This extraordinary book presents three decades of evidence from readily available data published by large public agencies, that links all the socially good things we hope for to simple equality.

As we all know, correlation does not mean causation, but in places where causation can be determined, equality causes social improvement. Some countries purposely improved equality, which in turn improved everything else. In all cases, nothing else can explain the effect.

Fix the inequality and
every other social measure will also improve.

High school dropouts are more frequent in more unequal states. Same with childhood obesity. Infant mortality is higher in more unequal states and more unequal countries. Life expectancy is lower in more unequal countries. On and on. And none of this has much to do with national income. The deciding factor is inequality itself.

What does this mean for American politics?

It means what we all feel in our bones. Everything that has happened in the past four decades or so has increased inequality, and has made everybody worse off. Those at the low end of the income scale cannot survive on what they are paid for exhausting, full time work. The answer is deceptively simple: Fix the inequality and every other social measure will also improve.

Now, how to do that.


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