It turns out that reducing economic inequality can reduce a whole range of social problems, from teenage pregnancy and youth violence, to heart disease and depression.”
This is a quote from a recent article by Seattle Times columnist, Jerry Large. He goes on to say that this intuitively appealing idea is actually backed up by hard data, the research behind which is the subject of a new book, The Spirit Level, written by two British researchers, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
By including this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jerry reminds us that this notion of economic inequality negatively impacting everyone in a society is also not a new idea. I enjoy being reminded of great insights from our nation’s most inspired visionaries. On the other hand, it makes me sad that an idea that seems so obvious, and was articulated so powerfully more than 50 years ago, seems so absent in our day-to-day public discourse and societal priorities.
Thanks, Jerry, for bringing to my attention the research that puts data behind this idea and transforms it from compelling idea to compelling fact. Spread the word! As these British researchers have concluded after evaluating 30 years of research, as well as doing some of their own, we have squeezed all the quality of life improvements we can from pure economic growth. In business speak, we’re beyond the point of diminishing marginal returns.
It should surprise nobody that low-income people tend to have worse health problems, given the current state of unemployment, food insecurity, and the lack of affordable healthcare. But how many wealthier people would have believed that this had a direct impact on their own health? This is a powerful idea; that the more unequal a society becomes, the more unhealthy social consequences are increasingly born by all.
The article goes on to reference some of the research included in The Spirit Level, observing that, “In chart after chart and graph after graph, the U.S. is stuck at the end of the line where great income inequality meets poor social outcomes.”
We must dispel the myth of the meritocracy in the United States, which is used to preserve the status quo, and justify the increasingly large gap between the haves and the have-nots in our country. The gross implication of this mythology is that everyone has the same opportunities, or that the playing field is the same for everyone – so those who have more, earned it, and those who have less, deserve it.
The fact is that almost everyone works hard, but opportunities to parlay that hard work into material success are not equally accessible to all people. Now we have evidence that dispelling this myth is important, not only because it doesn’t feel good to see your neighbors struggling, or because it contributes to social injustice, but because our fates are intertwined far more than our mythology might have us believe.
Everyone is better off when economic disparities are minimized, and that’s a fact. It’s time to tap the abundance of American energy increasingly directed toward narrow interest group priorities, and channel it instead into reducing economic inequality, and as a consequence, better futures for everyone.