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Review: The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better 
17th-Jul-2010 10:43 am
The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do BetterThe Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Kate Pickett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thought provoking book, even if the experience of reading it is sometimes rather like being hit on the head by a series of linear regressions.

The authors have amassed an impressive amount of data showing that a whole variety of negative social outcomes (from poor health to crime to teenage pregnancy to depression) are fairly tightly correlated to the level of income inequality in a society. Correlation does not equal causation, as the authors admit. but the repeated correlations, plus the failure of other potential causes to create strong correlations, persuade me that inequality is a factor worth taking seriously. (For example, income inequality is a much stronger predictor of poor health outcomes than simple low income, even though it seems like it would be obvious that people who lack money to spend on healthcare would have poorer health outcomes.)

What sets this book apart from other books I've read on inequality is the extent to which it makes the case that inequality is bad for everybody: in unequal societies, even the people at the top experience worse outcomes than they would in more equal societies, although they're much better off than the people at the bottom. The authors hope that demonstrating this will increase political support for policies to address inequality. I wish them luck, although I think they will have a hard time convincing people, even with the evidence they've amassed.

One slightly annoying feature of the book is the approach the authors have chosen for presenting data - graph axes are frequently only labelled with indicators like "higher"/"lower" or "better"/"worse", and they don't generally present R-squared values or other measures of how well the line fits the data. I don't think that the authors are trying to pull a fast one here. They've made most of the data presented in the book available for download on their website (http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/), so it can be scrutinized by everyone. I think they were just trying to make a very data-heavy book palatable to a general, non-number-crunching audience. While it's probably a wise choice, I kind of wish they'd made a nerd version available with all the numbers in it.

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17th-Jul-2010 09:52 pm (UTC)
That has to go on my list of worst titles I've ever seen. Wow.
18th-Jul-2010 02:02 am (UTC)
It is a weird choice for a title, isn't it?
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