Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Spirit Level: get one now, and get busy sorting out Broken Britain.

Inequality, the Rich-Poor Gap (RPG), is a weapon of mass destruction aimed at the heart of civil society.

In their book The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrate with good, hard statistical evidence that countries with greater divergence between rich and poor have worse outcomes for social and medical problems than countries where the divergence between rich and poor is not so wide. The Spirit Level is a seminal book, a standard that can draw all progressives together. It is evidence based, solid scientific evidence, evidence that appears as pictures, and so is accessible to ordinary people. It is also an easy book to read. 

It is very clear that to ameliorate a whole slew of social and medical problems (I nearly said "all", but that would seem too good to be true), we need to reduce the RPG.  

Here is a list of problems associated with increased inequality:

  • Mental illness
  • Poor child health, infant mortality
  • Poor educational performance
  • Obesity
  • Teenage pregnancy
  • Drug abuse
  • Poor social mobility
  • Low levels of community trust
  • Violence and homicide
  • Imprisonment rates

    All worse in unequal societies. 

So the question is, how do we achieve greater equality in a society?  Your average politician will come back with "Progressive Taxation". Well, OK. Except it doesn't work on its own. We are dealing with a system here, and systems require multiple inputs.

Here is my start-up list,
off the top of my head, and in no particular order.

1 Citizen's Income, introduced by means of the Green Wage Subsidy.
2 Community spaces and community workers.
3 Government issued Quantitative Easing-type grants, zero- or low-interest loans to sound investment projects for the Green New Deal.
4 Progressive taxation
5 Robin Hood Transaction Taxes
6 Close tax loopholes used by rich individuals and corporations
7 Abolish tax havens.
8 End the monopoly of banks on money creation
9 Internalise all environmental and social costs caused by multinationals (that is, make them pay for the damage they cause)
10 Put a legal limit on the ratio between the pay of the best and worst paid employees that a company may pay.
11 Tradeable Carbon Quotas

Adam Ramsey suggests these measures also:
11) breaking up the banks (starting with the publicly owned RBS, mutualising the retail functions (giving everyone in the UK a share), and turning the project finance asset finance sections into publicly owned green/social investment banks.

12) change public procurement to processes to count co-operative/mutual ownership as a social good under the 2003 EU public procurement directive, and build consideration of this into the public procurement rules.

13) End the private finance initiative, and replace it with models of public public partnership similar to that used by Stockholm water, where public assets are owned through a combination of the municipality, the users, and the state.

14) introduce tougher monopoly laws, breaking up the major supermarkets and other monopolistic companies.

15) Extend the Land Reform (Scotland) act to the whole of the UK, including urban areas, granting communities the right to buy potential community assets.

I'm not absolutely convinced at first glance that these will all directly increase equality, but it is better to be inclusive than exclusive.

The key change would be to take away from the corporations their monopoly to create new money, and to assert the right of the people, through the Bank of England, to issue money to projects that will produce renewable energy.

Any more?

Add a comment if you think I have left something out.
More important - buy and read the book. And Join the Equality Trust.

Maybe it is because of the Spirit Level that three of the four main political parties in Britain have "fairness" in their election slogan. The Fourth, the one that doesn't have "fairness" as a slogan is of course the Conservatives, prefer vacuity, but even they have spoken of Broken Britain. So they know there is something wrong, but they are unaware of the Spirit Level, or if they are, it is unacceptable to their corporate sponsors, so they are waiting until a free market solution to inequality shows up. Be a long wait. 

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