Saturday, April 24, 2010

Paltry Conservative attacks on the science of social equality

I have been debating green economics with a libertarian (Nikhil) on the Tory Attack post. I'd rather be debating with a Conservative Party economist, but the libertarian seems to be a reasonable proxy for their position.

The critical issue of difference is over the evidence that more equal societies are more healthy societies.

Nikhil points me to this "refutation" of the Spirit Level by exiled UKIP (or possibly ex-UKIP, they seem to have a short residence time) blogger Tim Worstall.

His arguments:
1 In three cases, social hierarchies, not economic hierarchies, cause the problems.
This relies on the doubtful assumption that economic status does not affect social status.

2 Some races are more egalitarian than others. Swedes are an egalitarian race, Brits are not. So Swedes  are a more egalitarian and happy society, and incidentally accept the taxation rates that allow economic reality.


To be fair, Worstall adds: "I don't insist that this is true of course, merely propose it as an alternative explanation."
Er, yes, exactly, Tim.

3 Even if we made Britain more equitable, British class structure would still keep us in our present position of misery, so there's no point in trying.

Blimey again. 
Is this the best they can do, in dealing with a whole succession of strong scientific evidence showing a positive correlation between inequality and social breakdown? He advances a couple of wild guesses, and thinks that is sufficient to negate years of patient scientific work. He does not have to design and work on experiments to test his hypotheses.

A second right-wing think tank blog challenges the evidence for a link between life expectancy and inequality beyond the 5% level of statistical significance. Using methods that are eerily reminiscent of climate change deniers, the "Super-Economy" site infers from one case that the whole Spirit Level case is dismissed.

I will not divert into the intricacies of this here and now, but just point out that even if there should prove to be no correlation between life expectancy, "infant mortality, low birth weight and self-rated health have repeatedly been shown to be worse in more unequal societies". (Kate Pickett).

So the Conservatives think-tanks are going to have to get busy, nit-picking the entire body of evidence that Wilkinson and Pickett have assembled. Sadly, they have the resources to do it, and the media outlets and contacts to megaphone their opinions on the matter.

In the meantime, it is the job of serious politicians to work on the problem of creating a more equitable economy and society.

1 comment:

David Cox said...

'Some races are more egalitarian than others' doubt it, possibly cultures ergo Japan.

The Spirit Level is specific in not offering a ideology to create a more equal society. What Conservatives don’t seem to get, is a more equal society doesn’t need to be a scary totalitarian ‘Soviet Republic’ or anti-business. Surely if Conservatives look into their own traditions of ‘One Nation’ they can incorporate a more equal society into their policy .
Denmark like the UK is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government. Denmark like the UK has been a member of the EU since 1973, and like the UK it has not joined the Euro. Denmark like the UK is a founding member of NATO. Denmark, like the UK has, what is best described as a mixed market (capitalist) economy and a slightly larger welfare state – yet dispite the fact Denmark spends approximately the same proportion of GNP on health it achieves much better out comes then the NHS – I think we all know why.
But Denmark ranks as having the world's highest level of income equality, whereas the UK has one of the worst of ‘rich western nations’. This equality has not hampered business, on the contrary Denmark has the best business climate in the world, according to the U.S. business magazine Forbes.
Denmark has been ranked as the best place to do business and "the happiest place in the world," based on standards of health, welfare, and education. A 2009 Global Peace Survey ranked Denmark as the second most peaceful country in the world. Denmark was ranked with Sweden and New Zealand as the least corrupt country in the world in the 2008.
A more equal society uses public money more effectively, is business and innovation friendly, and does not require gulags!