Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009) The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone.

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A good week for me. I’ve moved up the alphabet from arsehole to author. There was brouhaha over the other side of the Atlantic over plagiarism. You may not have noticed, but I’m attuned to these social markers. Donald Trump’s second or third wife (who is doing the counting and who really cares) in a speech supporting her husband’s suitability to lead not just the Republican party, but the American nation as President, began her speech with something familiar and along the lines of: I was brought up believing if I worked hard and done the right things I would be rewarded. Now here’s a quiz question for you, who was the female Trumpeter accused of copying i) Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Little House on the Prairie fame. ii) Michelle Obama, of the big White House fame, or iii) any number of rich plutocrats who all come out with the same line of sophistry and smug self-justification? Imagine a world in which one of our leading citizens stood up and proclaimed: I worked hard at being a virgin and the audience stood up and gave her (or indeed him, in these transgender times) a standing ovation and shouted, well done, Mary! The problem with The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone isn’t that it doesn’t prove the case, that equality really is better, for rich and for poor, but paradoxically, only those that already believe that is the case would pick up this book and read it. You can be very sure that if President in waiting Donald Trump, did for a moment realize that there was such things as books, this wouldn’t be on his reading list and none of his scriptwriters or sycophants would think to nudge it in his or his wife’s direction.

Thomas Hobbes’ health-check spreadsheet can be applied here. Nasty, brutish and short and oh, yeh, fat and possibly pregnant too. Sounds like a school lesson, which it is. How to read a graph lies within the first few pages. Simple. The poor people live down there and the rich people live up there, separated by white space. There is much less of them and much more of us. But they make so much noise you wouldn’t think so. They live longer and have much better quality of lives and they start to believe their own lies. This book is a riposte to that. We have a choice typically from a menu that read: education or more prisons? Black lives don’t matter. Neither do white, working class. Neither do the poor, generally. We Brits are following the American model and building more of the latter. Recycling poverty and deprivation and the same old gang profiting from the poor.  David Cameron, we are all in this together, the sick man of Brexit Britain.

Marie Antoinette’s cry of let them eat cake finds a peculiar but familiar resonance and startled tone in Cameron’s letter to a Ian Hudspeth a Cambridge and Conservative councillor and politician advising him not to shut day-care centres for the elderly and to find other local-authority services to cut elsewhere. We do indeed live in different worlds that never meet. The sting in the tail is that in more unequal societies, not only do the poor not live longer, but neither do the rich. Their health and quality of life also suffers with a particular spike in the increase in mental illness, which the rich are not immune from. One of the last bastions of the Health Service where the rich and poor meet is in Mental Health services. Try it. Go along to your local clinic, listen to the different accents and laugh yourself stupid trying to book a hospital bed.

There is also the background hum of an apocalyptic tone to The Spirit Level. 30th June, 1916, one and a half million shells had been lobbed into a patch of ground near the river Somme. British soldiers were told not to hurry. A simple mopping up operation. 24th August 2016, the four horseman of the apocalypse are on their horses and waiting to visit. Read the small print of global warming. No water. No food. Tens, possibly hundreds, of millions of refugees on the march. This book was published in 2009. How we deal with the problem of making a fairer society and a fairer world, doesn’t just affect the rich or just the poor, we really are all in it together. But we can pay the price now, or pay it later. With bitter add ons. And it’s going to be as pretty as that stroll along the river Somme, one-hundred years ago. Wilkinson and Pickett don’t offer a blueprint, but they do point us in the right direction. All yea that enter here are doomed. Ignore it at your peril. You really can’t have your cake, no matter how rich, and eat it.

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