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   The Spirit Level
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
23 Nov 2010

Bridge those gaps

Epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have gone under the skin to diagnose the disease that plagues the modern society. Crime is on the rise; mistrust amongst people is increasing; health is deteriorating by the day and self-esteem is at its lowest. Far from curtailing such trends, economic growth is indeed fuelling it further.

Sample this: America, one of the world's richest nations, has the lowest longevity and a high level of violence - murder, in particular. Add to it a growing mistrust amongst people and an increasing number of teenage pregnancies to get a picture of economic growth that belittles health and happiness of its people. Yet, economic growth is pursued as an antidote to social ills.

We know there is something wrong, and this book goes a long way towards explaining what and why. Pulling information from as much as 200 sets of data, the authors conclude that inequality is at the root of social crises. Inequality not only causes shorter, unhealthier and unhappier lives but destroys relationships between individuals born in the same society but into different classes.

The scale of economic inequality which exists today is less an expression of freedom and democracy as of their denial. If the cooperation of the masses was thought to be essential, the State would have reduced inequalities and flattened the pyramid of social stratification. But to persist with it seems deliberate, as it continues to generate illusion of hope in the State.

It is brave to write a book that questions the premise of economic growth. The speculative element in the cycles of economic boom and bust shift attention from environmental and social problems and make us worry about ‘how to get the economy moving again’. Whereas, in reality, reducing inequality would only make the economic system more stable.

Calling for our generation to make one of the biggest transformations in human history, The Spirit Level leaves on a note of optimism: ‘Greater equality will help us rein in consumerism and ease the introduction of policies to tackle global warming’. Unless progressive politics strengthen the concept of an equal society it will rarely provoke more than a yawn.

Anyone who believes that society is the result of what we do, rather than who we are, should read this book. Wilkinson and Pickett have backed their thesis with inarguable battery of evidence that ends with one of the simplest conclusion: we do better when we're equal.

The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Always Do Better
by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett; Penguin, London, 352 pages, $ 28

 Other books reviewed by Dr Sudhirendar Sharma
Features > Book Shelf
Spoiling Tibet
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

A Journey in the Future of Water
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Yamuna Manifesto
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

Lead View
People, Partition and the Pain
By Rina Mukherji
15 Aug 2013

Dr Jayanti Basu's book analyzes the complex feelings of hatred and longing for the homeland that have contributed to shaping the personalities of a generation of people who were forced to ..
Book Shelf

Yamuna Manifesto

A Journey in the Future of Water

Spoiling Tibet

On Western Terrorism
Devinder Sharma
Carmen Miranda
Pandurang Hegde
Sudhirendar Sharma
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