The Endless Reach of Inequality Edition

Hello to all and thanks for checking in.

I know I tell you that every hub will be incredibly interesting and a must read. I was lying all of those other times. But, today’s post, is truly a must-see/ read. Before we get started, I should mention that this post is sponsored by Prozac. This will be a rough one. I regularly read about income inequality in this country (and others). During the week, I stumbled upon research from 2 professors, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Their research appeared within a book called “The Spirit Level.” I haven’t had an opportunity to read it yet. I have read 5 reviews and synopses that sum up their findings and it’s pretty stunning. You can see those 5 reviews here (about 10 pages, 2 pages per review, so not too long). They even went into looking at the USA more closely on a state by state level to see if data held up. That’s coming up at the end. Pretty surprising as well.

The thesis of their book is that income inequality is the single root cause of every social problem in developed counties. This includes: reduced life expectancy, child mortality, drugs, crime, homicide rates, mental illness and obesity. When you take a look at this chart (clear version here), you see that the US has the worse rating for inequality. We also have the highest percentage of people with any mental illness. They argued that even the rich are harmed in countries where the inequality is high. It is something that filters into all income levels. For instance, they state that in a unequal society, the rich have more of a fear of the poor. Those lower down on the income scale even experience status anxiety. (Quick aside, there was a separate study done on something called “Last Place Aversion” that goes to this idea of status anxiety, and deserves a separate post. Stay tuned for that.)

In this state of status anxiety, they have a bitterness towards the more successful and look upon themselves with a degree of shame. Wilkinson and Pickett even look at this biologically/ scientifically, showing that inequality increases stress across all of society. Apparently, there has been detailed research done on the stress hormone cortisol. Basically, this increased level of cortisol from stress affects the neural system and then the immune system. And, when stressed, we are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and are opened up to so many other ailments. Like I said, it’s really interesting. I can not do it justice here. If you get the chance, check out the link I embedded, with the 5 reviews, or even the book. But, here are some quick stats I saw within the reviews that jumped out at me.

The findings included:

– In England, (2nd worse, in the chart above) in 2005, doctors wrote 29 million prescriptions for antidepressants, costing 400 million GBP (about 600 Million US Dollars today). England has a population of around 55 million people.

– In general, rates of mental illness are five times higher across the whole population in the most unequal societies, compared to more equal ones.

– Citizens in America live 4.5 years less than their counterparts in Japan.

– Obesity is twice as common in the UK as in the more equal societies of Sweden and Norway.

– Teenage birth rates are 6 times higher in the UK, compared to more equal societies.

– Mental illness is 3 times more common in the USA over Japan. And, murder rates are also 3 times higher when you compare equal and unequal societies.

The list goes on and on. Wilkinson and Pickett did a wonderful job digging so much deeper into the data. They wondered if the numbers held if you mined the data within a homogeneous culture (like within the US states).

At the state level, within the United States, the findings were similar. American states with large income inequality are likelier to keep the death penalty. They are also more likely to hand out long sentences for minor crimes. For instance, California (pretty high up on the income inequality measure) in 2004, had 360 people serving life sentences for shoplifting. In what world does this make sense? In Japan, a small percentage of their citizens are jailed. They also express more of a desire to reform the offender.

Since 1984, California has built one new college and 21 new prisons. And, if you take a close look at the chart above, you see the poorest states in the country (LA, MS, TX, AL) ranking the highest in inequality and social problems as well.  So, their thesis held up when looking within a single country. And, a few of these states are pretty hawkish on the death penalty as well, namely Texas. Texas has executed 234 people while Rick Perry has been Governor alone (since December 2000). To put that number into context, California has used the death penalty just 13 times since 1976.

Tangent time! Here is a 1.5 million dollar limousine. Here are it’s other details/ specs. You’re probably wondering what does it have to do with this post. In a strange way, it does fit. When you look at the specs of the limousine, you see the stress some folks might experience (in an unequal society). This limo can withstand gunshots for 24 hrs consecutively (what?!?), protects against bomb blasts, has night vision cameras, an emergency oxygen survival system and a lot more.

I do understand that it is for rich folks living in some really rough places. But, in those rough places, inequality does rule. If you need a car that can take gunshots for a day, you’re probably somewhat stressed yourself. Here is the Gini Coefficient . It measures a country’s inequality. Take a look at the list. The higher the number, the worse the inequality. When you see the worse-ranked countries, you’ll think, “yup, that’s a place where you need a bomb-proof limo.”

We’ll leave it there for today. Whew, that was a tough one.  Deepest apologies, I had nothing to make the bad news go down easier.

See you next time,