Why is Peace Hub focussing on Economic Equality in this time of austerity? Does Equality really make society better? We investigate:
If you add up all the money that is spent each ¼ year, you get a number economists call Gross Domestic Product (GDP). When GDP increases from one ¼ year to the next, this is ‘economic growth’. For the last 35 years, politicians have believed that economic growth is the most important thing they can achieve. The logic goes that if people are earning money and spending it, this will be reflected in higher GDP; and that circulating money around the economy in this way is the best way to keep people happy, healthy and prosperous.
But, ultimately, GDP is just a number – there is no guarantee that it will correlate to the things we really care about: such as health, education and quality of life. In fact, when epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett investigated these ‘real-world’ outcomes they found that for rich countries, growth didn’t make these things better. Instead, their data suggested that the most important way to improve society was equality. And more equal societies don’t just improve these outcomes for the poorest: they benefit everyone. You can read about these findings in detail in their book ‘The Spirit Level’.
As Richard & Kate neatly summarise:
“The Spirit Level shows that problems more common among the least well off are worse in societies with bigger income differences. It shows that for each of eleven different health and social problems: physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies, and child well-being, outcomes are significantly worse in more unequal rich countries.
In rich countries, a smaller gap between rich and poor means a happier, healthier, and more successful population. Just look at the US, the UK, Portugal, and New Zealand, doing much worse than Japan, Sweden or Norway. And it’s not just people in poorer communities who would do better. The evidence suggests people all the way up would benefit, although it’s true that the poorest would gain the most. Meanwhile, more economic growth will NOT lead to a happier, healthier, or more successful population. In fact, there is no relation.”
So when we are told that austerity is essential to keep the country afloat, or that we need to give concessions to big business and rich individuals to drive growth, the evidence doesn’t back this up. Instead, at Peace Hub we believe that we need to approach social problems with a spirit of loving kindness, to really tackle their causes. That’s why Peace Hub is taking action for Economic Equality – and you can join us throughout September & October.