In 2009 two epidemiologists (Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett) published a book, The Spirit Level, in which they claim that "more equal" countries are "better" in a host of different ways (infant mortality, prison population, etc etc) than "less equal" countries. "More equal" means that the difference in wealth between the richest and the poorest is less. Of course, they had to eliminate from their study all really poor countries – where everything is "worse".
The obvious conclusion we ought to draw is that wealth is good and absolute poverty is bad. These two, however, are obsessed with the idea that it is relative poverty which is bad. They think that the trauma of observing that, although I have enough to eat, keep warm and dry and can even afford holidays, Richard Branson's fortune is many thousands of times greater than mine will actually shorten my life expectancy.
Their methodology (and their conclusions) have been comprehensively destroyed in another book, The Spirit Level Delusion, by Christopher Snowdon. He shows how shoddy their statistics are. As damning, in my not-very-humble opinion, was the rapturous reception accorded to W&P's book by Polly Toynbee and Ken Livingstone.
I am not going to go into detail. It is unnecessary to destroy them again. If you are interested, both books are readily available.
I am concerned about the mean-spiritedness of W&P's whole project. It seems to me that you could sum up their attitude by saying that I will be happier if Branson is poorer, even though I am not a penny richer. To write a book to support such a pusillanimous mindset is really nasty. It insults me, for a start. To suggest that society should be organised in such a way that nobody can become (even through his own brilliance and energy) really really wealthy is to elevate Envy to a virtue. Traditional Wisdom tells us that Envy is a Deadly Sin.
I once read a dystopian short story in which the likes of W&P were in charge. The main character was a man of superior intellect. The state had mandated that he wear a head-piece which, at random intervals, subjected him to loud bursts of discordant noise. This meant that he was never able to think clearly about anything. A triumph of levelling!
Here's another idea: David Beckham's bootlaces should be tied together; Frank Sinatra's mouth should be stuffed with cotton wool. It's not another idea – it's W&P's idea.
It is a bone-headed idea. It is cultural and economic suicide dressed up to look like an idea.
Years ago my company ran some seminars on the then-new phenomenon of the internet. One of those attending one of the seminars objected to the whole phenomenon on the grounds that the well-to-do would be better placed to take advantage of it than, for example, the unemployed. Where do you begin to argue with such people? What would they have said to Henry Ford's mass-production of Model-As and Model-Ts? "These cars are unaffordable by the ordinary working man." In less than a generation ordinary working people were happily driving mass-produced cars in every neighbourhood in America.
The first hip-replacements could only be afforded by the wealthy. They were, by today's standards, primitive. The wealthy were the guinea-pigs!
A recent radio programme featured a contributor who "explained" the recent rioting and looting by saying that the perpetrators were driven to it by being told by the media that they were "worthless" because they didn't have this or that luxury. If I loot because Branson has a yacht, I am a scum-bag. If you excuse me, you are not much better.