Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Great Divergence - Part III

In parts I and II Panderbear discussed the causes of and cures for the Great Divergence, the steady 30-year growth in income disparity in the U.S. But why should we care about income divergence? What's wrong with large income disparities? In his 2009 book, The Spirit Level, and in his July 2011 TED talk, How Economic Inequality Harms Societies, Richard G. Wilkinson, Professor Emeritus of social epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, addresses the question of why extreme income inequality should be avoided.

The graph plots an index of health and social problems based upon life expectancy, math and literacy scores, infant mortality, homicides, imprisonment, teenage pregnancies, trust, obesity, mental illness, alcohol and drug addiction, and social mobility for 1st world countries versus income inequality.

U. S. Income Inequality Worsens Health and Social Problems

The obvious takeaway is that increasing income inequality correlates strongly with increasing health and social problems. People are happier and healthier in countries where income disparity is lower. Another rather shocking fact is that the U.S. is an outlier and not in a good way. Of all the countries plotted the U.S. has by far the highest income inequality and the worst index of health and social problems.

Unless Americans soundly reject Republican economic policies that cause rising income divergence, we can expect unhappier times ahead. As Wilkinson wryly put it, "If Americans want to live the American Dream, they should move to Denmark."

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