« Limits of social mobility | Main | Welfare benefits & unemployment »

August 28, 2010


Tim Worstall

"One is that it is inequalities of power that matter, not (just) income - though the two are of course correlated."

That's one of the problems I've had with the book, mostly to do with their treatment of Japan.

"They say that “greater inequality seems to heighten people’s social evaluation anxieties by increasing the importance of social status.” The result is a “threatened egotism”. If the anxieties this creates are directed inwards, they lead to ill-health, and if they are focussed outwards, the result is distrust and violence."

If we take that to be true then we have to take Japan as being a high inequality country. For social status differences are indeed large there.

Yet, in all of their graphs etc, Japan is taken as a low inequality country: because income inequality is low. But, as the example of Japan shows us, status inequality and income inequality are very much not the same thing.

And if they're right about it being that status stuff which produces the bad effects from the inequality...then Japan should show bad, not good, results for it is unequal in status. But it doesn't, so perhaps their supposition about the operative mechanism is wrong?

Or, as an alternative, perhaps different societies are too different to compare in this manner.....which leaves rather a hole in their entire approach.


Worth listening to Radio 4's More or Less interview with Kate Pickett.


She does herself no favours.

Luis Enrique

I can't help finding the "status stress" mechanism unconvincing. There are lots of more tangible factors that are correlated with equality, and perhaps other cultural correlates with implications for behaviour.


Have you seen "Super Economy"'s discussion of the spirit level? Haven't read the book, but his discussion seemed confined to a factual critique.



They also seem to have a much detailed critique elsewhere:

Luis Enrique

I can't help thinking there's something much simpler going on.

For example, think about the labour supply decision of people at the low end of the "employability" (skill) distribution, in highly unequal societies. How attractive are the jobs on offer to those people, relative to the jobs on offer to similar people in more equal societies? My guess is that in unequal societies, this group face lower-paid, less appealing jobs. Therefore (perhaps) a higher proportion of this group decide there's no point in keeping their noses clean and heads down to hold down a job, and are sufficiently more inclined to unhealthy and criminal behaviour to generate the statistical association between inequality and crime, health.

I don't propose the above with much confidence; I prefer explanations like that to status anxiety, which I just don't see as prevalent or powerful enough.

Luis Enrique

another more plausible (to my mind) possible mechanism is that more unequal societies feature greater concentrations of disadvantaged people, with negative consequences for education and peer group effects. If there are increasing negative returns to such things, then you'd get a correlation between inequality and bad things. It could also be that more unequal societies feature stronger assortative mating. Again, these strike me as more powerful explanations than status anxiety.


One more link.


john malpas

is not inequality and its resolution the reason why something called sport exists. Here it is called competition.It certainly raises [passions.

Joe Otten

If Wilkinson and Pickett are correct about status anxiety, perhaps teaching stoicism would be more effective than policies to tackle inequality.

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad