Global Crisis/Innovation Blog

Equal Societies are Stronger

By Shlomo Maital

The Spirit Level: Equal Societies are Stronger!


After protest movements swept across the Arab nations in the Mideast, they have now spread to Israel.  Some 100,000 young protesters gathered last Saturday night, in Israel’s major cities.   As in the Arab Spring, it is unclear what the young Israelis seek.  But reading between the lines and listening carefully, it becomes clear. They want a more equal, more fair, more just society. 

    Harvard Univ. economist John Kenneth Galbraith once write, “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy: that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness”.   Once an egalitarian society, Israel embraced raw capitalism, justified selfishness on grounds of efficiency and wealth – and its modern “conservatives” led by our Prime Minister helped Israel join America as a country with one of the most unequal income distributions in the world.  (U.S. ranks third, Israel a close fourth; top of the list are Hong Kong and Singapore).   

    A 2009 book by two British epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, titled The Spirit Level, reaches the following conclusion:  above a certain level of GDP per capita, say, $20,000,  income is uncorrelated with all the major social indicators, such as health,mental illness, violence, education, etc.   What does correlate well with social wellbeing is (lack of) inequality.  The more unequal the society, the worse its health and society, in every indicator.  Their careful study includes a large cross-section of wealthy nations, along with the 50 American states. 

     Capitalists, you have run out of excuses.  Inequality is not only morally wrong, it is socially and politically stupid, because it makes your people worse off.    Read the book (you can download it from Amazon); the evidence is very strong.  

   As the late Harvard U. professor Albert Hirschman noted, there are two things you can do when faced with something you dislike:  “Exit” (leave, quit, don’t buy it, drop out), or “Voice” (protest, organize, complain, act).  For years, we have practiced “Exit”,  in all parts of the world.  Now, the young people are using their “Voice”.   We wish them all well.