The Spirit Level: taking the data warts and all

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I am aware that The Spirit Level has been the subject of right wing attack. After all, social justice, equality and well-being are anathema to the right. So it was good to note the authors inn action on the Guardian letter’s page this morning, saying:

The Spirit Level shows that problems more common among the least well-off are worse in societies with bigger income differences (Letters, 28 July). We show this among a single set of rich countries before double-checking our results among the 50 states of the USA. Taking the data warts and all, we found a consistent pattern across almost 30 relationships. Against this, our critics make piecemeal complaints, excluding this country here, those states there, or, when ad hoc excuses fail, unwillingly accepting analyses. But even allowing all their exclusions, valid or not, our index combining health and social problems remains strongly related to inequality.

And it's not just our book. The tendency for homicide to be more common in more unequal societies has been demonstrated by others 40 times. That health is worse in more unequal societies has been shown over 100 times. So, faced with research showing the same pattern among the regions of Russia, provinces of China, counties of Chile, or rich and poor countries together, what regions, provinces, counties or developing countries would our critics exclude?

Professor Richard Wilkinson

Professor Kate Pickett

Authors, The Spirit Level

I have no doubt that the analysis Richard and Kate offer is correct. I also have no doubt that it can be nit-picked. But that does not alter the fact it is correct. Except in the pedantic minds of the right.