Anyone who believes that the age of innocence belongs to the past should read some of the reviews devoted to The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better (2009). The basic premise of the book should immediately raise suspicions. It is nothing short of a theory of everything, which finds a single factor responsible for almost every health and social problem in the Western world.
The natural response to someone who claims to have suddenly found a grand unifying theory of life is—or should be—profound scepticism. On this occasion, however, many readers and reviewers suspended disbelief (but not all of them). In some circles, the findings of The Spirit Level have become the conventional wisdom.
The reasons for this are two-fold. Firstly, the book appeared under the halo of science (statistics, in reality). Secondly, the theory of everything revolved around income inequality, and so appealed to many on the Left of politics. Put simply, the argument is that 'more equal' countries (principally the Scandinavian states) do better under almost any criteria you can think of than 'less equal' countries (principally the USA, UK and Portugal). The evidence for this is shown on a series of scatter graphs which are—prepare for an understatement—not always totally reliable (for an example, click here).
I hold no brief for extending inequality—I happen to be in the bottom 10% of earners myself—but if the argument for bigger government and higher taxes is to be made, it shouldn't be made on the junk economics and voodoo science of The Spirit Level.
Regular readers will know that I am interested in the misuse of statistics. That is what first attracted me to The Spirit Level. My new book—The Spirit Level Delusion: Fact-checking the Left's new theory of everything—tries to shine the light of reason onto some of the wilder claims made by the Left in the last decade, not just in The Spirit Level but in such books as Affluenza, Happiness, All Consuming and The Selfish Capitalist.
So if you've ever heard that Cubans live longer than Americans, that Oscar winners live longer than other actors, that capitalism leads to mental illness, or that income inequality is the root of all evil, I hope you'll buy a copy. It will be available from the usual retailers (Amazon, Tower, Barnes & Noble etc.) shortly. I also have a limited number of copies here if anyone would like one a bit sooner. Postage and packing is free and overseas orders will be sent by air-mail.
The Spirit Level Delusion:Fact-checking the Left's new theory of everything
by Christopher Snowdon (with a foreword by Patrick Basham)
Democracy Institute/Little Dice - published May 17 2010