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Is Richard Wilkinson Actually Insane?

An important question here especially since he’s arguing that we dig up the foundations of our society to rebuild it as he insists:

Experiments have shown that it is threats to self-esteem or social status, where other people can judge us negatively, that most reliably raise our stress hormones. These feelings are so potent, causing anything from fury to stomach-clenching shame. Even simple experiments have shown they have serious consequences, including slower wound healing and weaker resistance to infection.

Yes, OK, social status matters. Monkey hierarchies – although apes would be a better example for us – and the not different at all Whitehall studies of civil servants etc. OK, fair enough.

We all want to be valued and appreciated: being looked down on, shamed or rejected is agonising. The experiences of low social status and racism are deeply stigmatising. To be treated as inferior, to be devalued and thought less of – whether on grounds of class, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender – is intolerable.

Agonising might be a bit strong but yes, OK, point taken.

So what can be done to ensure our health and resilience? The key is that class and status, prejudice and discrimination are strengthened by larger income differences. As George Bernard Shaw said: “Inequality of income takes the broad, safe, and fertile plane of human society and stands it on its edge,” with the result that some people are valued very much more than others. The rich are made to seem more superior and the poor more inferior, inequalities in health and in young people’s life chances increase, while social mobility slows.

The picture could hardly be simpler: almost all the problems that we know are related to social status within our society get worse when status differences are increased. If we want a less dysfunctional society and a healthier population, building back better means addressing the scourge of income inequality.

And how mad do you have to be to look at Britain and claim that social status is defined by income? A country where a decent plumber outearns the Prime Minister?

Entirely and wholly quite mad.

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Commander Jameson
Commander Jameson
7 months ago

I don’t see your point. Most plumbers have a higher social status than the prime minister and so income correlates with social status.

Phoenix44
Phoenix44
7 months ago

Or just stopping judging people on the basis of income.

aaa
aaa
7 months ago

OK, quick thought experiment. Suppose we pick a figure – say three times the current average wage – and tax at 100% any income in excess of this figure. Premiership footballers would need to choose: Either get by on £75,000 per year instead of per week, or go play in another country. I guess some might pick the former. But, if enough choose the latter, would fans of Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool (and the rest) be happy with a decidedly amateurish-looking team because all their stars have buggered off to Spain and Italy? Given that football exists to make us… Read more »

Spike
Spike
7 months ago
Reply to  aaa

I trust you propose to do this not only for footballers but for surgeons.

john77
john77
7 months ago

So abolish the scourge of income inequality – and no-one has any reason to work except at jobs they find enjoyable. So is Richard Wilkinson going to volunteer to empty all the dustbins?
I thought not.

Spike
Spike
7 months ago

The problem is not just ignoring the disastrous effects of real-world consequences of reducing the level of stress hormones by equalizing incomes. The problem is targeting reducing the level of stress hormones as the greatest and only value. This is the same problem as with our current public policy on Covid-19. The more weeks we put between us and epidemic, the harsher, more intrusive, and more irrelevant the countermeasures get.

Leo Savantt
Leo Savantt
7 months ago

Basically the argument is that because people get jealous we should organise society so that people have nothing to be jealous about. Might not a better approach be to recognise that jealousy, being a negative emotion, should not be a driving force of societal organisation, but rather a human foible that we can and should strive as individuals to overcome?

The question is of course rhetorical.

Pat
Pat
7 months ago

Will the people enforcing this equality be of the same status as the rest?
Of course not, at least not if they are to be effective.
The proposal is to replace the existing hierarchy with another, resulting in no loss of stress but likely losses in other areas.
I suspect Mr. Wilkinson is under the illusion that he would be at the top of the new heirarchy

Paul Marks
Paul Marks
7 months ago

I am afraid I do not know who Mr Wilkinson is – should I know? Is he famous or something? I do know who G.B. Shaw was – he was a socialist who believed that anyone who could not justify their existence to the satisfaction of a government board should be EXECUTED, he was not “joking” about that (he was quite serious), Like his associate H.G. Wells, Mr Shaw believed in mass murder by the state.

Addolff
Addolff
7 months ago

When I was working I used to listen to co-workers go on about inequality & ‘poverty’.
I told them we could could eradicate it if we all lived on £20,000 a year. For some reason no one was interested in the proposition…………….

Snarkus
Snarkus
7 months ago

I suggest the major flaw in the article is that there is one hierarchy for all to climb. Dont know about Pom land, but among the Oz unix geeks the only status is how good you are at coding and sysadmining. Money is nice, but does not buy status. Among my aviation fraternity there is a huge income difference. Again, only character aka airmanship and skills get you points. Same in volunteer services I hang around. Mere income inequality does not even come up. I suspect that within most subcultures within Western derived societies this holds true. In summary, the… Read more »

dodgy geezer
dodgy geezer
7 months ago

“Is Richard Wilkinson Actually Insane?”

Living in our current society, how would one actually tell? His statements certainly are more understandable than those of most activists today…..

thefat tomato
thefat tomato
7 months ago

i think the writer has a point; lets have more equality, lets start with the pages of the GUARDIAN, word quotas averaged out on a per capita basis, every brit should have the opportunity and status of claiming to be guardian columnist, and dole out the rest of the pages to whoever wants them

Chester Draws
Chester Draws
7 months ago

The more income equality the more non-income status matters. Countries like the USSR were worse for status anxiety than the West.

The problem is that we are humans, not that we have unequal income.

DiscoveredJoys
DiscoveredJoys
7 months ago

The danger with such arguments is not that they won’t work, but that people will feel aggrieved because of such arguments won’t deliver Utopia at no personal cost to them.

There’s income inequality, wealth inequality, and social (status) inequality. They are all linked but I suspect that if they could be all levelled some other means of establishing a pecking order would swiftly develop.

wat dabney
wat dabney
7 months ago

Since the author approvingly quotes the famous old socialist, why did he not also present Shaw’s equally socialist solution of simply murdering the less productive in gas chambers?

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