I am not all that hopeful about Angus Deaton’s plan to research inequality for the IFS. I’ve said so, elsewhere:
If our starting point, our input into our analysis, is that US median wages have been static this past five decades then we’re simply not going to end up with an accurate portrayal of current inequality. After all, garbage in, garbage out isn’t restricted to computing. We’re willing to be pleasantly surprised by the IFS Deaton examination of inequality. But we don’t think we will be. We expect the inputs to their musings to be the incorrect yet currently fashionable and that’s really not a good way to be doing science.
And then today we’ve got this quite lovely letter in The Guardian:
However, there is widespread concern about the composition of this review’s “expert panel”, which has a majority of white economists. Although the panel includes an expert on health inequalities, none of the world’s leading experts on the health and psychosocial effects of income inequality itself are included, nor is there expertise in the spatial aspects of inequality. And there is a conspicuous absence of world-leading economists for whom income inequality is their primary focus – no Piketty, no Stiglitz, no Galbraith, no Frank, no Fitoussi, no Palma, no Chang, no Milanovic. Sir Angus Deaton, leading the review, stated in the journal Science in 2014 that he “get[s] angry” about the theory that inequality has psychological and social effects on health – perhaps he has changed his mind now that his own research has uncovered rising deaths from addiction and suicide in the US, but there are many researchers with much greater depth in this area. Even more troubling, there is no ethnic minority representation on the “expert panel”, no people with lived experience of inequality, no representatives of charities, trade unions or other NGOs. The number of disciplines represented is also small, although the impact of inequality goes far beyond economics.
We, and others, have been researching, educating and campaigning on inequality for many years, we understand the issues and we know what needs to be done. We cannot wait five years for a report from a worryingly elitist review. Getting policymakers and politicians to tackle inequality will require grassroots support from those most affected and is needed urgently.
The argument being, who the hell needs research anyway? We’ve already done it and so there. And, you’ve not included any of us in your research team. So, they might be unburdened by our own prejudices.
But what makes it hilarious is the list of signatures:
Kate Pickett Professor of epidemiology and research champion for justice and equality, University of York
Richard Wilkinson Emeritus professor of social epidemiology, University of Nottingham
Danny Dorling Harold Mackinder professor of geography, University of Oxford
Dr Faiza Shaheen Director, CLASS
The first two wrote the Spirit Level. You know, that book proving that inequality causes all sorts of harms. The book which has been comprehensively shown to be entire colei*. The fourth runs a trade union funded think tank – political independence anyone? – and the third is, well, Dorling’s not one known for his political impartiality, is he?
What they’re actually complaining about is that someone might research inequality and find out that it’s not as bad as is said and the effects aren’t as bad either. Which would never do now, would it, given the head of steam the concept has so far?