Scientific American On How Inequality Murders Us All – But What Inequality?

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Scientific American has a large report upon how inequality murders us all in our beds. More specifically they’ve a long piece about how economic inequality inflicts real biological harm. A claim that rather fails for a number of reasons.

It’s entirely true that low hierarchy baboons – the subject of the writer’s major research – fare less well than high such. But to translate that direct to human society doesn’t quite work. For we don’t have just the one hierarchy. We have myriad such. Further, to link the hierarchy to simplistic measures of economic status is to miss something important about human society. A Rabbi might not make much money and, among the more orthodox at least, the number of children may well imply poverty when measured against median incomes. We’re not going to thereby conclude that a Rabbi is low status in his community, are we?

Actually, to so conclude would be entirely wrong. The prettiest girls with the best inheritances have traditionally married the studious boys likely to become rabbis. This is not a marker of low status in a human society.

No observer of English society is likely to make the mistake of equating status with cash. Well, actually, two have, Wilkinson and Pickett. Who are approvingly held up as proof of the argument that economic status is all. A claim proven to be entirely wrong in concept and all detail.

We can then move on to, well, which inequality? This being rather important. For, yes, we can observe an increased inequality – back to perhaps AD 2000 levels – in inequality of the ownership of marketable wealth. We can see a rise in inequality of market income, back to the levels of perhaps 2006. Inequality of consumption, the one that seems important, we’re not at record levels of that at all. Yet the claim is that we’re seeing record levels of the things caused by inequality when we’ve not got historically record levels of any of these inequalities and most certainly not the important one.

Which is a bit of a problem for the central claim, isn’t it?

And finally. Inequality – of all those forms – dropped from 2006 to perhaps 2014. That’s what recessions do, reduce economic inequality. We have absolutely no one at all claiming to have seen a drop in these evils apparently caused by inequality over that time period. Basic scientific method would indicate that inequality isn’t the cause therefore.

Oh, and a finally, finally, global inequality has definitely been falling these past decades. Shouldn’t that mean that global incidence of these evils is falling?