The toll of inequality

The excellent political magazine Soundings (UK) dedicates a special issue to inequality.

A summary:

“Inequality can quite literally be lethal, writes Göran Therborn in Soundings. One study, of 18 000 Whitehall civil servants, has shown that the risk of early death closely followed the office hierarchy: “After age, smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol concentration and a few other such factors had been controlled for — coronary heart disease killed 50 per cent more of those at the bottom of the hierarchy than those at the top.”

“Distantiation” — or income discrepancy — is another killer: “Within metropolitan Glasgow the gap between males in Calton and in Lenzie is 28 years, larger than that between the UK and Africa in the 1970s. Glaswegians from Calton have a shorter life expectancy than Australian Aborigines.” Yet inequality is not inevitable, and can be corrected by redistribution and recompensation, argues Therborn. Denmark and Sweden are the least income unequal countries of the world, yet exports make up a large part of both countries GDP (at 40 per cent, Swedish exports more than double those of the UK).

“Relatively egalitarian welfare states should not be seen as utopias or protected enclaves, but as highly competitive participants in the world market. In other words, even within the parameters of global capitalism there are many degrees of freedom for radical social alternatives.”

The denial of dependency: Tim Dartington explores the idea that health and welfare systems can be run on the basis of a “denial of dependency”. This policy madness is closely connected to current concepts of the individual, and relationships between them: even in the public sphere, relationships are reduced to transactional encounters between customers and suppliers.

“Though we may at times deny our dependence, the entrepreneurial culture promoted by the government only suits a small minority of people — or a small part in each of most of us. The majority of us remain risk averse, having neither the stomach nor the skill to make the best of every opportunity according to a resourceful evaluative maximising model, beloved of neoliberal economic theory.”

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