Reframing GOOD Magazine’s article, “Inequality Makes Me Sick (Literally),” this interview with epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson is particularly interesting. Of particular note is his observation that it’s not those who have the most or the highest incomes who tend to be the happiest and healthiest, but those who have the most equality (or least inequality):
…we looked at life expectancy, mental illness, teen birthrates, violence, the percent of populations in prison, and drug use. They were all not just a little bit worse, but much worse, in more unequal countries. … Epidemiologists and people working in public health have been doing this work for some time, not only controlling for relative poverty, but for all the income levels within, for instance, an American state. So once you know the relationship between income and death rates, for example, you should be able to predict what a state’s death rate will be. Actually, though, that doesn’t produce a good prediction; what matters aren’t the incomes themselves but how unequal they are. If you’re a more unequal state, the same level of income produces a higher death rate.
Now, of course, my title for this blog is a little facetious–I’m not under any illusions that government intervention is the only way to deal with inequality. But the fact remains that it’s not how much we have that determines our health but what we do with what we have–and I would say, how we help and empower others with what we have–that determines our health. And our character.