Friday, April 27, 2012

TED Income Inequality Makes Us All Suffer

Here's another TED Talk, this one by Richard Wilkinson. I share this to help illuminate the task ahead, to help get our nation back on track, as only young folks can. It also is a way to respond to an earlier comment on my ARMAMERIKA post earlier this month. What does income equality do?
First, it's important to see where we stand as a nation when it comes to which the differences between those at opposite ends of the income scale.
Right, the USA is at the high end: We're one of the world's least equal countries...well, only little Singapore keeps us out filling the top spot. I include several graphs below, so that they can be referred to, despite when they're off the screen. Listen to Mr. Wilkinson, as he builds a compelling argument that the degree of our social and health-related problems in the USA is related to the economic inequality here; in fact, it is (unfortunately) as much as 10 times higher than those countries which have less disparity!
I wish this graph showed up larger: It's a killer.
Per fellow-blogger Christa Hasenkopf, "A recent report by UNICEF, entitled “The Children Left Behind” (pdf here), summarized the state of equality among children in 24 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Basically, the study asked the question: Take a kid from Country X from an average income family, then take a kid also from Country X but from a low income family. How do they compare when it comes to material well-being, academic success, and health? Here are the results (image from a New York Times opinion piece by Charles Blow):
So of 24 nations, we rank dead last here? To the obvious question as to whether our average might just be so much better than others, that it suggests we're still better off in the USA, blogger Hasenkopf focused on the education statistics, and provided a link to the 2008 Fact Sheet from the Alliance for Excellent Education, based in Washington DC. In summary (page 2 of 2): "The United States has an average number of students who perform at the highest proficiency levels, but a much larger proportion who perform at the lowest levels. ... The difference between the science scores of 2 students of different socioeconomic backgrounds is higher in the US than in almost any other country OECD 2007b). Four of the five member countries that have higher proportions of immigrants than the US also have higher national scores than the US." I'm sorry to say that, as a parent and teacher, I can feel a significant change in the past 25 years. Citizens in our nation seem collectively to consider themselves "more deserving" than their skills might have prepared them to be, and thus feel "overly-entitled," and thus willing to sacrifice character qualities required for a healthy society, to "help themselves to the till," so to speak. As Wilkinson says, they have done so at others' expense, as well as at the expense of our society's health and social well-being. The GNP ranking (= measurement of a nation's "Gross National Product" per person) is empty, meaningless, and even counterproductive. After all, it bears so little relationship to satisfaction, opportunity, health. So why do we continue using it? Well, do you suppose it's because it's the one ranking where we appear at the top? Those statistics which offer more realistic measurements are of course resisted. We are not accustomed as a nation to see ourselves ranked at the bottom. --> So, how did you take Mr. Wilkinson's oft quoted sentiment: "If Americans want to live the American dream, they should go to Denmark.” (Richard Wilkinson) That may be a topic for another posts.


  1. This is interesting because I knew that we would be high on a list like the first one but I never knew we would be this high and some other countries that low.

  2. This a very astounding article, I learned somwthing while reading. I think its very interesting about the US and our place on the graph. It just goes to show, we could learn from other countries.

  3. This gave me chills... Can't wait to move to Germany someday

  4. Here's another related picture:

    When Korea is doing better than you, you know you've done something horribly, horribly wrong.