Stop talking about income equality – start explaining it
As debates continue to rage over public service cuts, bankers’ bonuses, and tax avoidance, the call for greater income equality is coming from some unlikely sources, especially politicians attempting to reassure a sceptical public that we’re all on the same side. While it sounds like a good thing (anything to do with equality is good, right?) do we really understand what income equality means, and the impact it can have?
Firstly, my contention is that income equality is a good thing (not least because it is has a close relationship with trust and community values, something that in turn promotes well-being and positive mental health). However, supporters of income equality will be keen to tell you that the benefits extend into almost every aspect of society – the economy, education, social mobility, life expectancy, infant mortality, imprisonment, addiction. Quite a claim. If true, why then are we not in relentless pursuit of greater income equality?
Here’s why. Because actually we don’t know what the benefits are. OK, maybe you do – especially if you who have read The Spirit Level, or Ten Reasons to Care About Economic Inequality – but let’s face it, most of the country hasn’t, and even those that have don’t always agree with the findings. Politicians surely don’t agree with the findings – at least those currently in power – otherwise why wouldn’t they be doing anything about it?
The reason why income equality isn’t our number one political and economic goal is because the debate hasn’t hit the mainstream. We don’t yet – as a population – understand and agree why it’s good. When we do, we’ll have a brilliant strategy for creating positive social change that could benefit us all – rich and poor. More importantly, we’ll have the collective will to make it happen.
Until then, income equality risks becoming another empty “hurrah” phrase – like saying you Believe In Freedom or want to Make Britain Great. It will also remain a cause to which politicians can pay lip service, without being accountable for doing anything about it.
Income equality could bring lasting social change, but only if we all know what it means. Tell it to the masses.