Posted on November 17, 2011

The One Inequality Infographic No One on the Left Wants to See

Ed West, Telegraph (London), November 16, 2011

The folks at Liberal Conspiracy have asked people to put together “info-graphics and bits of information about inequality”, so I thought I’d help out a bit with this neat little graph (the little blue dots represent American states).

Citing New Economics Foundation, Resolution Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Sunny Hundal points out that:

• Economic inequality in the UK is the highest in recorded history–we went from having inequality levels similar to the Netherlands in 1979 to being one of the most unequal developed countries in the world. Our Gini coefficient (a common measure of inequality) increased from 0.26 to 0.36 over this period. Studies have shown that beyond a Gini coefficient of around 0.3, inequality becomes corrosive for society.

• The top 10 per cent of the population now earn, on average, more than four times that of the bottom 10 per cent, compared to three times in 1979.

• This disparity grows exponentially when you look at the difference between the lowest and highest earners in organisations where chief executives earn, on average, 250 times what a cleaner earns.

All true, and disturbing. Whatever one’s view of the Occupy movement, social inequality is certainly a growing concern, partly in response to public outrage over banks bailouts and bonuses. In Britain inequality has been increasing for three decades, and we now vie with Latvia and Portugal as the least equal country in Europe. Next year two titans of American academia, from either side of the political spectrum, Robert Putnam and Charles Murray, publish books which deal with the huge and growing wealth chasm in America.

While conservatives might not have any philosophical objection to income inequality, it does matter that the middle classes find it increasingly hard to afford a decent home, or to pay the bills. The squeezed middle–and the median income is far lower than many Tories imagine it to be–are struggling. Furthermore there is a fair amount of evidence that unequal societies do produce all sorts of poisonous by-products, such as higher crime rates and maybe even levels of unhappiness.

It is unquestionably a huge issue, yet there’s one major, unavoidable aspect of inequality that is almost entirely suppressed from the debate. Last month in the New York Times Columbia Professor Alexander Stille touched on this strange paradox. He wrote:

It’s a puzzle: one dispossessed group after another–blacks, women, Hispanics and gays–has been gradually accepted in the United States, granted equal rights and brought into the mainstream.

At the same time, in economic terms, the United States has gone from being a comparatively egalitarian society to one of the most unequal democracies in the world.

This is nothing new. A few years ago David Goodhart wrote a hugely influential article in Prospect pointing out that diversity and equality are in conflict, and David Willetts coined the phrase the “progressive dilemma” to define the same problem. However way, way before that, back in 2000, American journalist Steve Sailer noticed the link. He wrote:

The poorest poor in the country are in New Mexico, where the average income of the bottom fifth is only $8,700. The quite expensive state of Arizona, spiritual home of the $150 golf greens fee, has the eighth poorest poor people in America at $10,800. (But at least they make more than the bottom rung in immensely costly New York). In contrast, the wealthiest bottom fifth is in Colorado where they average $18,500 per year. Probably even more impressive, however, is the $18,200 average in Utah, since its cost of living is quite low.

This obvious correlation between immigration and inequality is little remarked upon in the press, for various reasons. One big one is that polite society has decreed that since Equality and Diversity are both Good Things, they must therefore be synonyms rather than what they are: antonyms.

Sailer is a popular blogger, rather like an eccentric but brilliant professor possessed of a vast breadth of knowledge, and would probably be a big thing in American commentary, producing those American polemics With Those Absurdly Long Subtitles that Explain the Entire Subject of the Book, but his views on the biology of race put him beyond the pale for mainstream conservative publications.

That’s above my GCSE double award science-level knowledge of the subject, but on the growing inequality in American life he is almost certainly right, and the untrammelled globalism of George W Bush-style conservatism, described by Sailer as “invade the world, invite the world, in hoc to the world”, has been a dismal failure. Sailer’s own state, California, with its high rate of illegal immigration and legal out-migration, has already become Latin Americanised, with ever higher levels of inequality and a shrinking middle class (not to mention bankrupt cities and rotting public services). This has been allowed to happen because diversity makes important Right-wing people rich and important Left-wing people feel good about themselves.

The Spirit Level was popular because it touched on a truth–that inequality is a bad thing–but with all its countless measures of prison rates, child mortality, obesity and even aid, it almost completely ignored the elephant in the room. Where equality campaigners even dare to mention diversity, they argue that this handicap can be solved with a chequebook, ignoring the unfortunate facts that you can’t buy social capital, and that ethnically diverse populations are unwilling to support Scandinavian-style wealth redistribution (as suggested by various studies).

Protesters can camp outside St Paul’s from now until the Second Coming for all the good it will do, but until they start to question the diversity delusion, then Britain, like the United States, will continue down its road to Latin Americanisation.