I have to admit, prior to last evening’s broadcast of TVO Big Ideas: The Age of Unequals, I was largely unfamiliar with the work of social epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.
The Spirit Level, supported by Richard Wilkinson’s recent Toronto lecture (full stream available via iTunes), offers us an intriguing and also vigorously debated thesis: More equal societies do better and are consequently stronger than countries with vast inequalities, in terms of income and wealth distribution.
Wilkinson and Pickett use an exhaustive number of statistics and charts to illustrate the apparent correlation between relative levels of social inequality and, for example, life expectancy, levels of trust, literacy scores, and rates of anxiety, illness and drug abuse among the general population. In fact the list goes on and on.
At one point during Wilkinson’s Toronto lecture he jokes of his colleague’s almost absurd observation that, “if Americans want to live the American dream they should move to Denmark or Finland” pointing to statistically higher levels of income related social mobility over the United States. While this quip was enough to get the predominantly Canadian audience chuckling, I tend to believe most Americans would find Nordic life profoundly different over the states. Most notably the bitterly cold climate and lack of televised sporting options (i.e. no American football).
In all seriousness through, Wilkinson’s rhetoric appears to revere the apparent social equality present in the Nordic region as the optimal model countries like the United States (and presumably Canada) should strive to emulate. Although it’s worth pointing out, Nordic life isn’t as pristine and free from social skeletons as Wilkinson and Pickett’s research suggest.
Finland for instance, aside from its beautifully innovative Nokia wares and an uncanny ability to produce a respectable number of Formula-1 Driver Champions has, in the past, held the dubious title of suicide capital of Europe.
Sweden, apart from notable exports including meatballs, Volvo cars (now Chinese owned), and of course Abba and the ‘common sense’ IKEA furniture we have all come to love assembling (but not me), has experienced surprisingly higher unemployment over the United Kingdom for the past 5 years.
Here in Canada it’s popular to lament two things synonymous with our national identity have become threatened by foreign interests: our pro NHL hockey teams and our Tim Hortons Coffee. Both seem to increasingly exist south of the north 44th parallel of late.
And yes, while Tim Hortons may have regained Canadian ownership, the number of NHL franchises moving south of the border appears to nevertheless continue. The Stanley Cup once again resides due south—well, Chicago to be exact. Our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs continue a dismal 44 year Stanley Cup-less drought despite being called the most valuable team in the NHL by Forbes magazine. And for affluent Torontonians willing to spend upwards of $1317.00 CDN for a pair of gold seats, I wonder, where’s the equality for average Joe hockey fan who wants to catch a game?
Save your money Joe. Pay down your mortgage, go buy yourself a high-def television and a case of premium beer and watch all the games at home for a lot less.