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The Spirit Level Delusion - Fact-Checking the

Left’s New Theory of Everything

 (2/10)

Do Cubans live longer than Americans? Are Scandinavians happier than the British? Do  Oscar winners live longer than other actors? Does capitalism cause mental illness?  Does inequality lead to murder? Would higher taxes make us slimmer, more trusting  and more charitable? The Spirit Level Delusion shines the light of reason on some of  the extraordinary claims made in favour of big government in the twenty-first  century. Several books (The Spirit Level, Happiness and Affluenza amongst others)  have called for a radical shift in power from the individual to the state based on the  supposedly devastating effects of wealth, economic growth and inequality. By  examining all the available evidence, Christopher Snowdon tests the theory that  'more equal' countries are healthier, happier and more successful. Through a sober  assessment of the facts-including some inconvenient truths-The Spirit Level Delusion  shows that the theory not only lacks empirical support but also fails the basic test of  believability. 
This book came with so much praise from people I don’t know, including from one of the writer’s direct  colleague, that it must be good.…one would have thought. It even comes with its own website  http://spiritleveldelusion.blogspot.co.uk/ (where you read an additional chapter 10 for free).  So I had a go at it, and this effort really falls into the category “I’ve read it so you don’t have to”.   This “devastating critique” (The Economist, apparently) is really not a popular science book; it’s a political  pamphlet dressed up like a book. It’s basically written as libertarian’s quick and dirty answer to “The Spirit  Level – why equality is better for everyone” by Wilkinson and Pickett, which is fine – I don’t buy unequality  as the cause of all societal problems either – but is written in a, quite frankly, aggressive and vile manner.  It reads like a personal attack more than anything else (especially if you were to bother to read the free  additional chapter 10, which is awful). As such, it is an unpleasant read, and definitely will not make you  laugh out loud on the bus or the Tube”…unless, I would imagine, you are the kind of person who also trolls  people online from an anonymous account. It’s unfortunately, because despite a similar political rather  than scientific motivation, “The Art of Suppression: Pleasure, Panic and Prohibition since 1800” by the  same author is actually quite an entertaining read.  Anyway, so is there something to the argument set out in the book. As far as I could work out (I haven’t  read The Spirit Level (yet)) it attacks the somewhat simplistic comparisons of plotting national-level  inequality vs. a number of societal problems in the original book by….well, by doing exactly the same. The  main difference being that Snowdon adds additional countries, or deletes other countries, to make any  correlations go away. There are obvious reasons why some of the countries he introduces were probably  better excluded, which are purposefully ignored, and inclusion, deletion and argumentation all suffers  from selective reporting and argumentation. Maybe the original book is not much better, I don’t know, but  scientifically there is not much to these analyses.   If you want to take anything away from it, it is that multivariate regression was a great invention! The second thing you may want to take away from it is that the reported trends and their interpretation in  the original book may have been a little too good to be true and may have been over-reliant on in- or  exclusion of specific countries (in some, but not all, of the examples). I guess that is what Snowdon set out  to demonstrate, and he has been partly successful in this.   And the final point to take away is that aside from points one and two above, everything is just politically  motivated drivel and slander.  2 out of 10. I wouldn’t bother… 
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