In response to my claim that the correlation between trust and inequality depends entirely on the Scandinavian countries, Pickett presented a graph which showed the same data (from The Spirit Level) but with the Scandinavian countries excluded. A correlation remained, albeit weaker.
This is true, but the two critical problems with their graph on trust remain: (1) As with all Spirit Level graphs, it excludes several wealthy countries; (2) it relies on data from the 1990s which has been superseded by the 2000s data (which is used in The Spirit Level Delusion). When the most recent data is used there is clearly no correlation between trust and inequality.
Source: World Values Survey
Richard Wilkinson dismissed the evidence showing that happiness is not correlated with income inequality—but is (positively) correlated with income—by saying that happiness does not have a social gradient.
This is not true. Happiness certainly does have a social gradient. One of the best known demonstrations of this can be found in a paper by Robert Easterlin from 1974. It clearly shows happiness rising in line with income.
This particular article gave rise to the so-called 'Easterlin Paradox' and is one of the most famous papers in economics. It is certainly the most famous study in the field of 'happiness studies', and as such it is hard to believe that Wilkinson can be unaware of it.
Source: Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot? Some Empirical Evidence, Robert Easterlin, 1974
In response to our evidence showing no relationship between inequality and life expectancy, Pickett referred to a 2009 study from the British Medical Journal. Wilkinson and Pickett also cited this study in their response to Peter Saunders and in their response to a recent critique I co-authored in the Wall Street Journal. In the latter, they said that the BMJ study "shows unequivocally that inequality is related to significantly higher mortality rates."
In fact, the BMJ study concludes that:
The results suggest a modest adverse effect of income inequality on health, although the population impact might be larger if the association is truly causal... The findings need to be interpreted with caution given the heterogeneity between studies.
4. The Spirit Level was written in 2007?
Kate Pickett referred to one of my 20 Questions, which reads:
Why do you say that the USA’s decline in homicide ended in 2005 when 2008 saw the lowest number of homicides since 1965? As you must know, America's murder rate has halved in the last two decades despite rising inequality.
All of which is true. Wilkinson and Pickett claim that the US homicide rate "started to rise again" in 2005 (p. 142). In fact, the murder rate fell in 2007 and 2008 and is now at its lowest rate since 1965.
During the debate, Pickett explained that there was a simple reason for them ignoring the ongoing decline in the US homicide rate—their book was written in 2007! That got a good laugh, but it is not true. As can be seen from the references at the end of The Spirit Level, they were still writing—and finding new sources—well into 2008.
(95) S. Bezruchkra et al., 'Income economic equality and health: the case of postwar Japan', American Journal of Public Health, (February 2008)
(298) K. Pickett & R. Wilkinson, 'People like us: ethnic group density on health', Ethnicity and Health, (September 2008)
(379) W. Hutton, 'Let's get rid of our silly fears of public ownership', The Observer, (April 2008)
Clearly there was time to acknowledge the US homicide rate in 2007, if not 2008.
5. Inequality in Japan
During the Q & A session, I mentioned that there are questions over how equal the distribution of wealth in Japan really is. I pointed out that Gini figures from the OECD show Japan to be on a par with Spain and Portugal (this was a mistake on my part—I meant to say Spain and Greece). Pickett responded by saying that these figures are for Gini before tax.
This, again, is not true. The OECD provides inequality data both before and after tax. The most recent data, from the mid-2000s, show:
Japan (before tax): 0.44
Japan (after tax): 0.32
Spain (before tax): 0.41
Spain (after tax): 0.32
Greece (before tax): 0.43
Greece (after tax): 0.32
Sweden (before tax): 0.43
Sweden (after tax): 0.23
As the OECD states in a 2006 article:
The Gini coefficient measure has risen significantly since the mid 1980s from well below to slightly above the OECD average and the rate of relative poverty in Japan is now one of the highest in the OECD area.
I have no firm view on which of the two sources (UN or OECD) have the most realistic figure for Japan, but as a point of fact the OECD figures I mentioned were after tax.