Tuesday, 13 May 2014

British “researchers” promoting envy in NZ [updated]

“The time has surely come when we should stop
behaving as though the envious man were the
main criterion for economic and social policy.”
– Helmut Schoeck, Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour.

Two British “health researchers” will be coming to New Zealand soon to whip up more hysteria about inequality because, they argue, NZers are insufficiently angry about this alleged “social evil.”

Professors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, whose book The Spirit Level was subtitled "Why more equal societies almost always do better", will present this year's Sir Douglas Robb Lectures at the University of Auckland from May 19-23.
    Economist Tim Hazledine says the book "has made a huge impact on just about every field of social science and policy analysis" since it appeared in 2009…
    But in New Zealand, the Labour Party is struggling to get inequality off the ground as an election issue. Professor Hazledine points to a 2006 survey of 32 countries which found New Zealanders were less supportive of redistributing income from the rich to the poor than people in any other nation…

Suggesting the timing of their visit is party political?


In any case, I take the survey they reproach rather differently than they do.  I say it’s good to see research suggesting NZ less envious than other places of other people’s success.

Asked [in the survey], "Do you think it should or should not be the government's responsibility to reduce income differences between the rich and the poor?" only the barest majority of Kiwis, 50.1 per cent, said yes - behind even Americans (52.2 per cent), and little more than half of the 90 per cent-plus support for redistribution in Portugal, Chile or Slovenia.

Great news! But a surprising result, especially since (as I’ve argued before)

envy is the leitmotif of much of what passes for public discourse in New Zealand, as evident on talk-back shows and in Letters to the Editor; in the clamour for knocking down tall poppies and looking for feet of clay in the greatest of heroes.

If that’s diminishing, that’s a great thing – not something for which two Brits with a political agenda should be telling us off.

Because these two assuredly have a political agenda, and don’t care what data they have to torture to advance it.

Take  the way they so-so conveniently exclude data that doesn’t fit their agenda.

Here, for example, is a graph that is central to their thesis, purporting to show how much better off our life expectancy would be if we all copied “the workers’ paradises of Scandinavia and the egalitarian nirvana of Japan.” See how the culturally egalitarian Japan and Sweden skew the left side up, and the culturally meritorian USA skews it down?

SpiritLevel01And here it is again, this time with the many elephants in the room they neglected to include because they inconveniently contradict their thesis, charted using figures from that bastion of inequality, the UN. See how the addition of Hong Kong alters the right-hand side, and the additions of the likes of South Korea and the Czech Republic give a more “realistic” level to the left-hand end.


Adding in the countries that contradict their thesis shows that there really is no significant trend at all (maybe one month, or two?), which means their much-hyped thesis is basically bosh.

As the author of The Spirit Level Delusion, Christopher Snowdon, explains at Spiked,(from whom I stole those graphs) this sort of statistical legerdemain exposed here cannot be unintentional. Which means, to put it bluntly, that the authors have lied—and if you have to lie to make your point, that probably means you haven’t got one.

Nonetheless, it’s a lie perfectly calculated to get the chattering classes talking. As they do.

It’s not really all that complicated.

It’s not about evidence; it’s not about research; it’s certainly not about facts: it’s about building a power-base upon the morality of sacrifice. (And as Yaron Brook and Don Watkins argue, “no system that treats you as other people’s servant can be called moral.”)

NB: Those who want to go along to their Auckland lectures to ask difficult questions will find excellent intellectual ammunition in Snowdon’s book and blog bagging these two bozos, and in the Related Posts below:

The Spirit Level delusion now available on the kindle        image


UPDATE: Lindsay Mitchell has noticed that activists

talk about redistribution with the implicit assumption it's a  function of government. For the left 'income redistribution' and 'government' go hand in glove.
I am all for income redistribution. But not by the government. By unfettered exchange of goods and services and formation of family units that endure, and build wealth.
Government has made people poorer than they would have been through too much welfare, too much employment legislation, and too much taxation.
There must still be some sense of this amongst the population, reflected in NZ's position at the bottom of this table (below). Let's hope a similar or better response would occur in 2014.


  1. Hmmm well done my fellow countrymen. Let's see these windbag socialist snakeoilers off, and move that dial under 50% with lashings of self-respect & personal ambition. Huzzah!

  2. The irony is this is astounding and further proof there is universal ignorance amongst the 'chattering classes'.

    It is similar to Ayn Rand giving some sort of "Vladimir Lenin Lecture", or Arthur Scargill giving the "Margaret Thatcher Lecture" - something none of these folk realise because they are too ignorant.

    In February I read Sir Douglas Robb's highly entertaining autobiography which shows his contempt for anything resembling the opinions of these two clowns.

    Sir Douglas was a strong critic of the 'establishment' and its collectivist thinking, proved them all wrong, and ended up head of the BMA.

    If he were he alive would give them short shrift!

    I strongly suspect Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson's concern for 'inequality' doesn't extend to themselves.

    Unless I am very much mistaken the value of their own houses, or their own incomes, compared with the poorest in Britain, are sacrosanct! haha!

    When they sell their million pound houses and distribute the proceeds in Tower Hamlets then I will listen to everything they have to say.

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