Democracy must be extended to the workplace before big gaps
in income will change, Spirit Level author Prof Richard
Wilkinson told an audience in Dunedin yesterday.
Prof Wilkinson and fellow epidemiologist Prof Kate Pickett
are visiting New Zealand from the United Kingdom to speak
about their 2009 book The Spirit Level: Why Equality is
Better for Everyone.
The book argues a host of health and social ills are linked
to the economic inequality within countries, rather than the
country's overall wealth.
It has proven politically controversial because the pair
argue the ''neoliberal ideology'' of the 1980s onwards caused
the gap to greatly widen.
Prof Wilkinson said the research really just showed what most
people had known by intuition for centuries.
''Basically, what we all know makes sense.''
More equal countries consistently fared better in life
expectancy, imprisonment, infant mortality, addictions,
social mobility, obesity, literacy and other measures.
As had been expected, the research showed New Zealand had
high levels of both economic inequality and social problems,
Prof Pickett said.
Prof Wilkinson said workers must be given representation on
company boards to reduce top pay of executives.
Workers might be inclined to vote their boss a salary several
times more than their own, but were hardly likely to approve
one hundreds of times their own.
Employees could also be encouraged and aided to buy shares in
The pair favour higher taxes to improve equality, but Prof
Wilkinson said these were more easily reversed by
Big business had become so powerful it was virtually immune
from government influence, to an ''appalling extent'' in the
United States but also elsewhere.
Economic inequality had implications for the environment,
because more equal countries fared better on environmental
measures including carbon dioxide emissions.
In more equal societies, people were less concerned with
status, which meant they were less prone to over-consumption.