Thursday 3 May 2012

Labor and Labour

Andrew Leigh, Australian Labor MP and top-notch economist, says the case against inequality cannot rest on Wilkinson & Pickett's "The Spirit Level": the evidence there presented is just too fragile.
One set of arguments suggests that we should care about inequality for what are called ‘instrumental reasons’. Inequality, some contend, is associated with worse outcomes in areas that society cares about, such as health, crime, savings and growth. This argument is put most strongly in The Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. It is an argument that I used to believe. Indeed, I deeply want to be true, but my own research persuades me otherwise.[25]The closer you get to these asserted effects, the more fragile are the findings. If there are negative effects of inequality on those social outcomes, they must be extremely small. (There are also small positive effects. For example, my own work shows that inequality boosts growth, though the trickle-down process is slow.)
New Zealand's Labour Party seems to care more about mood affiliation than about sound evidence, at least given the number of posts over at Red Alert lauding Wilkinson and Pickett, most recently here.

There are better and worse arguments against inequality. Why does New Zealand Labour have to go for the dumb ones? The comments thread on the last link over at Red Alert, the New Zealand Labour Party Blog, has Labourites dismissing any criticism of Wilkinson and Pickett as being only ideologically driven. The Standard, the unofficial Labour Party blog, is at least as bad.

Guys, please go and read Andrew Leigh. And NZIER's Bill Kaye-Blake. Neither of these guys are ardent ideological righties, and I'd expect neither of them to shy away from endorsing Wilkinson-Pickett if they thought the argument was supported by evidence.


  1. I love the quote about cocaine use statistics.
    More seriously, the fact that we are seeing the same trend in several countries suggests that it isn't just a cabal as some would believe.

  2. The book is flat out dishonest. Its trash.

    Its defenders are just as dishonest.

    1. Snowdon's book provides an excellent and thorough demolition.

    2. It should be the final word on the matter but how many people in Labour or the Greens have bothered to read it, do you reckon?

    3. There is no derived demand. Their base doesn't care, the argument has the veneer of science, and Labour/Green can dismiss critics as ideologically based.

      Now, they might be able to claim that for me or Snowdon; I can't see how they can for Bill or Leigh. That's why it's important that there are at least some truth-seekers on both sides of the aisle.

      When Denis Dutton was HoD over at Philosophy, he called me to come in when some seminar presenter there had a paper that was based entirely on Spirit Level stuff. I attended, raised the Snowdon points in rebuttal. It was less than warmly received.