Time Tees Up Lefty Research: Socialists Are Healthier

December 22nd, 2009 4:18 PM

Longtime liberal activists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett recently published a book that attempted to prove redistribution of wealth has a positive effect on nearly all of society's problems, from obesity to drug abuse to teen pregnancy.

The book, which debuted in England last March, was titled "The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better" (for those not mechanically inclined, a spirit level is the bubble device used by carpenters to assure a level surface). It earned a warm reception from the British, and now that it has arrived in the States, more gushing reviews have appeared.

Time Magazine got the ball rolling through an interview with the writers conducted by journalist Eben Harrell. The interview appeared on time.com on Tuesday under the friendly headline "The Importance of Economic Equality." Harrell failed to ask the writers a single challenging question and completely ignored the liberal agendas Wilkinson and Pickett have pursued for years.

Harrell opened the piece with an invitation to dream of a perfect utopia before suggesting that the authors had possibly found a way to achieve it:

What if there was a way to raise a population's life expectancy and reduce its rates of crime, suicide, teenage pregnancy and mental illness, among other social problems? British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett believe they have found one[...]Comparing statistics between developed economies and within the U.S., Wilkinson and Pickett argue GDP and overall wealth matter little to wealthy societies. Rather, it is the gap between the rich and poor that is telling. They spoke to TIME about what they believe are revolutionary findings.

Of course Wilkinson and Pickett would assert that wealth redistribution was the answer. Richard Wilkinson has written more than a dozen projects on the subject, ranging from books to columns, going back to the 1970s. His colleague Kate Pickett is also a prolific writer and professor at the University of York where she specializes in research aimed at the "inequalities of health."

Yet Harrell treated the new book as groundbreaking material, prodding them ever so innocently in the first question why no other experts had "spotted it before." A better question would have been to ask why 30 years of research from two professors hadn't been able to prove it before, but that would have been too much like journalism.

Harrell did manage to ask for a look at the data used to shape the book, but the provided link simply points to a power point crafted by the authors on the book's website. There is no disclosure of the actual hard data or the methods used to come to certain conclusions.

While most of the graphs seem to show a pattern, some slides curiously offer a curve imposed over spotted data to suggest a trend that isn't really there. Also of interest is an admittance that average income in America is only "weakly related" to the presence of health and social issues. To mitigate this seeming contradiction, Wilkinson and Pickett explained that the problem wasn't always the amount of wealth involved, but the perception of a class system:

Increases in income and economic growth are important in poorer countries where food, shelter and clean water are important. But when it's a matter of getting more cars per household or higher-quality electronics, it doesn't translate to well-being.

So even though most Americans are capable of buying essential goods, jealousy kicks in when they see neighbors with more luxuries, and this gap apparently leads to depression. Such is the not-so-charmed life of a capitalist who must resort to competition:

RW: In hierarchical societies the quality of social relationships becomes strained, and that can be stressful. Many of the effects we note spring from chronic stress, whether you are talking about obesity or mental health or the sexual development of girls stressed early in childhood.

KP: Humans are highly social beings - we can either behave competitively or we can be cooperative. In more unequal societies, people are more out for themselves. Their involvement in community life drops away, and that's corrosive.

This notion that teenage girls have more sex because they are stressed about surviving in capitalism should have sounded alarm bells in the mind of an unbiased interviewer. But Harrell was too smitten to notice. He went on ask which American states the authors would recommend (Vermont came in first) and how greater wealth equity could be used to save the environment.

Predictably, Time has made a habit of reserving such softball reviews for books that fall in line with the liberal mindset. The magazine called Sarah Palin's memoir "divisive" back in November, while Mark Levin's bestselling masterpiece "Liberty and Tyranny" received only a passing mention in the middle of a condescending report on the TEA party movement.

For reporters at Time, the only "revolutionary" material available to read comes wrapped in liberal activism.